Two Lyft e-bikes caught fire in San Francisco in July. (Courtesy Photo/Courtesy Zach Rutta)

Lyft set to return e-bikes to SF streets after solving battery fire issue

After battery fires prompted Lyft to pull its rentable e-bikes from San Francisco streets in July, the ride-hail giant is finally ready to announce a date for their return.

Lyft’s Bay Wheels e-bikes will roll back into The City by mid-December as part of a four-year agreement, the company told the San Francisco Examiner Thursday.

And when they return, the fleet is set to quadruple.

The company deployed 1,000 e-bikes for rent in July after winning a court battle against San Francisco to maintain its exclusivity agreement with The City. But then two weeks later, two of its e-bikes’ batteries burst into flame, including one in the Lower Haight that was snuffed out by a nearby citizen with a fire extinguisher.

SEE RELATED: Lyft halts e-bike program after bicycle batteries catch fire in SF

Lyft pulled its fleet from Bay Area streets for safety. When those e-bikes would finally return, and how the battery issue would be fixed, were both open questions.

Now the company is set to not only bring back the bikes, but also increase its fleet size to 4,000 by April 2020.

While these e-bikes can be left in streetside docks, they can also be left on sidewalks attached to any city bike rack, earning them the designation of “hybrid” (docked and dockless) e-bikes.

“This agreement is a win for everyone who wants more access to bikeshare in San Francisco and will allow us to continue making long-term investments in expanding bikeshare equitably,” Bay Wheels Market Manager Jake Darby said in a statement. “We know our riders have been eager for the return of e-bikes, and we’re grateful for their patience and look forward to restarting service for them as soon as possible.”

That agreement with SFMTA will see the rentable e-bikes buttress Lyft’s fleet of 4,000 non-electric rentable bikes, which are part of an operating agreement with San Francisco that prohibits most competition.

While Bay Wheels will enjoy a virtual monopoly in San Francisco — save 500 or so e-bikes available from rival Jump — The City gets some benefits as well. Lyft will pay $300,000 for the installation of bike racks citywide.

“We are pleased this agreement will expand the number of safe and reliable options to travel throughout San Francisco,” wrote an SFMTA spokesperson in a statement.

The agency is confident Lyft’s bikes are safe and its combustion issues have been resolved, said SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato.

The Bay Wheels bikes battery supplier experienced a firmware issue, according to Lyft, and now the company is working with another battery supplier.

“Biking alone can be hard and unsafe, the last thing you need is a flaming bike as you’re riding down the street,” Supervisor Vallie Brown said in July after an e-bike caught fire in the Haight, a neighborhood she represents.

While Brown said she found the incident “really disturbing,” Lyft’s e-bikes may change mechanically in a number of ways following lengthy negotiations with SFMTA officials to ensure safety.

In the new four-year e-bike operating agreement, which SFMTA provided to the Examiner, Lyft must use different parts for its e-bikes to ensure redundancy and allow parts to be easily swapped should problems arise.

No more than 70 percent of the fleet can be of the same make and model, the agreement reads, to ensure that if any more supply issues emerge the entire fleet won’t have to be pulled.

That agreement also may allow Lyft to expand its fleet in San Francisco should the each bike in the fleet be ridden four times a day, on average, for 12 months consecutively.

So the more people ride, the more Bay Wheels can expand.

While the San Francisco Superior Court clash this year ensured Lyft maintains its nearly total e-bike rental monopoly in The City, the agreement also outlines certain service benchmarks Lyft must meet in providing its e-bikes to San Franciscans.

If those service requirements are not met, and then not remedied for two months or 30 days, depending on the deficiency, then SFMTA can award a permit to a new e-bike provider.

In other words, if Lyft doesn’t keep its fleet ship-shape, San Franciscans can find another partner to provide e-bikes in San Francisco.

Lyft will also redeploy its Bay Wheels e-bikes in San Jose the week of November 18, and is “working individually with” Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville to reach e-bike rental agreements, according to a company statement.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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