Open Thread: Is San Francisco Over Reacting to Bluegogo?

Image: Bluegogo
Image: Bluegogo

Yesterday morning, Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Mark Farrell held a press conference in response to a report that Bluegogo, a Chinese bike-share company, would bring thousands of rental bikes to San Francisco. From an earlier story in the Examiner:

Now, China-based bikeshare company Bluegogo may follow in the footsteps of Uber, Airbnb and other tech companies by launching in San Francisco without permission or permits, following the “disruption” template established by so many others.

As Streetsblog readers are surely aware, San Francisco has exclusive agreements with bike-share giant Motivate to operate Bay Area Bikeshare stations in the city.

As explained on their website, Bluegogo bikes don’t depend on fixed bike-share stations. Instead, GPS trackers tell Bluegogo customers where to find the bikes with a cell-phone app. The bikes can be locked anywhere one would leave a regular bike. Users are asked not to park the bikes in parking garages, public walkways, or anywhere where they would be hard to locate.

“Our bikes have GPS and we will keep an eye on their locations with teams ready to be deployed and move them [when necessary],” wrote Ilya Movshovich, VP of US Operations for Bluegogo, in an email to Streetsblog. “We will also encourage user feedback when it comes to maintenance as well as asking our community to take photos and move bikes to the appropriate locations while giving them incentives and implementing a ratings system as they help us in this process.”

However, Peskin and Farrell are threatening lawsuits because Bluegogo doesn’t have a permit. In a letter to the CEO of Bluegogo, Ed Reiskin, director of the SFMTA and Mohammed Nuru, director of Public Works, pointed out that Bluegogo would be violating San Francisco’s exclusive agreement for Bay Area Bike Share.

But this seems tantamount to SFMTA signing an agreement that everyone in the city has to use Uber but not Lyft, or has to drink Coke instead of Pepsi. The sanctioned bike share stations are often not conveniently located. If Bluegogo has figured out a better solution to making bikes available to the general public, isn’t that a good thing?

“The concept of Bluegogo–truly untethered bike share–is a wonderful, if risky, idea. Promoting a healthy lifestyle that involves cycling is great…,” wrote Ben Sin, a journalist with first hand experience with the bikes in China, in an article for Forbes. “When I rode the bikes in Shenzhen, I thought several times about how fun it would be do the same thing in New York or San Francisco.”

Could it be disruptive? Sure. And if Bluegogo’s approach seems abrupt, well, isn’t it time we try something fast and messy for a change? This isn’t the same as Uber testing a driverless car on the streets of San Francisco–a car weights several tons and could potentially kill someone if a line of code has a bug and the human-driver is unable to take over fast enough. Bluegogo is just talking about dropping bicycles around the city.

That said, part of the complaint from Peskin’s office is that Bluegogo bikes will end up littered around the city, obstructing public access and creating a hazard. “…we can’t drop bikes in positions that would disrupt an adequate path for pedestrian traffic. We don’t intend to do that. We also have a system in place to monitor, review and reward/penalize our users for bicycle placement behavior,” wrote Movshovich. “We are doing a lot of research to placing bikes in specific areas that would not impede any sort of traffic.”

And if blocking public rights-of-way is really the issue for San Francisco officials, maybe the city can adopt a similar system of rewards and penalties for its own employees, who block bike lanes with impunity. For that matter, where’s the press conference about public rights of way continually blocked by garbage, encampments, and broken bikes right now?

What do you make of all this? Do you have any experience with Bluegogo in China? Does the reaction at City Hall seem correct?

Comment below.

  • Corvus Corax

    Fascinating! It would seem, then, that bluegogo would not violate anything in 32.1 since you are not non-automated, and although automated, the bike would not have to be returned to the same location. That is good new, indeed.

    As long as I have you on the line (as it were) I want to ask about the proposed $99 deposit I have read you will require. Don’t you think that that would tend to exclude so many people who would otherwise need your service? Could you not consider having an office where people could, upon showing valid ID, and perhaps leaving a credit or debit card number, be given a waiver of the deposit? Don’t car rental companies do this routinely? I think most poor people have access to a debit card even if they don’t have cash to spare. Aren’t these the people who need you most?

  • Bayarea Bikeshare is so delayed I wonder if it is in violation of some aspect of the contract that could be used to renegotiate it.

  • thielges

    Yeah, that’s why I suggest that the city’s best way out of licensing a monopoly is just make no agreement with competitors. That would protect the city from a lawsuit because they could easily point to other more serious areas lacking enforcement like sidewalk parking and bike lane blocking. In other words the city can say that they don’t agree with BluGG’s deployment but simply lack the resources to interfere.

  • The problem with relying on the ratings of Uber/Lyft passengers is that it is already a group that prioritizes its own convenience over the safety of others.

  • Huh? The SFMTA has in fact had public meetings where people can suggest where to put stations, plus they have fielded 5,000 individual requests at: http://suggest.bayareabikeshare.com

  • The “sharing” term of art is marketing; you’re paying for something, not “sharing” it. Car-“sharing” is just rental with a different business model.

    Note that Uber/Lyft tries to market their stuff as ride-“sharing” as well.

  • johndfrench

    Right, that’s what I said: “This is why we can have things like public planning sessions to allow residents to be involved in the planning of where to put stations in their neighborhoods”

    I’m aware that they’ve had them and I’m saying that’s one of the advantages to a bike share system operated in partnership with the SFMTA.

  • johndfrench

    Right, that’s what I’m saying. “it’s partly funded and planned by the SFMTA. This is why we can have things like public planning sessions”

    I’m trying to say that one of the advantages of the Motivate system is that they are partnered with the SFMTA, sorry if that wasn’t clear.

  • johndfrench

    Uber/Lyft’s ride-“sharing” is a bit more justifiable than bike-“share” or Zipcar-style car-“sharing” because the rides are hailed through Uber/Lyft but provided by individuals using their own vehicles. Spinlister would be more deserving of the name bicycle “sharing” than what Bluegogo or Motivate provides.

  • Again, if you’re paying/charging for it, “sharing” is not the right word. I’d add that the Getaround/Relay Rides model is closer to “sharing” than Zipcar, since they also involve someone’s own vehicles. But none of it is exactly sharing, it’s commerce.

  • Colin Hughes

    There are many, many drawbacks to these Chinese bikeshare systems: they are cheap bikes that break easily, they are maintained pororly, the can pile up and block sidewalks, they are only available to people with smartphones, and the sustainability of their business models is highly questionable. I do not think they should be able to just dump bikes in the city. However, a massive, low-cost bikeshare system that never deals with full or empty docks would vastly improve life in SF for many residents. Again, I don’t think these companies should be free to dump low-quality bikes around the city, a more innovative policy approach by the city than simply banning them could be employed to hold these companies to an acceptable public standard of operation. Innovative, outcome-based policies could enforce appropriate parking zones and maintenance through i while enabling a huge, revolutionary bikeshare system at no cost to the public. The truth is the current SF bikeshare, even in expanded form, will still be too small in terms of bikes per capita, too inflexible (docks are so 2007), and too expensive.

    It is even more ironic that SF – the city which set the precedent of not regulating the thousands of Ubers that ply our streets – is now banning shared bikes. There is a better policy approach to this than an outright ban. There are also better bikeshare technologies *full disclosure: like the one I work for, Social Bicycles * that are cheaper and not limited to docks like the current SF model, but also higher quality, more dependable, and fully able to work within the needs, goals, and policy frameworks of the city.

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