San Franciscans Get Taken For a Ride — a price comparison of bike shares from around the world.

Over the past few months I’ve read article after article debating the expansion of the Ford GoBikes in San Francisco. Each article discusses the pros and cons of using the system without comparing the cost of similar systems currently operating in other cities around the world. I decided to do a little bit of research regarding the cost per user as many citizens feel the prices are a bit more expensive than they should be. Here are some of my unscientific findings… Not interested in the wall of text? Skip to the charts.

Ford GoBike in San Francisco.

First we will start off with the Ford GoBike in San Francisco. Ford GoBike is operated by Motivate in conjunction with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. In 2017, the bike share was re-branded after an investment from the Ford Motor Company.

Single trips start at $3, day passes $9.95 and a yearly membership with a promotional price of $124/year.

A Single Ride on a GoBike starts at $3 dollars, the first 30-minutes are free and then it’s an extra $3 dollars for each additional 15-minute block. As an example, a 35-minute single ride rental will cost the user $6 and a 47-minute single rental would cost the user $9 dollars. An important note- single ride rentals are ONLY available through the Ford GoBike application on your smart phone and on the site it’s listed as a “promotion ending on 9/30”… I’ll talk more about this in a bit.*

The Day Pass starts at $9.95 and is good for 24-hours from the time of the first rental. The first 30-minutes are free and each additional 15-minute block costs still costs $3 dollars. The same two rides as above, one 35-minute ride and another 47-minute ride will cost a total of $18.95. In my opinion, the Day Pass is clearly for a tourist or someone running a lot of errands and who will be using the bikes 4 or 5 times in a single 24 hour period but not more than a 10-times per year.

The last option is the Annual Membership for $150 dollars per year and entitles the member to unlimited 45-minute rides with each additional 15-minute block still costing $3 dollars. Excluding the cost of the annual membership, the 35-minute ride would be free and the 47-minute ride would be $3 dollars. If you plan on using the Ford GoBikes more than 10 times per year this is clearly the most economical plan for you.

But my question is… how does the Ford GoBike rental plans costs compare to other successful bike shares from around the world?

YouBike in Taipei.

YouBike is a popular bike share throughout Taiwan. I’ve personally used YouBike in Taipei many many times and it’s by far the most affordable and effective bike share I’ve seen. YouBike is a private/public partnership between the City of Taipei, Taipei Metro and Giant Bicycles. There are hundreds of stations outside pretty much every single school, public building, park and MRT station. Since launching in 2012, YouBike has exceeded 85,000,000 trips. Although the cost of living in Taipei is significantly cheaper it’s a great example of a public/private partnership so I’ve decided to include it.

$100NT = $3.30usd, $10NT = $0.33

With YouBike there are no daily, weekly, monthly or yearly access fees. You simply rent a bike by 30 minute blocks. A Single Rental is completed by swiping your credit card at the Kiosk, a $2,000NT deposit is applied to the credit card and once the bike is returned you will be refunded the difference. If you register your EasyCard (equivalent of a Clipper Card) and a local phone number you become a member. The benefit of becoming a member is the first 30 minutes of rentals originating in New Taipei City are free and rentals originating in Taipei are credited with a $5NT government subsidy.

Let’s go back to the two rides I’ve previously used as an example. Assuming one rental is in Taipei City and the other starts in New Taipei City the total cost for one 35-minute ride and another 47-minute ride would be $25NT or $.82 US cents.

Santander Bikes in London.

Santander Bikes, also known as the “Boris Bikes”, is London's bike share program regulated by the Transport for London (TfL); the local government body responsible transportation infrastructure in Greater London.

£1 is $1.29usd

The Daily Pass access fee is £2 ($2.57 US dollars). Once the access fee is paid, the first 30-minutes for each rental are free and each additional 30-minutes is £2. Using the Daily Pass, our 35-minute and 47-minute ride would cost a total of £6 or $7.72 US dollars.

The Yearly Pass costs £90 ($115.79 US dollars) and includes the first 30-minutes free and each additional 30-minute block still costs £2. Not including the yearly cost, one 35-minute bike ride and an additional 47-minute rental would cost a total of £4 or $5.15 US Dollars.

Vélib’ in Paris.

Vélib is the largest bike sharing program by numbers outside of China. As of July 2013, Velib also has one of the highest market penetration rates with 1 bike per 97 inhabitants. The system is owned by the City of Paris and work is contracted out to JCDecaux.

1€ = $1.17 US Dollars
1€ = $1.17 US Dollars

Velib requires each user either purchase a short-term subscription or a long-term subscription. A Single Day Ticket which gives you access to the entire system for 24-hours costs 1.70€ ($2 US Dollars). The first 30-minutes are free, the first additional half hour is 1€ ($1.17 US Dollars) and after each additional half hour the price continues to scale up. Using the Single Day Ticket, the total cost for a 35-minute and 47-minute ride would be 3.70€ or $4.34 US Dollars.

Velib also offers two different yearly subscription plans. The first is Velib Classic which costs 29€ ($34.03 US Dollars) and the second plan is the Velib Passion 29€ ($45.78 US Dollars). The Classic includes the first 30-minutes free while the Passion includes the first 45-minutes free. Not including the yearly cost and assuming we went with the more expensive plan, one 35-minute ride and another 47-minute ride would cost users 1€ or $1.70 US Dollars.

BIXI in Montréal

Launched in 2009, Bixi was North American’s first large-scale bike sharing system. The system is currently owned by the City of Montreal.

1 Canadian Dollar = $0.78 US Dollar

Bixi requires users purchase either a long or short term subscription.

A 24-Hour Subscription costs $5 CAD ($3.92 US Dollars), which includes the first 30 minutes free. The first additional 15-minutes cost an extra 1.75 CAD ($1.37 US Dollars) while each additional 15-minutes after that is $3 CAD ($2.35 US Dollars). Using the 24 Hour Subscription, our 35-minute and 47-minute bike rental would cost a total of 11.50 CAD or $9.01 US Dollars.

The One-year Membership costs $89 CAD ($69.77 US Dollars) and includes the first 45-minutes. Like the daily subscription, the first additional 15-minutes cost an extra $1.75 CAD while each additional 15-minutes after that cost $3 CAD. Not including the yearly subscription cost, our 35 and 47-minute ride would cost us $1.75 CAD or $1.37 US Dollars.

So how does San Francisco stack up?

In my opinion, as planned our bike share system in San Francisco is significantly more expensive than pretty much every other bike share system in the world*.

Put into perspective:

The cost of a daily pass for each city I looked into.
The cost of the first additional 15-minutes after the included minutes are used up. For comparison purposes if the bike share charges by 30-minute blocks I cut the cost in half.
Utilizing a daily pass, this chart shows the price increase for a single ride by the hour.
The daily rental example cost includes the daily rental fee and what would be the additional cost associated with taking one 35-minute rental ride and another 47-minute rental ride within 24 hours.
The yearly membership costs
The number of free minutes included with a yearly membership.
San Franciscans are rolling their eyes… but it’s something you might have to worry about. Note: In Paris the replacement fee for a lost bike is actually only 150€ but the user is also required to pay another additional 150€ to reactivate his/her account.
When it comes to accessibility San Francisco’s youth does not have access to the Ford GoBike system. This is a stark contrast to Taipei where every single school has a huge rack of YouBikes for rental. Paris offers various discounts for youth, young adults and students.

But but but… “Bike Share for All”!

The Bike Share for All program literally ignores the problem with the current system and creates a two-tier product. An affordable bike share system should be a public good equally available to all those who live in The City. Furthermore, to qualify for the Bike Share for All incentive a user must make under $24,120 per year — somebody working more than 32-hours per week for minimum wage in San Francisco does not qualify. If we must, I think a step in the right direction would be lowering the age requirements and offering a student and youth discount.

Okay, but the bikes must be better!

You call that a basket??!

And now my next complaint with our system in San Francisco... the bikes aren’t nearly as well equipped as some of the other bike share systems. For example, the YouBike in Taipei comes with a usable basket so you can carry food, milk tea (my favorite) or a backpack and not have to worry about losing it via the flimsy strap. The YouBike also includes an easy to use lock so you can run into the store and grab something without losing your bike if need be.

THAT MY FRIENDS, is a basket.

A Tale of Two Cities?*

During my Googling I found one other city that was actually more expensive than San Francisco. Yup, you’ve guessed it… Citi Bikes in New York City. Coincidentally both San Francisco’s Ford GoBike and New York City’s Citi Bike are operated by Motivate.

One of the other interesting things I’ve noticed with Citi Bike is the option to rent a bike for a “single ride” isn’t there. I’m assuming once the “promotional period” ends on 9/31 San Francisco might lose the single ride rental option too. Another interesting thing I noticed is the Annual Membership for Citi Bike is currently priced at $163 per year. According to Wikipedia, the original yearly price at launch was $95 dollars, it jumped to $149 in 2014 and again to $163 in 2017. Should we also be expecting a price increase every 2–3 years in San Francisco as well?

The Cost of Living…

The only real excuse we have for the high bike share costs in San Francisco might be attributed to the high cost of living and government bureaucracy. But seriously, it shouldn’t be four times more expensive to rent a bike in San Francisco over London. In San Francisco the price difference between renting a bike or calling a Lyft/Uber is very insignificant. We won’t be encouraging anyone to turn in their vehicles with these current rental rates… it’s cheaper to pay the parking meter.

Some Final Thoughts…

The environmental, social, health and economical advantages to a proper bike share system in a city are well documented. However, I do feel that our system in San Francisco has fallen a bit short. An innovative city like San Francisco should have been able to hash together a plan that works for everyone. Personally, I’d rather see The City fund it’s own bike share program and run it as a non-profit (even if it’s at a loss) so we aren’t stuck paying these exorbitant fees… For the bike share to truly be successful it needs to be cheaper than the cost of a Lyft Line/Uber Pool or paying the parking meter.

We should all ask ourselves and our government officials - what is the ultimate point of a bike share? I think we should aim to create a bike share network with equally affordable access for all citizens, to reduce traffic congestion, pollution and compliment our current public transit infrastructure.