After a somewhat dramatic initial launch, a new private bike share has opened for business in San Francisco, and it’s called Bluegogo. As an avid bicycle commuter and fan of all alternative forms of transportation, I couldn’t wait to try it out. An appointment across town during the workday gave me the perfect opportunity to give the new service a shot on a real commute and see how viable it is as a transportation method in the city.
Bluegogo works by using an app (Android and iOS) that allows you to locate and unlock a bike after setting up your payment information. The fee is $0.99 for a 30 minute ride with 5 free rides for signing up, though it will also place a $99 hold on your credit card until you return the bike. The company’s SF operations is its first foray into the US market as it expands beyond its home market in China.
On Thursday afternoon, roughly 30 minutes before my appointment near Civic Center, I set out to try Bluegogo. I checked the app and noticed that there was a group of bikes fairly close to my office, and another fairly close to my destination. There is a some verbiage in the app that references leaving bikes near any public bike rack at the end of your trip, but I wasn’t sure if this was true. It turns out you actually must leave the bike at a Bluegogo station for now, so it was fortunate that my destination did have a station nearby. This seems to be unique for San Francisco right now due regulation here.
I found the station using the app with no trouble, and was greeted by a row of new, nice looking bikes.
The bikes seemed great and had pretty clear instructions on them about how the process works. I was really excited by what appears to be a solar panel in the bottom of the front rack on each bike. Despite appreciating the flowery decoration on some of the bikes’ front racks, I chose an unadorned bicycle, scanned the QR code on the back using the app, and it immediately popped unlocked with no problem.
The bike was nice and well tuned. The brakes were great and the shifting was smooth, so much so that it reminded me that I really need to tune my own commuter bicycle back home. My ride was comfortable and I had no problem riding over to Market Street and down towards Civic Center on the bike’s three gears. I had only one short block of uphill on my route, but the bike seemed like it would be capable but not ideal on most SF streets that a commuter would hit. If I get another chance I’d like to take it up Sutter to really test that low gear. The bike was also noticeably much heavier than my usual ride, but I understand my own bike isn’t hauling a built in lock and GPS and electronics. Overall the bike was pretty good, maybe as it should be for a service that’s so new, but if they keep the bikes anywhere near this condition in the long run I’ll have no complaints.
Near Civic Center, I pulled up to another Bluegogo station full of blue bikes and parked mine in line. An easy tap in the app locked the bike and completed my trip. I was shown a map of my route, the time and calories burned, and a charge of $0.00 due to the 5 free rides you get on sign up. I then walked to my appointment, happy with the experience and assured that I could take any transit method home without worrying about my own parked bicycle.
If you care to see closer details of the trip, I logged the ride in Strava, but do adjust for plenty of error in forgetting to turn it on at the start and off at the end.
Not the only game in town
Residents of the bay area are probably aware that we’ve already had another bike share for a few years now. Bay Area Bike Share operates under a slightly different payment model, where users pay a membership fee on a short or long term basis, and rides under 30 minutes don’t cost any extra. A 24 hour membership is $9, 3 days is $22, or a year is $88.
This pricing model makes my specific use case detailed above entirely impractical. Since there are no Bay Area Bike Share stations near where I live (or much outside of the downtown core), I can’t use the service to commute to or from work. If I wanted to use it on a random afternoon appointment like I did with Bluegogo, I would have to pay the $9 membership fee. That’s significantly more expensive than most other options, including calling a Lyft.
For another potential bike share demographic, tourists, the math is nearly the same. If a tourist is going to spend a day going from destination to destination within the downtown area then a one-day Bay Area Bike Share membership might make sense. If they want to go to popular tourist attractions like Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, or the Golden Gate Bridge, then they’re probably better off renting from a bike shop or using another form of transportation. Unfortunately, by looking at the many 1 star reviews left by tourists on Bay Area Bike Share’s Yelp page, this isn’t an easy conclusion figure out, and the confusing pricing model doesn’t help.
Bay Area Bike Share really seems to be going for a different market, though. For those who have medium distance legs of their daily commute within the downtown core, their service can be a great option. The cost ends up being very cheap when you get two rides per day out of the $88 yearly membership, which would end up being cheaper than Bluegogo after just 44 commutes. Even this daily user that had everything go wrong with her commute still had a positive outlook on the service. But clearly, there is a niche to fill here, and that seems to be just what Bluegogo is going after.
Two Bike Shares are Better Than One
Bluegogo isn’t the perfect answer for bike trips in SF. As of now, locations are limited to a service area that’s pretty similar to its competitor Bay Area Bike Share. There also seem to have been some regulatory issues in realizing its full “park anywhere” vision, which would be a huge benefit if it pans out.
It does open up a whole new demographic of users to bike share that weren’t serviced before though, myself included, and it does so in a way that I thought was a great experience. The more healthy, happy, and pollution free transit options we have in SF the better, and in my opinion Bluegogo is a welcome addition among them.