Bike Share Takes a Beating

Slashed Tires, Trashed, Drowned, and Stolen Bikes

A Ford GoBike dismantled and hung. Photo posted by Erika Dumaine‎  on the San Francisco Bike Ride Crew Facebook page
A Ford GoBike dismantled and hung. Photo posted by Erika Dumaine‎ on the San Francisco Bike Ride Crew Facebook page

The Bay Area’s bike share system, which expanded in San Francisco and launched less than a month ago in the East Bay, seems to be off to a rocky start, with many reports on social and traditional media of slashed tires, stolen bikes, and even one bike dumped into Lake Merritt.

It’s important to note that, as much as it’s interesting to see a picture of a stripped-down Ford GoBike hung from a tree, it doesn’t say much about whether the system is working or not–the roll out numbers are still not crunched. No matter what, a certain number of bikes were bound to get stolen and/or damaged.

“The data I have seen is … showing usage at each pod,” wrote Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director of Bike East Bay, in an email to Streetsblog. “I intend to take a closer look at this data, but it is still early.” The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition expressed similar sentiment, that it was just too early to say anything about whether the system is taking off or not.

People familiar with bike-share systems in other cities say it’s not that unusual for vandals to go after the bikes initially–after all, it’s a new target and it can even get your handiwork on TV. “… vandalism and theft of private vehicles and bikes is also a common occurrence around here, sadly, so it should also be no surprise when this extends to the bike share bikes as well,” wrote Robert Prinz, Education Director for Bike East Bay.

The bike vandalism may also be part of a general blow-back effect other cities have seen after launching bike-share systems. Remember the Wall Street Journal‘s Dorothy Rabinowitz’s comment about New York neighborhoods getting “begrimed” by bike shares? If you’re not familiar with that, and some of the other ‘bikelash’ that took place when New York launched its system, check out this hilarious video of unintentional self-parody embedded in a post by Streetsblog NYC.

Meanwhile, bike-share operators are doing their best to clean up the messes and get the bikes back into circulation. “Our team operates 24-hours a day and we are rapidly responding to any reports of vandalism, and making any necessary repairs,” said Dani Simons, a spokesperson for Motivate.

“It’s all speculation at this point, but I see everyday in Oakland, bus shelters smashed, BART cars trashed, litter all over the freeways and car windows broken into. I guess someone hates transportation in general,” wrote Campbell.

Still, the pictures of the abused bikes are oddly amusing. One has to wonder if Bluegogo, the renegade bike share company that was essentially chased out of San Francisco by regulations, is laughing at it all. In addition to the bike hung from a tree and the submarine bike in Lake Merritt, Hoodline has a shot and video of a row of Ford GoBikes with slashed tires. And, in case you think this is particular to the Bay Area’s official bike share system, Streetsblog found this Jump electric bike with both tires popped, on Valencia.

jumpbike
This Jump electric bike also suffered some wrath. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

The reasons for the bike-share vandalism are unclear. Is it an anti-gentrification protest statement? Or generalized bike-lash as they saw in New York City? Or all-too-common vandalism of objects in the public realm? Or multiple reasons?

Is all this abuse beating up bike-share, making it difficult to use? Do you ride Ford GoBikes? Do you find the recent expansions useful? Tell us what you think.

  • Ron W

    The Gobike program is a ploy by Ford to gather data to expand its private shuttle service, Chariot. The program privatizes and monetizes public space that residents pay taxes to maintain. It is a profit-making enterprise that is antithetical to the concept of “sharing.” This, and other “sharing” transportation services, will help to defund MUNI–a public transportation service, used by vulnerable populations like seniors and the disabled.

    The list goes on…

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Up is down? Get back to me after some of these vandals dump a Lamborghini in Lake Meritt. Then we can take your ridiculous statements slightly more seriously.

  • Prinzrob

    As for the bikes being tracked, that myth has been debunked. It was confirmed that there is no GPS or other telemetry on the bikes, and the only data being collected is start/end points which is anonymized and not specific to individual users. This is the same data tracked via the old Bay Area Bike Share system, and is all available to the public: https://www.fordgobike.com/system-data. A visualization of system usage from the last 24 hours is available here, based on this data: http://bikes.oobrien.com/bayarea/#zoom=16&lon=-122.2692&lat=37.8034

    Residents also paid taxes to maintain the car parking spaces that the bike share stations replaced, but at least with bike share there was a permitting process and fee approved by each city, whereas private car owners typically pay little or nothing for the use of curbside space: http://www2.oaklandnet.com/oakca1/groups/ceda/documents/policy/oak058727.pdf. Moreover, that space is still owned by the public and isn’t privatized, in the same way that a parklet or sidewalk cafe doesn’t mean the business now owns that space.

  • jd_x

    I think GoBike needs to team up with SFPD to set up some stings and catch the vandals quickly to make an example of them. The punishment: one year of spending one day of every weekend shifting bike share bikes using the cool bike trailers Ford GoBike has. They could also spend the day fixing flats on bike share bikes. Everybody wins: criminals get their due while maybe developing a little empathy, GoBike reduces its costs, and customers don’t have to deal with so much vandalism.

    And can’t GoBike install cameras on problematic stations to catch the vandals? Maybe the City/MTC could even help out with logistics and costs …

  • Brad Phillips

    Bike share is part of the public transit system: it’s accessible via your clipper card, it offers $5.00 a year rates to the needy, it offers MATA a portion of proceeds after certain thresholds are met. It’s green, healthy, encourages bike use, prevents me from worrying about my bike getting stolen. It solves the last mile dilemma – for me – of how do I get home from BART without having to walk that last mile or so. Like the bus it has ads on it.

  • Matt Laroche

    I’m excited about the expansion – I live in the Sunset, and the Duboce Park station is perfect to finish my commute (N to Duboce Park, bike share to SoMa). And getting a station across from work is way nicer than having them a couple blocks away. The system is actually useful, versus BABS.

  • Ron W

    Again, this is not a “sharing” service. Motivate, the company administering Gobikes, is a private company profiting from appropriation of public space. Ford, who gets the benefit of advertising here, has no interest in bikes, or being “green.” Their interest is in expanding Chariot, a private shuttle service that basically duplicates MUNI routes for people who feel they’re too good to rub elbows with hoi polloi. By the way, the “needy” only get that $5 rate for a year. Cyclists already own bikes. This service will basically be used primarily by tourists, who don’t pay taxes in this town.

  • Menaka

    I didn’t use bikeshare until the expansion. Now that there is a station near my house it gives me more options on how to get to work, BART, or, other destinations (like shopping!)

  • Menaka

    Hi Ron, where are you getting the information that Ford is tracking data other than the start end points that Prinzrob pointed to? Just curious, as we are in the age of fake news it would be great to get the source. Thanks!

  • twinpeaks_sf

    I think the comments of many on this thread and the experiences of other cities with bike share (hard to think of one even smaller city that doesn’t have it), these system have a legitimate utility for residents – in particular, linking to traditional public transport and for short local trips.

    The $5/year membership becomes $5/month – still cheaper than a monthly FastPass and you get a whole year of bike share trips.

    I’m no fan of Chariot – though Uber/Lyft are just as socio-economically segregating, but without any *mass* in the transport – and, yes, the advertising is a bit more over the top than other bike share systems . . . but they’re just bikes!

    Anything that helps people riding bikes in the city is good for everyone. And since you don’t have to worry about theft or being committed to riding your bike for the whole day, bicycling becomes a much more attractive option for many folks.

  • Cynara2

    I like your style Roger. That was funny.

  • Ron W

    Ford Motor Company’s president and CEO James Hackett gave a presentation to investors on Sept. 14, 2016 outlining the company’s true intention with Ford GoBike:

    “What we’re doing differently in San Francisco that isn’t done in New York is we put telemetry on that bike,” Hackett reportedly said. “Telemetry is a form of communication, so now the bike is pinging data to us. … The opportunity is not bikes. That’s not why Ford’s in it. The opportunity is data, and the data is super valuable because it tells us these invisible paths that people are taking in this complex city in terms of how they want to get around. … We can take that data and we can connect it in ways that our new shuttle is going to connect to the cloud as well.” — from Business Insider

  • mx

    Yes, Motiviate is a private company. They have a contract with the city to run the system. The city uses contractors to do all sorts of things, like collect garbage and tow cars. There’s nothing inherently evil about that, and if there’s a problem with the way the service is run, then the contract should be renegotiated to address that. The public space in question was being used to allow people to park their cars for free or low cost; now it’s being used to allow people to pick up and drop off bikes. That’s hardly any more of an appropriation of the space.

    I used GoBike today. I’m not a tourist. The system isn’t even particularly useful for tourists because of the time limits, thanks to lobbying from the tourist bike rental industry.

    It feels like there’s a constant moving of the goalposts in this city. We want to get people away from driving around in single-occupant cars, but every time someone is actually doing just that, it’s declared to be an abomination that must be stamped out. Oh no! People are riding bikes, but they aren’t doing it in the exact way I think they should be, so the whole thing is unacceptable? There are lots of bikes. People are riding them. They’re dirt cheap for those who need a discounted rate. Why is that all so terrible?

  • Prinzrob

    Yes that quote has been shared widely, but Hackett’s statements were inaccurate. Ford doesn’t make the bikes, Motivate does, and Motivate has confirmed that there is no GPS or other telemetry on them.

    Even if there was GPS installed, there is no means to keep the batteries constantly charged, like via the solar panels used on other stationless systems for tracking. The fact that Motivate has not been able to track and recover stolen bikes is also evidence.

    There’s plenty of legit criticism to be leveled at the new Bay Area program, and room for improvement. Please try to stick to proveable facts and don’t contribute to speculation.

  • Bruce

    It’s more gentrification-phobia. The vandals will get tired of it eventually.

  • Bruce

    I’m not saying there is GPS on the bikes, but in fact the bikes do have batteries, which are recharged as the rider pedals.

  • nolen777

    Anecdotally: I’ve seen a LOT of usage of these bikes, esp on embarcadero and Townsend between the ferry building and Caltrain. Granted that’s probably prime territory, but it’s nice to see. I was really surprised how quickly I saw them being used after the racks went up.

  • Prinzrob

    The dynamo hub just barely generates enough power to keep the bike lights on. It’s not realistic to think that a hidden GPS unit is also continuously charged this way, at least without creating significant resistance on each pedal stroke which would be both obvious and annoying.

  • Bruce

    I still see a lot of tourists taking them far from a station, e.g., Marina Green and Crissy Field. Obviously they’re unaware of the hefty fees for keeping them longer than 30 minutes at a time.

  • Melanie Curry

    The expansion of bike-share into my neighborhood has unexpectedly expanded opportunities for me. I can now walk to a hub, grab a bike, and take a short ride to, say, a store I wouldn’t normally go to–as I did last week, just to take a break. The distance I can cover on foot has now greatly expanded, and the number of places I can reach when I leave my house with nothing by my wallet–while far from everywhere I want to go–has just increased by order of magnitude. It will never replace my own bicycle, but that’s not what the system is designed to do. It expands the reach of walking and transit, making a car trip more and more unnecessary.

  • Melanie Curry

    It’s important not to equate the vandals with people who have legitimate questions around equity. The vandals are just jerks; people questioning whether bike-share serves their needs have a legitimate point to make. It’s hard to explain equity issues to people not affected by them. On the other hand, bike-share can be an accessible, emission-free, easy (if we build good bike infrastructure) way to greatly expand how everyone gets around, not just “bikey” people. These bikes are appropriate only for short trips, as anyone who has ridden one will tell you (they are very heavy and slow). That makes them brilliant for short hops that expand the reach of transit lines, get you to destinations that are just a little far to walk to, and get you outside for a little exercise and fresh air.

  • HappyHighwayman

    It’s because people are assholes and San Francisco is full of street people who don’t give a shit. Not that we’ve given them any reason to. Marginalized people do bad things.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    That area launched years ago. There are a few new stations in the expansion but for the most part they haven’t arrived yet. I don’t understand why people never noticed these riders before the bikes had Ford logos painted on them.

    Here’s the expansion plan map, fyi. http://www.bayareabikeshare.com/assets/pdf/SF_Phase_4_Map.jpg

  • nolen777

    Ah, maybe I just didn’t notice they were bikeshares before the branding.

  • Ron W

    The relentlessly didactic pro-gobike tone on this thread sounds oddly akin to that of Motivate employees I’ve spoken to who, by the way, said Ford coughed up something like $68m to underwrite the program. Just so they could slap their name on these bikes? There’s obviously something more nefarious going on here.

    If these bikes are so cumbersome, as has been stated here, then they are a poor public transpo option–especially for populations which may find them difficult, if not impossible, to use i.e. the disabled and seniors. And for low-income people, even with the deal of $5/month, it would be more cost-effective in the long-run to buy a cheap cruiser.

    If we are really trying to make this city ‘less car-friendly’ (and by the way, I don’t own a car, I walk and take MUNI) then why has the City not seriously addressed Uber’s and Lyft’s impact, with their 45,000 registered cars clogging the streets?

    Let there be no mistake, the gobike program is an aggressive, ubiquitous theft of public space for Motivate profit, and a data-capturing tool for Ford.

  • Dr_Ace

    After reviewing the pricing options, I’ll stick with Scoot. It is more flexible (you can park anywhere), one-way trips are still fine, more distance per 30 min, the same price for the first 30 min and a comparable rate for longer rides (10¢ for each additional min). Gobike doesn’t really have any advantages to me over Scoot.

    Scoot definitely has a higher barrier to entry and is arguably a lot less accessible, so I’m not sure why Gobike has been met with so much more backlash, especially among those it has aimed to be accessible to (low-income). Perhaps the on-street parking corrals?

  • murphstahoe

    Has our old friend the troll reappeared?

  • mx

    I use both services, and they serve different purposes for me. Scoot is great for longer trips or when I need to carry more, opens up much more of the city, is better for hills, and I don’t have to pedal. GoBike is a fixed annual membership, so individual trips under 45 minutes (essentially every trip) are free, and works great for Market St., Caltrain, and now parts of the Mission. It’s nice to have choices.

  • murphstahoe

    I saw an old school BABS on Angel Island! I think it was just a stunt because the person was riding with someone who had a Caltrain tag on their bike.

  • murphstahoe

    When BABS opened they had a reasonably large station at Caltrain. By the time it switched to Motivate BABS had expanded that station and put another big one across the street, because people were getting dock blocked at Caltrain. I think the one on 4th East of Townsend is new.

    I rode from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Ferry the other day and saw several of these in use. The day before when I rode from Caltrain to the Wharf, I saw dozens.

  • mx

    This confusion has been an issue going back to the original BABS system. Just look at the Yelp reviews for all the tourists who say they were ripped off because they didn’t understand the pricing model. The pricing isn’t unique to GoBike, and the idea of keeping bikes in circulation with short rides is a good one (crippling the service at the behest of bike rental operators less so), but it’s always been a difficult one to explain on the signage.

    Maybe they should get some of SF’s best designers to figure out how to communicate the pricing in a way every tourist can understand?

  • murphstahoe

    The part of this that irks me is not the jerks doing the vandalism, it’s that Calle 24/Arguello/etc.. aren’t coming out against vandalism. They are seen as leaders, so by not saying “come on people don’t do this” they are pretty much saying “go do this”.

    It’s really going to bite them in the ass, going forward they will have no support outside of their shrinking base, and they are annoying they people who are causing their base to shrink to the point where those people might just end up being dismissive of their concerns.

    So the irony might be that the real final nail in the gentrification coffin is Ford GoBike, not because of the bikes, but because of Erick’s reaction to the bikes.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    The price most people pay for the first 45 minutes of GoBike is zero, because you buy the annual membership for $149/year. If you used Scoot twice every weekday you’d rack up that kind of bill pretty quickly.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I’d just like to point out that you’re an idiot. Bye.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    It’s a brand-new account that hasn’t ever posted anything other than these tin-foil bikeshare-is-chemtrails junk.

  • thielges

    “…Ford coughed up something like $68m to underwrite the program. Just so
    they could slap their name on these bikes? There’s obviously something
    more nefarious going on here.”

    You are underestimating the strategic marketing value of having a logo scattered all over a wealthy market region. Not only will bay area citizens be exposed to the sponsor’s logo but that exposure will endure in photos and videos viewed long after the sponsorship ends. Millions of tourist photos will include this marketing. It might even appear in ads filmed in SF by competing car companies if their editors are not careful.

  • thielges

    Modern GPS modules don’t consume much power. The radio transceiver required to transmit location data requires more power. Even so this pair of modules won’t draw enough power that a bicyclist would notice additional effort required to pedal. Especially when you consider that both modules can power down when at rest.

    I’m not saying that the gobikes contain GPS and transceivers, just that it is certainly possible to accomplish. It should be pretty easy for an engineer to examine a unit and confirm whether or not the gobikes contain GPSs.

  • HappyHighwayman

    I have an eBike but when it got a flat I started renting these at $3 a pop to get home from caltrain. The bikes are very very very slow.

  • gneiss

    If we are really trying to make this city ‘less car-friendly’ (and by the way, I don’t own a car, I walk and take MUNI) then why has the City not seriously addressed Uber’s and Lyft’s impact, with their 45,000 registered cars clogging the streets?

    This question has been addressed elsewhere. Sadly, the hands of SFMTA are somewhat tied with regards to Uber and Lyft, because unlike local taxi services, those companies are regulated by CA PUC rather than the city. They do require individual drivers to get business licenses to operate here. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/SF-to-require-Lyft-Uber-drivers-to-obtain-7250137.php

    To suggest that the gobike program represents “theft” of public space is absurd, particularly when compared to the daily “theft” that goes on in every neighborhood of the city by car owners who gain a benefit every time they leave their private property on the street for up to 72 hours at a time without paying for the space they use. In your world, then, the only people who aren’t necessarily ripping off the city, are those who leave their cars in parking spaces controlled by meters where for a nominal fee, they pay below market rate pricing to store it.

    Let’s remember what the SFMTA has written about this service:

    https://www.sfmta.com/about-sfmta/blog/ford-gobike-launches-bringing-bike-share-new-sf-neighborhoods https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ab2f08a88d1f690d39222c4e8d41a15c63804709c9a0ed01ae22c307a9842ca8.png

  • mx

    Exactly. Citigroup paid $41M for a five year sponsorship in NYC back in 2012. Ford’s sponsorship seems perfectly credible as an advertising deal.

    I’m a pretty huge critic of advertising in public spaces, but the benefits from this make it well worth it to me.

  • Ron W

    Since I’ve been repeatedly trolled here (and probably by Motivate employees posing as posters) and b/c I refuse to drink the Kool-Aid, I’ll let another San Franciscan argue the point (protecting his privacy by reposting his comment anonymously):

    Regardless of what you call them bike “shares”are a privatization of PUBLIC STREETS and it’s not “sharing” when private companies charge taxpayers for public space that we already paid for with our rents and property taxes. Even if you don’t own a car, every citizen has the right to use the 1000 curb spaces that were just handed over to this multinational corporation. This privatization of public space is a MASSIVE transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest corporations and people in America.

    The SFMTA began privatizing public space with City Car Share back in the early 2000’s. After public parking spaces were removed the MTA proceeded to privatize public parking by installing hundreds of thousands of parking meters. Those parking meters now rake in over $300 Million a year in fees, fines, and penalties to both the City and the parking meters companies that hold the parking meter counting and collection contracts.

    The SFMTA then sold off more curb space to rental car companies (calling them car shares) and now even more public space is being sold off bike rental companies. The streets belong to the people and City Hall should not be using our property taxes and rents to subsidize corporate profits.

    Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, meme and text

  • mx

    See, you almost get it. The City took out parking spaces and dedicated them to, yes, what amounts to glorified car and bike rental. The problem is that most of us think that’s a good thing. The space that used to be dedicated for one person to let their car sit idle all day can now be used for transportation by an entire neighborhood. I do not work for Motivate or know anyone who works for Motivate, and I’ve been a Bay Area Bikeshare Member since the system started. I’m a person too, so why do you think the street only belongs to me if I have a car to leave sitting upon it?

    You seem to think Motivate is some massive evil company or something. They’re hardly one of the richest corporations in the country; they’re a contractor that operates a whopping nine bikeshare systems. Their predecessor company was going broke, and the company that made the equipment went bankrupt, to give you an idea of how lucrative this operation has been so far. Would a non-profit or city-owned bikeshare be nice? Sure, in an ideal world. Maybe you should have started one and put in a bid.

    If you honestly believe every inch of curb space is a sacred public good that must never be tainted by private interests, surely you’re out protesting every single driveway curb cut in the city? After all, the city rips out parking spaces to provide dedicated ramps so private owners can access their private garages. That’s all fine, but it’s outrageous if the space is used so an entire neighborhood has access to low-cost bikes to get around?

  • Ron W

    Thanks for proving my point– that you’re a Motivate troll trying to shut down dissent.

  • p_chazz

    “[Ford] achieved a solid 2016 net income of $4.6 billion, as well as an adjusted pre-tax company profit of $10.4 billion, which was our
    second best ever – building on the all-time record we had set the year before. Mark Fields, President & CEO. Compared to $4.6 billion, $68 million is chump change.

  • p_chazz

    AC Transit’s predecessor, the Key System was a private company. The Muni’s predecessor, the Market Street Railway was a private company. Caltrain’s predecessor, Southern Pacific was a private company. There is a long history of cities granting franchises to private companies to operate transit systems. Sorry, your socialist rhetoric just isn’t cutting it.

  • mx

    For that matter, every single bus Muni or AC Transit purchases comes from a private company, and you’d better believe there’s a profit involved there too.

  • Ron W

    The transit systems named that have had private antecedents are now public systems that exist to serve the public good, and not to enrich the pockets of private corporations.

    For Motivate to honor its bike “sharing” definition, it should offer a truly progressive “pricing” policy, modeled on some cities in Europe, which offer free bikes with a deposit, or free for the first 2 hours, etc.

  • gneiss

    That certainly would be nice, but unfortunately, the taxpayers here in the bay area aren’t willing to pony up the cash to support a program like that. In Europe, these services are partially funded by the government. Here, if there was even a whiff of taxpayer support for “bikers” we have seen all the usual suspects coming out complaining about what a waste of money it was.

    Bear in mind, that this program is not receiving any taxpayer money. I’m pretty sure that it just doesn’t pencil out for Motivate to be able to offer these services. After all, even the low cost MUNI programs are subsidized by the government.

  • p_chazz

    Only troll on this thread is you, dude.

  • Dr_Ace

    You’re right. Even if you use the goBike once weekly, the $150/yr works out to be cheaper than $3/ride. So certainly if it’s a regular part of your commute, it would be much cheaper. That’s not my use-case, so I wasn’t thinking about it that way.

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