SF transit agency may approve dockless bike expansion

More dockless electric bikes may soon hit the streets of San Francisco, following a briefing at The City’s transit board Tuesday.

And ahead of the decision, newly unveiled data shows currently available e-bikes are used at a far higher rate than station-docked bikes, perhaps pointing to growing demand for the limited supply, according to data from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Only 250 e-bikes are offered in San Francisco by the Uber-owned bikeshare company JUMP in a limited 18-month pilot program, after a legal tussle that nearly stopped the company from launching at all, but the SFMTA Director of Transportstion Ed Reiskin may decide to expand that pilot to 500 bikes.

Now, seven months into the pilot, SFMTA staff is presenting data to the SFMTA board Tuesday showing that those 250 dockless JUMP e-bikes are used at a far higher frequency than the 1,200 docked Ford GoBikes in San Francisco.

Each bike in the Ford GoBike system, which requires bikes to be returned to docking stations, is used between 2-4 times a day, whereas the JUMP e-bikes are used roughly between 5-10 times a day, according to the SFMTA.

And JUMP bikes are often used outside of neighborhoods where Ford GoBike docks are present, according to SFMTA data. In a presentation to the SFMTA board, agency staff wrote this shows “JUMP bikes complement Ford GoBike, with different trip lengths, origins, and destinations.” The public has also called for more bike racks throughout San Francisco to make locking JUMP e-bikes easier.

Patrick Traughber, who helped launch the “Free Our Bikes” petition to call for more bikeshare access in The City, said the SFMTA data clearly shows San Franciscans want more options.

“This data, combined with the community support we’ve seen through Our Bikes, shows that San Franciscans are eager for more JUMP bikes and Ford GoBikes stations, especially in neighborhoods which aren’t currently being served,” he said.

It wasn’t opposition from neighborhood activists that led to the small number of JUMP bikes on the street. Instead it was Motivate, which runs the Ford GoBike bikeshare program, that tried to torpedo the fledgling service.

When SFMTA first tried to grant a permit to JUMP to offer e-bikes last year, Motivate challenged that plan based on its exclusive contract with San Francisco (which it also shares with the entire Bay Area) to run bikeshare in docks. SFMTA and Motivate entered arbitration that led to a scaled-back permit allowing JUMP to offer only 250 bikes in San Francisco.

Since that legal wrangle, JUMP has been purchased by Uber and Motivate has been purchased by Lyft, leaving the two multi-billion dollar ridehail giants to duke it out in the bicycle rental market. JUMP also launched 50 additional e-bikes which are available exclusively in the Presidio.

But even if the SFMTA board approves an increase in JUMP e-bike availability Tuesday, Traughber feels its not enough.

“It’s great to see SFMTA recommending increasing the JUMP cap to 500, but even 500 bikes in a limited area for a city of 880,000 people and more than 450,000 automobiles is not enough to make this a dependable way of getting around the city,” he said.

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