More Details on Bluegogo Dockless Bike Share

Ilya Movshovich, VP of Operations for Bluegogo, US, outside their shared office space in Jackson Square. Photo: Streetsblog
Ilya Movshovich, VP of Operations for Bluegogo, US, outside their shared office space in Jackson Square. Photo: Streetsblog

This morning, Chinese bike-share company Bluegogo held a press conference in downtown San Francisco to update the media on its launch plans and its negotiations with the city. From the announcement:

Enabled by smartphone, GPS and solar technology, users can search, reserve, unlock and pay for bluegogo bikes via the mobile app. As no docking stations or designated spots are required, Bluegogo provides the most convenient and reliable access to bikes without ownership. GPS combined with a smart lock, unique frame and tires, security screws and a built-in alarm system, safeguard against theft.

Readers will recall that last Thursday Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Mark Farrell also held a presser, pushing back against what they saw as Bluegogo’s plans to dump thousands of bikes all over SF sidewalks and public spaces, without obtaining permits from the city. Bluegogo would also likely compete for customers with Motivate’s Bay Area Bike Share, which has an exclusive arrangement to set up bike-share docking station racks in San Francisco.

This afternoon Streetsblog met up with Ilya Movshovich, VP of Operations for Bluegogo, US, at their shared office space in Jackson Square. The objective was to hear their side of the story, how they’ve adjusted their plans to the blowback from the city, and to try out one of the bikes and see how they actually work.

“There’s no membership, and the bike is only a dollar every 30 minutes,” explained Movshovich. Users download an app which shows them where the bikes are parked. Then they find the bike nearest to them and scan in the QR code, either on the fender or on the seat post. “We have two in case one of them gets damaged–they can also type in the number [marked on the bike] manually,” he explained. The bike then receives a signal to unlock its rear wheel. When the rider is finished, they can end the rental with the app and it will automatically relock or they can manually close the lock on the rear wheel, which also serves to end the rental. “That way you have an option if, let’s say, your cell battery dies,” he said.

The bike is rented by scanning in the QR code on the rear fender and front stem. Photo: Streetsblog
The bike is rented by scanning in the QR code on the rear fender or front stem. Photo: Streetsblog

In that way, the Bluegogo bikes are a little bit similar to the Biketown System in Portland or the Mobi System in Vancouver, BC., where one doesn’t have to return the bike to a system bike station. The difference is with Bluegogo there aren’t any bike stations to start with. They also don’t have to be locked to a pole or a bike rack–they can be left anywhere. That’s what has city officials up in arms–the fear is that the bikes would end up littered about the city. But the company can track the bike’s locations and scoop them up and relocate them if they end up in bad locations. It’s also possible for someone to pick up the bike and move it–they’re not particularly heavy, so if a user left one, let’s say, blocking a doorway, you don’t have to rent the bike to move it, although it won’t roll, obviously.

Movshovich said when the Chinese parent company decided to open this subsidiary in San Francisco, they were aware local regulations could be problematic. Therefore, Movshovich reached out to the city–several times. From what he says, it sounds like the company’s inquiries got lost in the bureaucracy. That’s why they decided to “go rogue” and just launch. Now, however, the company has decided to “soft launch” on a smaller scale, and will instead place the bikes in car-park spaces in private lots and will encourage users to return the them to these designated parking spots scattered around the city–which keeps the city bureaucracy out of the picture for the moment. That will give the company time to negotiate an arrangement with the city for expansion. They will start with locations in the Financial District, SoMa, the Castro and a few other spots.

So what’s to stop people from stealing the bikes? Like with any rental, users have to leave a deposit on their credit card. If someone tries to throw the bike over their shoulder or takes it in a car, an alarm on the bike will sound until they put it down again. Since Bluegogo bikes have GPS, it’s easy for the company to report it stolen–along with the location. As Movshovich explained, most of the parts are non-standard, so there isn’t much to steal in the way of components. Also, the tires are solid rubber, so flats are not a problem.

Streetsblog took one for a spin. It was — as one would expect a share-bike to be — solid, if a bit slow. Not as heavy as a typical share bike. They ride just fine and would be very handy for a short trip. The lights come on whenever the wheels turn–they are powered by a dynamo. There are three speeds. It was easy to use and simple to lock and leave.

For now, they’ve suspended any idea of rolling out to the East Bay, after the experience with San Francisco. In reality, they never planned to roll out as many bikes as was rumored. “A few hundred,” explained Movshovich. “Nowhere near the 10,000 that’s been reported.” They also will have incentives to get the bikes returned to the private lots spots (for now) and they have teams ready to collect the bikes if they have to.

On the whole, however, it seems like a superior idea to tethering share bikes to fixed location, such as in the Motivate model. Movshovich hopes their bikes, because they don’t need docking stations and are cheaper to rent, will become popular in low-income areas.

But mostly, he said he just hopes it gets everyone biking more. “The other day I was in an Uber pool, and one of the riders got out to go to the gym,” he said. “We’ve got to get people out of cars and walking or onto bikes.”

  • saimin

    Are there any restrictions on where you can ride them? Maybe Fisherman’s Wharf, the Marina, Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, and other areas that Bay Area Bike Share does not support?

  • murphstahoe

    They should launch in San Rafael/Larkspur for the impending start of SMART service.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    I’m glad they’re moving forward. Bike sharing will never be successful without several companies providing competition and innovation, increasing the number of cyclists by catering towards their specific needs. We have 3 different car-sharing companies in SF, each catering to a different audience. Why should bike sharing be any different?

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Lol impending.

  • murphstahoe

    Pretty sure it will be by May. I’m looking at a train rolling out of the station right now.

  • mx

    I’m intrigued, though also excited for the BABS expansion.

    Three speeds doesn’t sound great though, at least for SF. BABS are 7 speed bikes. Maybe if the bikes are light enough, but I could see it being an issue for those of us who aren’t the best hill climbers.

  • San Franciscia

    The following sentence appears incorrect: “Like with any rental, users have to leave a deposit on their credit card–which is refunded as soon as the rental is finished.” From reading the users manual, I think the deposit works differently in this case. They hold your $99 as long as you want the app to be functional on your phone, regardless of whether you have a bike out. To get it back, you have to make a special request and wait 5-10 days.

  • Roger R.

    Thanks for catching this. I may have misunderstood Ilya. I have requested clarification. I took out the sentence for now.

  • JustJake

    Non-native Chinese invasive species. If encountered on sidewalks, kindly lift rear wheel up, and roll these into the Bay.

  • murphstahoe

    unless you are a Native American, can you kindly follow suit by jumping into the bay?

  • JustJake

    Lead the way, Murph, in your quest for leadership status.

  • Miles Bader

    I’m kinda skeptical that the “just leave it anywhere” model actually works well…

    Obviously it’s very convenient for getting off your bike—just drop it wherever you are.

    But … when you need to get a bike, it sounds like a crapshoot. With a fixed-dock system, you quickly learn where to go for a bike, and there will be a high probability that there’s a bike there, with rebalancing working to maintain that property. Basically fixed-docks make the process more predictable, and for a regular transportation system (which you use every day for many trips), predictability is very important.

    Another issue is that if the system proved very popular, and there were suddenly tons of these bikes around, well… if there’s anything to be learned from countries with extremely high bike ridership, it’s that with high volumes, you need structured bike parking for popular spots (transit stations, large stores and offices, museums/parks, etc), just having people park their bike “wherever” results in a huge mess.

    Of course, they could try to emulate a fixed-dock system to get some of the latter’s good points, e.g. by actually building bike parking facilities at many spots, and giving a discount for leaving your share-bike there rather than in an alley somewhere. They could even allow people to use them for personal bikes too, charging a parking fee. The city could build bike parking facilities too and make contracts with different bikeshare systems as necessary (well-done bike-parking is very dense, cheap to build, and convenient).

  • johndfrench

    The US website is up: https://www.bluegogo.com/us/

    The app is available and shows bikes available in SF, as well as coverage areas. One covers most of northeastern SF, the other is HUGE and covers downtown Oakland, down along the bay to San Jose, all of San Jose itself, and up the peninsula to Palo Alto. (It doesn’t show any available bikes in that region.)

  • johndfrench

    Interestingly, the app and website explain that you can park a bike anywhere it’s legally permitted. But within a few hours of signing up I received an email, which looks pretty hastily-thrown-together, explaining that for their “beta launch”, “our service rules are a little different” and bikes should only be picked up and dropped off at dedicated parking areas. They’ve got a quick-and-dirty website with a map showing where those are (http://www.zeemaps.com/pub?group=2377034&legend=1&locate=1&list=1&h=purple&x=-122.411734&y=37.784946&z=4).

    It sounds like they may have worked with the city to arrive at this solution, and if that’s the case I’m glad both sides are willing to work together on this. Hopefully, if Bluegogo is successful and able to avoid causing problems for the city, they can eventually work out something like Scoot did to allow parking outside of their dedicated spaces.

  • There are places in the world where bikeshare is a municipal service and works very well without freeeeee market “competition and innovation,” and they don’t even need corporate sponsors shoving unscrupulous banks or car companies down our throats.

  • BlueGoGo in Marin, SoBi in Sonoma, ??? in Mendocino …

  • Miss_Isle

    There’s a stationless one that appeared in Soma tonight, 3rd & Bryant. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/aa2762a3fecf5e90d7294b5477aa5f2cadcc83b81d368a89a7c53a825b1a4895.jpg

  • John French

    Well… the app still implies you can park them anywhere. About 30 minutes after I signed up I got the email asking that I drop them at the designated parking spaces…

    3rd & Bryant is about a block from one of their “stations”. So close…

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Maybe, but very much doubt BABS is going to innovate or even build bike sharing up to sustainable levels without competition. The costs and inflexibility of working with fixed stations puts BABS at a huge disadvantage.

  • Are there any updates on how Bluegogo is doing now?

  • In the Haight, not so good:
    https://flic.kr/p/VeJTro

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