UPDATE: San Francisco E-Bike Fleet Will Be Restored Months Before NYC

Citi Bike's popular e-bikes will be banned on the West Side Greenway. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Citi Bike's popular e-bikes will be banned on the West Side Greenway. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

This just in: Lyft will restore e-bike service for its bike-share customers in San Francisco at least three months before the same bikes return to the streets of New York City.

One day after Streetsblog reported exclusively that the grounded e-bike fleet would return to the Big Apple after Sept. 21, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that e-bikes would be restored by June in Baghdad by the Bay, where the system is called Ford GoBike.

A Lyft spokeswoman said that the company needed to fix its problem in San Francisco first because so many of the Bay Area bikes were the electric-assist kind.

“Almost half of the GoBike fleet was removed when we took the e-bikes off the street, so it’s important that we bring the Bay Area system back to its full fleet level as quickly as possible,” Lyft spokeswoman Julie Wood told Streetsblog this morning.

Roughly 1,000 e-bikes had been removed from San Francisco and New York due to the front-brake problem. But New York’s 12,000-bike system was not crippled by the loss of the e-bikes. Though e-bike fans were obviously disappointed, Citi Bike maintained fleet size by redeploying its “classic” bikes.

Another explanation for the rapid fix in San Fran: Lyft’s competitor Uber operates electric Jump bikes in the same zone in Frisco. In New York City, Lyft enjoys a monopoly over its existing service area.

Wood confirmed that when Lyft e-bikes return to San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C., they will include a new model. Some of the bikes in New York will be repaired versions of the popular pedal-assist bikes that New Yorkers had quickly come to love for their speed.

Data: Citi Bike
Data: Citi Bike

During its initial deployment, Citi Bike e-bikes were typically ridden five times more per day than the average “classic” bike, the company said.

  • Sassojr

    A for-profit company made a logical decision to prioritize re-deploying ebikes is a city that is more hilly, with a fleet that was more reliant on ebikes, and where they don’t have a monopoly… What’s the story exactly?

  • Citibike gets a lot more usage. Part of the decision might be that in SF, they compete with Jump and scooters, while in NYC they have a monopoly.

  • Jeff

    This IS the story! The story is the downsides of relying on a for-profit company, driven exclusively by for-profit motivations, unlike every other mode of transportation which is subsidized and exists first and foremost to serve the citizens of this city.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Oof… don’t call it Frisco.

  • The story is that we are getting left behind as a franchise, because the company is incentivized to care less about us & our mayor is pretty much bored of all of it, doesn’t seem to care whether it ever comes back. And people are paying for this service while non-subscribers are just going out and buying $600 electric fold-up scooters and taking their chances with keeping it indoors in their personal space.

  • Wilfried84

    I’m not at all in favor of privatizing government services, but given the state of our public transit, I would not count on publicly run bike share doing any better.

  • thomas040

    That doesn’t seem fair.

  • Larry Littlefield

    You mean exists first and foremost for early retirees who are exempt from city and state income taxes, and holders of tax exempt bonds, don’t you?

    In the next recession, when money becomes scarce again, we’ll see who is made worse off. The interests above, or the “citizens of the city.”

  • Joe R.

    If NYC publicly ran bike share, the unions would probably want a conductor riding on every bike to tell the rider when it was safe to go. You would also probably have 5 or 6 people at every bike share station. One would act as a valet, while the rest would be supervising that person. Maybe if you’re lucky one of the rest would be doing some other function, like checking tire pressure. Then you might have someone to fill out forms when a bike needed repair, plus people to do the actual repairs. Of course, not one person who does all repairs, but several, each limited by their job description. One would replace brake pads, another brake cables, etc.

    Whatever issues I have with private enterprise, and to be sure there are many, at least they tend to be more efficient with labor.

  • crazyvag

    Since the bikes don’t magically appear all at once, you have a choice of deploying them slowly to all locations (causing shortages for a while), or redeploy them all at once in a more efficient manner by deploying by bulk?

    Are you saying that non-profit would simply distribute them slowly to all locations at once? I suppose it’s true that governments typically waste money and one could see them wasting money by adding one bike at a time throughout the country.

  • at least [private companies] tend to be more efficient with labor.

    Here we see the toxic phenomenon of conceiving of labour as Other rather than as part of our class. Shameful stuff.

    Anyway, not only should bike share be a public service, but there should indeed be an attendant staffing each station.

  • Joe R.

    So you favor do nothing jobs, not to mention standing around all day at bike station has to be among the most boring jobs anyone could do? The nice thing about private enterprise, really the only nice thing about it, is that competition forces at least some efficiency. If Citibike has attendants, that means it has to charge more to pay for what is really an unnecessary position. That in turn means they lose customers, so they have to charge those remaining even more, and so forth. The end result of all this is usually a death spiral, and NO jobs for anyone. That in a nutshell is why private enterprise generally is more efficient with labor. They have to be for their own survival.

    The only reason public unions to date have gotten away with keeping unnecessary jobs is the idea that public revenue isn’t subject to the same constraints as private revenue. To some extent this is true, in that a municipality can raise taxes to pay for redundant labor. However, municipalities still compete with each other for people and jobs. If taxes are too high, both will go elsewhere.

  • Generally speaking, all public agencies should be major employers. This keeps wealth within the working class.

    In the case of bike share, the cost of an attendant at each station would be a legitimate one. The attendant would be responsible for providing basic maintenence on the bikes. He or she would also be available to answer users’ questions and to deal with technical problems. And the presence of an attendant would encourage new users to try the bike share service. Funding bike share, with an attendant at each station, would be a case of using public money for a public good.

    Finally, “efficiency” is nothing more than a polite way of saying “cheating the workers”.

  • Joe R.

    IF the attendant is doing stuff besides just standing around, then it’s not a horrible idea. They could do basic repairs, like top off tires or adjust brakes, see that the bikes are properly put in the racks (especially important if we have charging stations for e-bikes), and as you said answer general questions about bike share. Just doing a lot of simple repairs on the spot will make more bikes available, and save labor elsewhere.

    That said, I still think we would need to limit the hours for the attendants to something like 6 AM through 8 or 9 PM. For their own safety I don’t think it’s a good idea having someone standing around late nights. And bike share doesn’t get much use late nights anyway.

  • mx

    Competition works. Lyft isn’t going to let Uber’s Jump have San Francisco to itself for longer than necessary. Now, let’s get 10,000 e-bikes on the streets from five different vendors, and let the war on cars commence!

  • Matt Laroche

    Or “San Fran”!

  • mx

    I think part of the problem here is not just that it’s relying on a for-profit company, but that the for-profit company isn’t being treated as a city vendor responsible for delivering services. The contract for these services is a concession agreement, like a snack stand in the park. That makes sense at the experimentation stage, but at the point where people are relying on this stuff as a means of transportation, it needs to shift to a vendor relationship, where there’s actual accountability for the performance of the network and the city can impose penalties for non-compliance.

    That’s true whether or not the company is for-profit or non-profit. Either way, bike share should be treated as a service provider, not a concession.

  • Jame

    That is not a cost efficient model at all. And likely unnecessary – save the busiest locations. Since density of stations is key – staffing a person every block or 2 is a pretty unrealistic program.

    The bike share systems have a really simple and effective way to flag bikes for repair. Today they do have bike share staffers responsible for picking up bikes that need to be repaired and “rebalancing” the bikes as needed to keep sufficient supply available.

    Having staffers would be much better deployed working with local business, HOAs, co-op boards and so on to get memberships for their residents and employees. And also working on safety programs for communities and schools to encourage and increase bike usage. Not manning stations….

  • Those are good ideas. But let’s not fail to include housing. Remember that we are imagining an alternate reality in which bike share is publicly funded. And a public service should cater first to the people with the greatest need.

    I can accept that not every bike share station would need an attendant. Still, the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that at least the stations in the most heavily-trafficked areas of Manhattan would be well served by a the presence of an enthusiastic person playing the role of host and sending the welcoming message “this is your system”.

  • Kevin Dann

    Amen & Hallelujah to that!

  • Kill Uber

    Uber and Lyft are not in favor of any war on cars.