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Streetsblog Editorial: Don’t Leave Bike Share Customers Spinning

Note: Metropolitan Shuttle, a leader in bus shuttle rentals, regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog Los Angeles. Unless noted in the story, Metropolitan Shuttle is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

Muni had another serious breakdown this morning. A stuck train forced the agency to single-track between Van Ness and Castro, causing significant delays. And thanks to San Francisco's caps and other limitations on bike-sharing, customers in West Portal and many other locations on the far side of the Twin Peaks tunnel were left with few alternatives to waiting in the record-breaking heat.

SFMTA is finally planning to raise the cap to allow 11,000 shared bikes in the city. But Lyft is fighting that, claiming it violates the contract Motivate (the Lyft subsidiary that runs the Bay Area's bike-share system) signed with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, promising exclusive rights to bike-share until 2025. “As we will explain to the court, the agreement between Motivate and the City was about a docked bike-share system,” John Coté, communications director for San Francisco’s city attorney, told Forbes magazine in a statement about the suit. “It does not give Lyft the right to a monopoly on bike-sharing in San Francisco. Lyft can seek a permit for dockless bikes on equal footing with everyone else.”

Now Local 250 of the Transport Workers Union of America (which represents Muni operators) is also trying to keep out the competition, siding with Lyft and claiming that JUMP and other potential competitors engage in unfair labor practices. "Numerous articles have documented these companies’ use of independent contractors to charge and re-balance vehicles for little pay and no benefits," wrote Roger Morenco, president of the local, in a June 5 letter to SFMTA.

Fair enough, but Lyft uses gig drivers too. Isn't the right answer to work to organize Lyft and Uber and its bike-share subsidiary, rather than try to lock out all competition? Morenco also argues that the city's official bike-share system is superior because "GoBike [now re-branded as "Bay Wheels"] is well connected to other transit networks, including Muni, with many of the busiest bike-share stations co-located at transit stops."

Tell that to the commuters in the photo below, trapped at West Portal this morning, with no bike-share stations anywhere in the area.

A struck train in the subway at Deboce lead to yet another morning of delays, seen here at West Portal. Photo: TKTKTK
A struck train in the subway at Duboce leads to yet another morning of delays, seen here at West Portal. Photo: Jesus Lozano

Lyft did a media blitz yesterday and over the weekend, letting the press know about the Bay Wheels rebrand and that they're rolling out a new e-bike (seen in the lead picture). "Riders in San Jose will see the bikes starting June 11--and Lyft is working to add them to their fleets in San Francisco and the East Bay later this month," added the company in its release.

That's welcome news for riders who miss the electric GoBikes, pulled last April because of a brake issue. But it's no consolation to customers who suffered in this morning's Muni meltdown--or in the many other areas that have waited years but still don't have access to bike-share. Lyft's release also indicates that their new e-bikes will have at least some ability to be returned outside of a dock, so maybe that will be of some help in the future.

Either way, GPS and smartphone technology long ago rendered dock-based bike-share obsolete. San Francisco needs to lift the caps as soon as possible. Caps on mobility options, combined with Bay Area politics that still keep the official bike-share system docks away from so much of the city, just push more people into automobiles.

It's bad enough that Muni is so unreliable and the city is failing its Vision Zero targets. It would be unforgivable to continue hamstringing bike-sharing as an alternative for people just trying to get from A to B.

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