Preston calls on city to explore public bikeshare program

Current system, owned by Lyft, limits city control over equity and pricing

Supervisor Dean Preston lodged a formal request Tuesday for a Budget and Legislative Analyst report on what it would take for San Francisco to establish a it own bikeshare program.

“We need to meet the rise in demand for green transportation in our city — and part of that is through a municipal bikeshare program to complement public transit and advancing public ownership of vital city services,” Preston said in a statement.

San Francisco already has a bikeshare program. Bay Wheels, owned and operated by Lyft, has what amounts to contract exclusivity over dockless and docked electric bicycles in The City.

Preston says the monopoly of the for-profit company ultimately harms San Franciscans by restricting local control over environmental regulations, pricing and equity.

For example, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees portions of the program, had no real power to stop Bay Wheels from raising its prices in March 2020.

Moving from a flat fee program to a pay-by-the-minute structure led to widespread rebuke from regular riders, and many said they would stop using bikeshare altogether as a result.

Preston’s case for creating a publicly-owned bikeshare program is that it would give The City more control over the entire transportation network, equipping it to better guarantee equitable distribution of mobility options into low-income neighborhoods; improve affordable access to alternative modes of transit to complement Muni; and advance sustainability goals.

“A municipal bikeshare program would allow oversight and control to serve transit, environmental and equity goals, not prioritized by large for-profit companies that currently own the network of bikes and bike stations across The City,” a statement from Preston’s office said.

The BLA report would present various options for a publicly-owned bikeshare in San Francisco, and Preston’s hope is it will illuminate the path forward including potential costs, timeline and challenges.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition lent its support to the idea, noting that the publicly-owned model has been successful in Washington D.C.

“We have always advocated for a successful bikeshare system because we know that a system that’s affordable and accessible will get more people to bike,” Janice Li, advocacy director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said in a statement. “We welcome this move by Supervisor Preston towards a municipal bike share system so that we can get an affordable, equitable system that works for all San Franciscans.”

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