SFMTA Requires Permit for Dockless Bike Share

A "Jump" Electric Dockless Share Bike. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
A "Jump" Electric Dockless Share Bike. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has published a permit application for so-called “dockless” bike-share companies. These are companies that offer rental bikes based on smart-phone and GPS technology–unlike the official, Bay Area Bike Share/Ford GoBike system, they don’t require fixed docking locations where users have to pick them up and drop them off. The nine-page permit document is online, but here is the breakdown of permitting fees:

Chart showing fees for starting a dockless bikeshare company. Image: SFMTA's Permit
Image: SFMTA

As Streetsblog readers are surely aware, the Ford GoBike/Bay Area Bike Share is in the midst of a ten-fold expansion, from 700 bikes to 7,000 bikes, which will be distributed throughout San Francisco and the East Bay. The entire bike-share scheme, however, has had to contend with ‘disruptors,’ such as GPS-based BlueGoGo, which requires no docking stations and can be locked up anywhere, just like a normal bike. However, the city, which has an exclusive arrangement with Bay Area Bike Share, threatened to sue BlueGoGo. Eventually, BlueGoGo was effectively shut down, at least for now.

That hasn’t stopped other GPS-based competitors, such as Jump, an electric bike-share from Social Bicycles in New York, from, uh, jumping into the SF Market. Streetsblog New York did a great breakdown of the new speculative bike-share market.

Ryan Rzepecki, the CEO of Jump, said he isn’t at all phased by San Francisco’s new permit. “We’ve done bikes in six countries, with a total of 10,000 bikes … the things they’re asking for in the permit are familiar and we’re comfortable with it.” His company normally works in partnership with cities to set up bike-share systems; they set up bike-share in Portland and Santa Monica, for example.

The Jump electric bikes his company is offering in San Francisco are actually “geo-fenced,” so while they can be locked to conventional bike racks, they do have to be returned within a certain area. That is a way to avoid having bikes strewn all over the city, as San Francisco officials seem to fear. In addition, the company will be setting up charging stations, and will credit riders who take the bikes to one of these stations and plug them in (the bike is rideable when the charge is gone, although it’s pretty heavy–Streetsblog will write more about Jump bikes in a future post).

Meanwhile, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), in a release from last April, had this caution about some of the new GPS-based bike-shares:

In recent weeks, “rogue” bike-share companies have launched, uninvited, in U.S. cities with flimsy equipment and limited or no public notification, posing significant safety risks to the public, and fully divorced from larger transportation planning and municipal needs. Photos from cities in China, where rogue systems are already in place, show junk heaps of broken bikes. People who have used the bikes in the U.S. report that they are of poor quality and often unsafe.

Bike-share systems have a strong role to play in a city’s transportation network. But, by starting up without invitation or coordination, these companies have shown that they are not serious about providing bikes as a real mobility option for people. Instead, their actions suggest that they are more interested in media attention and a quick buyout. Such fly-by-night operations put the public at risk.

Maybe so. And it’s important to distinguish between some of the low-ball, junky “rogue” bike-share offerings (check out this pic if you’re curious what that looks like) and robust GPS-based share-bikes, such as Jump is offering. Either way, if anything can be learned from ride-hail companies such as Uber and Lyft, it seems like GPS-and-smart-phone-based bikes are the future, whether they be “rogue” or launched through an official permit process by an established company. It makes one wonder how successful Motivate’s Ford GoBikes will be, when faced with quality electric and conventional shared bikes that aren’t tethered to big docking locations.

Tell us what you think. Comment below.

  • Brad Phillips

    Social Bikes JUMPs parent is primarily in the business of docking station bikes in mid-sized cities so undocked bikes seem to be a way for them to enter markets where they didn’t win a contract for dedicated docking. And I know this is a UC study.
    Personally I didn’t like the bikes – they are super clunky and tank like. As a non-car owner I wonder if this competes more with Scoot than Go-Bikes. Which brings me to another irritation- JUMP bikes are locked to public bike racks. Are public bike racks now for commercial use? Are the permit fees to build place more bike racks? If so then these are just skirting bike share agreements by using public bike racks.
    At some point we must decide if we want the city littered with red rental bikes collecting data for advertisers (that’s the real value for these companies).
    Just as we regulate billboards… cities must and will regulate these Scoot I mean E-Bikes in a more aggressive manner.

  • Yonathan Randolph

    I am disappointed that the SF Bicycle Coalition supported Peskin’s preemptive regulations. Did any of the problems that NACTO is worried about happen with Google’s rogue employee bicycle program in Mountain View? Were workers endangered by their flimsy Huffy blue bikes? No. I think San Francisco’s permit application is a bit too prescriptive in forcing a particular business model: hefty fee, pay for bike rack even if not needed, tamper-proof bikes instead of lightweight, on-bike GPS monitoring instead of on-phone, pre-approved cleaning and repair plan instead of as-needed, mandatory service area with strict availability requirements. These mostly address problems that any for-profit bike rental company would have to solve anyway, and their solutions might be more affordable than the city-prescribed ones.

    My main concerns with unregulated rental bikes is that they may use up too many bike racks and too much sidewalk space. So agree with the part of the permit application that requires rider education and timely removal of bikes that are broken or in the way.

    Ironically, the city forced out BlueGoGo, which did not occupy a bike rack, and is welcoming JUMP, which does take up a bike rack and is probably more expensive. I think this is indicative of a regulation that went too far.

  • Gilla

    Ford go bikes are too expensive, they need competition. Frankly, given the cost of bike rentals, I’d rather rent a Car share. I feel safer in 2,000lb car versus a 25lb bike. I won’t be enticed to risk my life on a bike until it’s much cheaper.

  • Chris W

    The permit fees should at least be enough to pay for SFMTA to install enough new bike racks to support the for-profit bike share companies. If I can’t find bike parking because a Jump bike is using a tax-payer funded rack, then that’s a problem.

  • Jame

    I think Bay Area Bike Share could have been more effective if it wasn’t so limited in the initial rollout. This next phase is better, but as I was taking part in the station planing workshops but they weren’t really open to looking past really limited ranges. Station density will still be an issue.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Perhaps the SFMTA will next consider mandatory permitting for garageless cars.

  • coastallhills

    I’d rather have the red JUMP bikes individually sprinkled throughout the city instead of the huge docking bays of Ford Bikes (that often replace car parking) clogging up the streets and sidewalks. And the flexibility of the dockless system is way more convenient, not to mention the JUMP Bikes are super fast and great for hills.

  • gneiss

    Just curious, does anyone know if conventional bike rental companies are paying annual permit fees outside of their business licenses?

  • Brad Phillips

    I’m not sure how Docked Bikes clog up streets and sidewalks – more often they take up parking spaces in a very planned a formalized way. Cars can share their parking spaces for bikes. With bike stations I know where they are and I create a routine. Hunting down a stationless bike is not more convenient and trust me people will not like multiple venture capital firms packing our public bike racks with their product. Look at the backgrounds of the new “bike” scheme people. These are not “bike” & transit people. They are make a quick buck VC folks.

  • SFHandyman

    I agree. I didn’t renew my Bike Coalition membership after they participated in getting BlueGogo banned.

    I support biking, but don’t own a bike. I live in the TL where bikes parked on the street are immediately stolen or stripped down. I don’t have enough income to risk ownership with periodic theft/vandalism. BlueGogo was a great option for me to be able to ride. The bikes were also lightweight, unlike Bay Area Bikeshare.

    If dockless bikes, and especially electric assist bikes (I’m old) spread into my neighborhood, and Bike Coalition backs access for lower income people/neighborhoods, I’ll be thrilled and I will renew.

  • SFHandyman

    Why is a personal bike that only supports one rider, more entitled than a shared bike that supports dozens of riders and produces tax revenue?

    I don’t own a bike. Why are my shared / taxed wheels less entitled than your wheels?

  • Brad Phillips
  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Call ’em Bike Rental businesses rather than bike “share”. Without money, you sure ain’t getting your ‘share’.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Because those bicycles are not shared, they are rental fleets. And renting them is way pricier than buying a used bike on craigslist or even a used one from a legit bike shop. It is silly to argue about curtailing people’s bikes when we’re trying to get more people to ride and take cars off the streets!

  • FurryOctopus

    The Jump bikes are red eyesores in Bayview & feel like some alien virus, an invasion of our city.

    So glad Calle24 & Mission rejected & banned this.

    Sidewalks are too busy aleady, and who wants or needs the next 5 copycat companies that are on the way…cant wait for them to go out of business or end up as spare parts

  • Paul

    1 shared bike takes 5-10 cars off a normal commute route. More cars or 1 – 2 bikes on single block? I’ll take the bikes.

  • FurryOctopus

    How can one bike simultaneously remove 5-10 cars? Think about it. 1 bike potentially removes 1 car, sometimes.

    Do you work for Uber, the new owner of Jump, by chance?