Dockless Bikeshare Only Works If We Have Bikes To Share

Me and bae, reunited

I had a wild weekend a couple months ago, where in the course of just over 24 hours, someone stole my bike out of my garage and I recovered it thanks to observant friends and a heaping amount of good luck. The first thing I did after recovering my bike was ride it straight to the shop. Who knows what strangers did to my ride? Unfortunately the turn time on repairs was a little long. However, that gave me the opportunity to try something I’ve been meaning to do anyway, spend some time using JUMP bikes (and a few GoBikes) to see how they truly stack up as a mobility option.

Why JUMP over GoBike? Because there are no GoBike stations in the Richmond yet, which makes it a tough option to get to and from places. While JUMP doesn’t cover all of the Richmond yet, it does cover the part I live in, and its zone also includes my office in Mission Bay and most points in between I spend my time at (SF Bike Coalition, SF LGBT Center, YIMBY). As someone who is typically an everyday rider on her own bike, my aim was to learn if they can provide the same general experience and utility I’m used to with my own bike.

So how was it? Here are some observations in no particular order


Route choice

A typical morning ride for me

One thing I find quite novel about electric assist bikes is how they affect my route choice. San Francisco is not a flat city. And while I’m not afraid to ride up hills, I also account for them in my route choices frequently. The flattest route from where I live to pretty much anything points east is through Golden Gate Park and the Panhandle.

On a JUMP bike, that consideration is a bit different. It’s less work to cut through Inner Richmond and take Golden Gate Drive down to Civic Center. It’s a pretty good route. It also involves going up and over Lone Mountain. I found myself taking the most direct route and not necessarily the flattest one. Some of that comes from being an experienced urban rider. I’m not intimidated at sharing the road all that much, for better or for worse. JUMP enables different routes, which is cool.


Ease of use

I’ve tried both the electric GoBikes and JUMP. They both have their quirks, but ultimately I find them fairly easy to use from an actual riding standpoint. Yes, electric assist takes a bit of getting used to. You have to remember to turn it on for the GoBikes even. But, mostly, it’s just like riding a bike. The bikes are fairly easy to reserve, easy to lock up, and I didn’t encounter any problems more extreme than a seatpost that kept slipping down on one of the bikes.

Of course, I say this as someone with a smartphone who can easily access these bikes. I am no idea how you’d use JUMP without the app, from finding the bike to reserving them, and while it feels like everyone has a smartphone these days, that’s just not the case. It still seems like a barrier to entry we need to address. It’s cool what technology allows, but if it’s not equitable, that’s a problem. I had no problems using them (at least from that perspective), but I’m not the person you should be asking.


Availability

This is frequently the kind of availability I see when I open the app

This is not something I blame JUMP for, but it was my biggest barrier to use I experienced. There just aren’t enough bikes. SFMTA inexplicably capped the number of bikes at 250. There’s no indication this number is based on anything. It’s just the number they pulled out of the hat, couched in language attributing it to “San Francisco’s unique operating environment”. They just launched in Sacramento with 900 bikes. They have 400 in DC. They are planning to put 400 in Providence.

If we are fortunate, they may add another 250 bikes at some point. But even SFMTA’s blog post can’t really articulate a good reason why. But it already seems clear these bikes are a net good service for the City. The trial window is excessive and excludes these mobility options from so many folks because the bikes are concentrated in the same neighborhoods they always are. Why not create the opportunity for JUMP to succeed in the Outer Sunset by putting more bikes out there? I don’t know.

It’s not uncommon to see this many bikes outside the zones

I’m concerned they artificially capped the number so low. If the proposal is to study them, why not allow a sufficient amount to cover the entire city instead of leaving out the same neighborhoods that always get left out from new mobility options? People want to get out of their cars, or create more space on our transit for folks who may need or appreciate that mobility option more. Let’s give them the opportunity.

As to how this played out in real life, I frequently could not find a bike in Inner Richmond when I needed one. That’s embarrassing. How is that good for the pilot? I have no clue. You’d definitely see a lot more rides out of the Richmond with more bikes if you asked me. SFMTA is creating bad data with this cap. Artificial scarcity is bad. But the gods of process must be satiated. So we are stuck with bad options. It’s a shame.

However, there’s no point in just complaining about it here. Reach out to SFMTA and let them know what you think of this. Perhaps they can articulate where they are on adding the next 250 bikes, which won’t be eligible until October 2018, or how they arrived at that number. I plan to ask, since I haven’t seen a good explanation anywhere, and share many of these same thoughts.


Infrastructure

One of the telling things JUMP revealed to me is how woeful our infrastructure is. We all know bike lanes need a lot of work in this city. But it’s more than bike lanes. People need someplace to lock bikes up, after all. Anyone who rides regularly knows we need more of all kinds of bike infrastructure besides just lanes.

Take my block, for example. There are no bike rakes and only four street sign poles to lock bikes to. That leads to situations like this:

One of the four street poles on 6th Ave

Thankfully, this is something we can be proactive right now. You can (and should) request SFMTA install more bike racks throughout the City. That’s something we need to build out. And that’s something we can irrelevant of how many JUMP bikes there are. Visit SFMTA at this page, fill out your request, and let’s get those racks onto the streets instead of sitting in some warehouse.


Conclusion

JUMP feels like a net improvement for the city. These bikes are an easy option that get folks to take more short trips by bike instead of by car. There are certainly hurdles we need to overcome, but hopefully San Francisco can get out of its own way with newer mobility options and allow them to flourish instead of leaving them to languish. Unfortunately, we are seeing a repeat with scooters right now where the western and southern neighborhoods are once again cut out of new mobility options and the number for the cap again seems arbitrary. Hopefully the city can start being more proactive with our infrastructure throughout the city so these new options can plug into San Francisco more seamlessly going forward. Whether that’s the lesson our city takes away from this experience remains to be seen, but I for one am glad to see these bikes on our street, and I can’t wait until we have more of them to serve our entire city. I plan to keep telling SFMTA and my Supervisor that at every turn. You should too.