It’s War: New Bike Rental Company Ignores City ‘Cease and Desist’ Order

The offending photo: The Jonathan Cohens behind JOCO (New York Cohen, left, London Cohen, right) show off their bike on W. 36th Street. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The offending photo: The Jonathan Cohens behind JOCO (New York Cohen, left, London Cohen, right) show off their bike on W. 36th Street. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Who do these JOCOs think they are?

Two men named Jonathan Cohen — founders of a new e-bike rental company that has about 100 bikes docked in 30 parking garages in Manhattan — are fighting back against a city bid to shut down their three-day-old business.

Both Cohens — Jonathan is from New York and Jonathan is from London and they both met at Columbia Business School — told Streetsblog that they will continue operating despite a cease-and-desist letter sent on Wednesday by the Department of Transportation.

The conflict is destined for the lawyers — who have very different ideas about whether JOCO is a “bike-share” company that violates Citi Bike’s exclusive operating agreement with the city or whether JOCO is simply a bike rental company doing what plenty of bike shops in town do. (JOCO’s bike racks are sashed in about three dozen parking garages in Manhattan.)

First, representing the city, Michelle Craven, assistant commissioner of the DOT, from the cease-and-desist:

It has been brought to our attention that [JOCO] commenced bicycle share operations in the City of New York. Please be advised that you do not have the authorization or permission, pursuant to a concession, franchise, permit, contract or otherwise, required for such operations. Additionally, the City of New York will actively enforce all laws and its police powers, including but not limited to those that protect its rights of way and ensure the safety and service provided by the city’s rights of way.

Accordingly, you are hereby directed immediately to cease and desist from any such bicycle share operations.

Your rebuttal counselor? Rising for the defendants, Matthew Daus, the former Taxi and Limousine commissioner who is representing JOCO, said,

JOCO deploys a purely private EV bike rental initiative to promote sustainable mobility goals in the city. JOCO’s business model, where rental transactions and trips start and end exclusively on private property — not city streets — is explicitly permitted under NY State law. In our legal opinion, this is not a public bike share system, and the NYC DOT has no jurisdiction over what happens on private property. In our view, no permits or approvals are required from NYC DOT, and JOCO has already launched their service legally.

It is unclear if the city is defending the contract that gave Lyft the right to operate the Citi Bike program exclusively or some other law or contract; the DOT did not respond to follow-up questions about the legal underpinnings of the cease-and-desist letter. And neither of the Jonathan Cohens went beyond their lawyer’s brief brief.

Instead, they wanted to show off their all-electric bike rental company to Streetsblog, which got the first official ride on Wednesday, hours after the official launch and one week after JOCO made a mini-splash in the media with its initial announcement.

A monthly subscription — which features unlimited 45-minute rides on an electric pedal-assist bike — is $49 (Citi Bike is just $15 a month — but electric Citi Bikes carry an additional 12-cent-a-minute charge for members). Customers can also rent JOCO bikes as they go: unlock the bike for $1 and then pay 25 cents per minute, making a 30-minute ride cost $8.50. Meanwhile, Citi Bike is $3.50 per 30-minute ride for non-members, and an e-Citi Bike carries an additional 18-cent-a-minute charge, so a 30-minute e-Citi Bike ride for non-members is $8.90.

JOCO only has about 30 locations right now — all in Manhattan — with plans for 100 stations and about 800 bikes by the summer. Even then, the vast majority will be in Manhattan, where one is never far from a Citi Bike, which has 4,500 electric bikes. The bikes are similar in performance, though the Jonathan Cohens tout their bikes “premium” features, such as no exposed wires, speedometer and better components (also, the bikes recharge in their dock, so batteries don’t need to be swapped out and recharged at another location).

Legal parking? JOCO operates out of rented spaces in parking lots, not on city land, so the company thinks its bike share is legal.
Legal parking? JOCO operates out of rented spaces in parking lots, not on city land, so the company thinks its bike share is legal.

New York Jonathan Cohen, whose background is in real estate, simply can’t understand why the city doesn’t see the benefits of the service he’s selling.

“We are leasing private spaces and we’re complimentary with Citi Bike,” he said. “The pie is growing and the city needs more bike rental options. Our competition is cars, not Citi Bike.”

Ironically, London Jonathan Cohen, a mechanical engineer by training and a former product development worker at Jaguar, said the company opted not to make its first entry into the New York market with e-scooters because at the time the Cohens were raising funding, e-scooter rental was not legal (and it remains illegal outside of Manhattan; the city is legally allowed to run scooter-share pilots, which it is doing in The Bronx).

Nonetheless, the two are in legal limbo, though their bikes are available for rental for now.

“The city should be actively embracing more sustainable transportation options for consumers, and should be promoting — not stifling — lawful competition,” Daus said.

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Jessica Haller has the StreetsPAC endorsement. Eric Dinowitz, another top competitor, revealed through some of his comments why he did not. But let's let the candidates speak for themelsves!