Letter to Ryan Rzepecki

To summarize: Don’t. Please, don’t.

Why? Why not be bought out by Uber? Because the objectives and culture are not a good fit.

JUMP (SoBi) has a model of disruption based on offering a better product, meeting the need of people, and making a profit in the good work. Every SoBi employee I’ve had interactions with had a passion for making the world a better place through bike share. When there were problems, each person I spoke with or emailed made sure to get it right. SoBi works with the cities it goes into, negotiating the terms but wanting to make sure it works for the company, the city, and the users.

Uber is the exact opposite. Their business model of disruption is to break every law they can get away with breaking, to cut every corner. Their intent is to drive every competitor out of business, as they must if they are ever to stop losing money. They treat employees like dirt (yes, the drivers are employees by definition of labor law, though at least in the US Uber is so lawyered up that the federal government and state governments have either not been able to compel Uber to follow the law, or don’t care to. In every city in which it operates, in the US and in Europe, Uber has violated law after law after law.

These two things do not match, and can never match.

One of the great hopes that I have for electric bike share is that it can displace many of the ride hailing trips that exist because it is time competitive with and cost positive over ride hailing in denser urban areas. I see uncontrolled ride hailing as the worst thing that could happen to our cities, and anything that lessens that damage is a great thing. That puts the ideal of bike share in direct conflict with the idea of ride hailing. The terms ‘shared mobility’ and ‘mobility as a service’ are all the rage these days, but I don’t see any mode that uses low occupancy energy guzzling cars (electric just shifts impacts from fossil fuel burning at the car to fossil fuel burning at the power plant, at least so far) as complementing any other mode. They are not a complement, they are a competition.

But the biggest conflict is on the streets. Bike riders, the users of SoBi and JUMP bikes, want more than anything to be safe. But they can’t be safe so long as poorly trained commercial drivers (Uber) terrorize bicyclists by driving over the speed limit, making sudden right and left turns, and looking at smart phones instead of at the road. Uber drivers block bike lanes more often than other ride hailing companies. I’m not sure why, but suspect it has to do with drivers adopting the attitudes of their company.

When I am bicycling in San Francisco (headed there for the weekend right now), I can hardly even use bike lanes on many streets because they are blocked so often by ride hailing. Do they look when pulling in? Do they look when pulling out? Seldom. As a vehicular bicyclist, I know how to deal with this, to just use the general purpose lane and avoid the bike lane, but I assure you, this is not the experience most bicyclists are looking for.

Bicyclists want safety. Uber does not.

I am really concerned that this is the beginning of the end of SoBi/JUMP, and that would make me very sad. Uber may kill off bike share once it realizes that the values and goals of bike share are opposed to their own. Another not unlikely possibility is that Uber will go under, under the weight of endless lawsuits that will sooner or later start to be successful. If you run a criminal enterprise, it will eventually catch up with you, whether you are Uber or the president.

To summarize: Don’t. Please don’t

@jumpbikes @ryrzny

Bike share in Santa Monica

Breeze maintenance shed
The Breeze Bike Share in Santa Monica uses the same Social Bicycles (SoBi) bikes that the Tower Bridge Preview in Sacramento does. On a recent four day visit to Santa Monica, I used the system quite a bit, both for transportation and to compare systems. Here is my take:

  • Breeze Bike Share is operated by a separate company, CycleHop, rather than directly by SoBi as is the Sacramento system. The company also operates systems in West Hollywood/Beverly Hills, Long Beach, San Mateo, and other cities outside California. CycleHop has a major maintenance and storage facility, which I stumbled across, shown in the photo above. They tried rebalancing with bikes for a while but have gone to using vans as they are more efficient. 
  • Breeze bikes are green, and the major corporate sponsor is Hulu. As far as I know, Sacramento is still in search of a major corporate sponsor. 
  • The cost per hour for Breeze is $7, whereas Tower Bridge is $4. This makes a difference! Though I only used up $5 of my initial investment (it costs a minimum of $7 to join), this is only because I spent time every day returning bikes to,hubs in order to gain return credits. 
  • Return to hub credit is $1 in the Breeze system, $1.50 in Tower Bridge. It makes a difference!
  • Outside-hub fees are $2, and outside boundary (geofenced) is $20, the same as Tower Bridge. 
  • I saw people riding Breeze bikes all over town, at all times of day. I often saw the hub racks fill up and empty out over a short period of time, so I know that bikes in the busiest areas were getting many trips per day, though I don’t have any data. It is rare to see Tower Bridge bikes on the road, and though I think they get used one or two times a day, use per bike is much lower.
  • Downtown Santa Monica has a high density of hubs, about every two blocks, but the hubs are much sparser in the more suburban parts of town. The downtown hubs are quite large, up to 16 racks spaces. The advertisement says 500 bikes, 80 stations. 
  • Several of the hubs are sponsored, which is indicated by a different icon for the hub, but I was unable to find out more about these sponsored stations, and it was not obvious who was sponsoring them. Tower Bridge does not have any sponsored stations at this time. 
  • Hubs were located close to each light rail station (Metro Expo Line), and at many major bus stops. Tower Bridge hubs are not. 
  • Breeze has the same problems of geo-location that Tower Bridge has, sometimes bikes shown as in hub were not, sometimes bikes shown as out-of-hub were at a hub, and sometimes the bikes were nowhere to be found at the indicated location. More of an irritant than a major issue, since the next hub or bike is not far away. 
  • Breeze has a low-income program, but details are only available on request, not on the website. 
  • Breeze allows users to unlock bikes with a registered TAP card (similar to Connect Card), but charges are to the Breeze account and not the TAP account. I’m using my Connect Card in Sacramento, and also used it in Santa Monica. Using a card is a slight convenience over entering a six digit number. 
  • Santa Monica has flat areas, and gently inclined areas, similar to Sacramento and West Sacramento, but the rise from beach level to downtown level, and out of the Rustic Creek canyon, is comparable to American River up to Fair Oaks. A lot of bikes get left down by the pier and beach , so I imagine part of the re-balancing effort is getting these bikes back up the hill. 

Breeze map below. Green dots are hubs with bikes, grey dots are hubs without bikes, blue dots are bikes parked out-of-hub. You can see the higher density downtown. 

Alta on dockless bike share

Alta Planning + Design has an interesting post on dockless bike share: The Dockless Bike Share Revolution; Is Dockless Bike Share Right for Your Community?

The Social Bicycles Tower Bridge Preview is a dockless system. Designated hubs are created both by geofencing (setting up a boundary for hubs and for the system) and designated bike racks, with a $2 penalty for leaving a bike outside a hub, and $20 penalty for leaving a bike outside the system boundary. But it also encourages return of bikes to hubs with a $1.50 credit. These and other issues are discussed in the post, worth a read. 

More bike share

The Tower Bridge Preview bike share is going to have some expansion in about a month, up to five new hubs on the Sacramento side. I had heard previously that there would be no expansion before full roll-out, which is no sooner than November and quite possibly far beyond that since a major corporate sponsor has still not been identified. 

The best news is that one of the hubs will be at Sacramento Valley Station, the train station, and it will be a large hub. This is mentioned in Melanie’s StreetsblogCal post: Eyes on the Street: Sacramento’s First Cycle Track Appears Near Amtrak, and I also heard the same when I ran into Phillipe at the 18th & Capitol hub, doing maintenance and re-balancing. It was a major oversight to not include a hub at the station, but that will be fixed!

I talked with the other person who is regularly parking a bike at the station, for a commute into the Bay Area a few days a week. That person said they love the system, use it for this and other trips, but wished there were a regular hub at the station. The bike has always been there at the end of the day to be used for the return trip. I’m parking a bike at the station for nearly every Amtrak trip I take (to the Bay Area, to Truckee, and to South Lake Tahoe). Since I’m often gone more than one day, other people sometimes check out the bike, which is fine with me since I live close enough to walk. 

If you are using the system, you noticed a few days ago that the display screens on each bike changed, with some additional information and tips. The ability to unlock a bike with a RFID card, meaning the Connect Transit Card, is prominent. But not yet implemented. SoBi and the ConnectCard are working out the details. Card use will initially just be for unlocking, in the same manner that the Clipper Card can unlock a Ford GoBike in the Bay Area system, but you will have to have a Social Bicycles account and bike use will be charged to the account rather than the card. The display also mentions unlocking with a phone number, but I’m pretty sure that is not implemented either. 

Please share stories here about your use of the bike share. Since that company, SocialBicycles, and the partners, SACOG and the two cities, have said next to nothing about the success and challenges of the bike share, it is even more important that we talk with each other. 

 Oh, and if you are looking for employment, SocialBicycles is hiring an Operations Manager for Sacramento. 

riding the bike share

Today is the second day of the Tower Bridge Bike Share Preview. I took four trips yesterday, three from hub to hub, and one picking up an out-of-bike bike. And two early morning trips today, both to move out-of-hub bikes. These two bikes were parked at a rack at the other end of the block from the hub racks on R Street. Though I wasn’t there last night, I suspect that the hub racks were full of both bike share and private bikes, and the people could not leave the bikes in the hub. Full racks may be an issue at hubs close to drinking establishments, which 16th, 18th, Capitol, and R St all are. Once the system becomes more widespread, this problem may disappear.

TowerBridgeBikeShare_handlebarsOne of the things I do not like about these bikes is the handlebar configuration. They are sort of like beach cruiser bikes, with the angle along the side rather than the traditional handlebar angle. I hate this hand position. After 10 minutes of riding, my forearms were sore. I can put them in a more comfortable position, but only by taking my hands off the brakes. I see other bikes with this handlebar configuration, so I’m sure some people will love these. Not me!

The seat height is adjustable over a wide range, and the seat post has numbered marks so that once you find your comfortable seat height, you can immediately adjust each bike to your height.

The bikes have eight gears, in an internal hub. This is more than flat Sacramento needs, but nice to have. I find myself riding mostly in 6th, going down to 5th at intersections. 1st is very, very low. The bikes are heavy, so the low end gears will help less strong people get moving. Once the bikes are moving, the move along pretty well. They have rod drives rather than chains.

When picking up a bike on 18th Street last night, Steve Hansen was there doing an interview about the bike share system with a TV station. Maybe you saw it on the late news (I don’t have a TV). I talked a bit to Steve, but we both had other places to go. He is obviously pleased to have the new bike share in his council district. This hub was quite busy, and went from five bikes to zero bikes in a flash. I’ve been sort of watching the bike counts throughout the day. Some hubs seem to have a lot of turnover, going up and down frequently, while others don’t change much. This is just my observation, don’t know if the data backs that up.

As I mentioned, I returned three out-of-hub bikes to hubs, and got a credit of $1.50 for each. I have mixed feelings about this. I can imagine myself leaving a bike to go into inside, not sure how long it was going to take and therefore not wanting to put the bike on “hold” but still hoping it is there when I come out. On the other hand, these out-of-hub bikes might sit there for quite some time without being part of the circulation, which hurts availability. It had occurred to me, and Steve also mentioned it, “making a living” bringing these bikes back to hubs, and maybe accomplishing some rebalancing in the process. Of course it is just bike share credit, not real money, but my account balance it larger now than when I started.

The bike hub marker placed in the east end of Capitol Park, with a geofence covering the four square block area, is now gone. This may have been a programming error, or an experiment. After looking, I did not find any racks in the part of the park. However, I thought I saw a positive number in that hub mark during the day. Maybe my imagination.

Photos on Flickr.