The Uber-backed bikeshare company Lime has offered to provide free bikeshare access to low-income San Francisco State University Students, according to an email obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.
That two-year pilot program for taxpayer dollars to fund bikeshare for low-income students was put in jeopardy last week after a city transportation body stalled its funding. Their reasoning? Lyft recently acquired the company that would provide the bikes: Motivate.
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority argued that Lyft, a ride-hail company valued in the billions, could far more easily provide $56,000-worth of free bikeshare access through the program they run, Ford GoBike, to SFSU Pell Grant students, and other students. Also the transportation authority has in the past said it prefers not to spend taxpayer dollars on ride-hails Uber and Lyft as long as they withhold vital GPS trip data of their vehicles, which The City says could help it ease traffic jams.
While it is unknown if Lyft subsequently offered to simply pay for the low-income bikeshare program itself, and Lyft did not answer the Examiner’s requests for comment, a letter to the transportation authority from Lime shows they are ready to pick up the slack.
“We recently became aware that the two-year pilot program to provide low-income students from (SFSU) free membership to Ford GoBike is in jeopardy,” wrote Toby Sun, CEO and co-founder of Lime to transportation authority Executive Director Tilly Chang, in a July 16 email. “Lime is prepared to meet the needs of the lowest-income students and offer Lime bikeshare at zero cost to San Francisco taxpayers.”
Sun also wrote Lime would share “vital trip data” through its mobility options. Sun also copied SFSU President Leslie Wong on the email.
Lime and Uber recently announced a partnership, and Lime’s scooters will soon be available on Uber’s app wherever the scooters themselves are available. Uber also plans to invest in Lime, according to reports in tech industry press. Various scooter and bike “sharing” companies, which essentially offer mobile phone rentals, are seeing their valuations skyrocket into the billions as transportation giants like Uber and Lyft pedal into the sector to battle for business.
Transportation authority Chair Aaron Peskin, who also sits on the Board of Supervisors, did not immediately answer requests for comment on Lime’s offer. However, there is a potential snag in the plan: Lime is not permitted to operate dockless bikeshare in San Francisco. Motivate, which is now owned by Lyft, has the exclusive contract in San Francisco to offer bikeshare that operates in streetside docks. Jump, which is owned directly by Uber, has the sole permit for bikes that can be rented by mobile app and parked on streets, without docks.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency which permits transportation operations in The City said the pilot for Jump’s dockless bikeshare permit runs until June 2019.
“We are not accepting additional applications during the pilot evaluation period,” said Paul Rose, an SFMTA spokesperson.
However, he said, “Lime would be welcome to apply for any applicable permits from SFMTA following the pilot period. Operation of bikeshare services on the SFSU campus are subject to SFSU regulations.”
Joe Arellano, a spokesperson for Lime, said there is one other available option.
To take advantage of their offer of free bikeshare, he said, “would require The City to make an exception in this case to help provide bikes for the students.”
This story has been corrected to indicate Lime’s scooters are available via Uber, not bikes.