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A San Francisco City Supervisor is asking the city to look into turning the for profit bike-share system owned by Lyft, Bay Wheels, into a city-owned and potentially city-operated service.
SF District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston reportedly said: “We need to meet the rise in demand for green transportation in our city – and part of that is through a municipal bike-share program to complement public transit and advancing public ownership of vital city services.” He also said he’s asked the Budget and Legislative Analyst to report on what it would take for San Francisco to implement a successful municipal bike share program so that they can make it a reality.
In a statement, the supervisor’s office explained that a city-run bike-share program would allow “…oversight and control to serve transit, environmental, and equity goals, not prioritized by large for-profit companies that currently own the network of bikes and bike stations across the city.”
In San Francisco and the Bay Area, dock-based bike-share is exclusively run by Lyft/Bay Wheels and regulated by regional authorities. In Los Angeles, however, the City has the Metro Bike Share Program, as well as other privately owned companies.
Referencing the passage of Prop. 22, the Chair of the Land Use and Transportation Committee of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, Jason Henderson reportedly said: “San Franciscans shouldn’t be forced to rely on ride-share companies for an essential mobility service – especially from a company who just spent millions to crush workers’ rights statewide.” Sponsored primarily by Lyft and Uber, together with the food delivery companies, Prop 22 overrode AB5, removing obligations to provide benefits to their drivers and couriers.
“We know a publicly owned model is successful in other cities,” said the San Francisco’s Bicycle Coalition’s Janice Li. “The purpose of this Budget and Legislative Analyst report is to explore those models further and to learn more.”
An official in Preston’s office stressed that asking for the study is just a first step. Depending on the results, a proposal could be developed to fold bike-share into SFMTA. Li concluded, “…we welcome this move by Supervisor Preston towards a municipal bike-share system so that we can get an affordable, equitable system that works for all San Franciscans.”
In 2019, Lyft sued the city of San Francisco over bike-share operations and who is allowed to run bike-share programs in the city. SF had announced it would open up a permitting process for a larger dockless bike-share program, which Lyft — having an exclusive permit to operate docked, station-based bike-share in San Francisco — didn’t like. In its lawsuit, Lyft says it borrowed “tens of millions of dollars” and spent $35 million to build and implement the bike-share program in the Bay Area, $15 million of those in San Francisco alone.
A spokesperson for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office countered at the time that the contract between Lyft and the city did “not give Lyft the right to a monopoly on bike sharing in San Francisco.”
By July 2019, a San Francisco judge ruled that Motivate, the bike-share operator owned by Lyft, has exclusive rights to rent both docked and dockless bikes in the city.