Bay Wheels operator Lyft has come under heavy criticism after lengthy roll-out delays and recent recalls of their electric-assist bikes from Emeryville and other Bay Area cities.
While the company has been grappling with local regulations like those recently passed in Emeryville, battery issues and vandalism incidents have put the re-deployment date for their e-assist bikes in limbo. These recent issues with the program have been hampering reliability and ridership.
“We’re excited to bring e-bikes to additional cities in the East Bay, including Emeryville, and are waiting for the green light to do so,” assured Lyft Communications Manager Alex Rafter.
For weeks, Lyft met with the City of Emeryville and private stakeholders for discussions around permitting. Local officials had been expressing increased frustration with the slow rollout. “I find it very annoying that I was repeatedly promised the return of these bikes for our city’s residents before July 1st and yet here we are still,” blasted Councilmember John Bauters on his Twitter account. “Not even a call from you.”
Lyft Attempts to Address Various Concerns
Ford GoBike was rebranded as “Bay Wheels” after Lyft acquired the platform in 2018. Just a few months prior, rideshare competitor Uber had acquired fellow bike share platform Jump Bikes. After Lyft’s new e-assist bikes launched in San Francisco and Oakland in July last year, deployment in Emeryville seemed imminent.
Although riders are allowed to — without penalty — drop off e-bikes in Emeryville from surrounding service areas, Lyft has not officially deployed a single fleet of e-bikes to Emeryville.
“We are in conversations with Lyft about how to get e-bikes into Emeryville,” Emeryville Mayor Ally Medina told the E’ville Eye. “The main issue is that these are hybrid lock-tos and we need to have some rebalancing concerns addressed.”
Medina clarified that her rebalancing concerns revolve around inappropriately parked bikes in the public right-of-way. The City wanted to pin down how quickly these issues will be corrected, who gets called to fix them and how bikes will be allocated at various stations.
According to the Franchise Agreement between Motivate and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), rebalancing is a “multi-step and collaborative process requiring the involvement, cooperation and flexibility on the part of Operator, MTC and the Participating Cities.”
The need for rebalancing comes from “imbalances [that] typically arise from patterns in demand and usage in which bicycles typically travel in one direction.”
Bay Wheels riders have been increasingly expressing frustration with low inventory at some docks.
@baywheels has become unreliable in Berkeley. No rebalancing is being done. Stations are either full or empty. @lyft You are not doing your job. Bike share doesn’t work the way you are doing it. @BikeEastBay @prinzrob @Derailluer pic.twitter.com/seqHuBHbFw
— CyclingWEST (@CyclingWEST) July 23, 2019
Just as Medina and Rafter prepared to announce the e-bike arrival to Emeryville, reported battery fires in July forced Lyft to pull its fleet yet again. The e-assist bikes had been previously pulled last April after issues with braking surfaced (the brake manufacturer has disputed that the issue is, in fact, related to their product).
“Out of an abundance of caution, we are temporarily making the e-bike fleet unavailable to riders while we investigate and update our battery technology,” Lyft noted in a statement.
— Zach Rutta (@zrutta44) July 27, 2019
We can’t wait either. Our teams are working hard to bring our ebikes back. We’re hoping to have an update for you shortly.
— Bay Wheels (@baywheels) September 13, 2019
“We have made significant progress on identifying the cause of the battery issues,” said Lyft Spokesperson Julie Wood in an earlier communication. “We continue to do everything we can to return the e-bikes to service.”
Lyft did not provide a specific date or projected timetable for their return despite repeated inquiries.
Dockless Competitors and Exclusivity Agreement Questioned
Unlike previous generations of bikeshare, the new “dockless” versions come equipped with a cable that allow them to be locked to a public bike rack anywhere in the designated service area. The dockless capability has enabled other bike share competitors to enter the space without the need of docking stations.
Lyft has challenged the legality of municipalities issuing permits to these dockless competitors citing its 10-year contract to exclusively operate bike-share programs in the cities it services. Lyft had been holding out deploying their e-bikes in San Francisco until this matter was resolved, according to a TechCrunch story published in July. City of Emeryville City Clerk Sheri Hartz denied that Emeryville was engaged in similar litigation with Lyft.
Dave Campbell, Bike East Bay Advocacy Director, underscored the need for other bikeshare companies like JUMP and Lime to compete with Lyft. “Other companies would like to do bikeshare in Emeryville, Berkeley and Oakland, but there’s an exclusivity provision for Lyft bikes in those cities,” Campbell said. “These cities don’t have another bikeshare option. I think this is a bad decision and whatever needs to happen to get rid of that exclusivity clause needs to happen.”
Councilmember John Bauters seemed to underscore this view on Twitter. “At the same time they want us to sign documents stating that they have the exclusive right to dockless mobility they leave the bike-friendliest city waiting ten days past a promised delivery date for e-bikes??? Not a good look.”
Campbell referred to what he sees as healthy competition between scooter companies in Oakland. He believes the scooter market has resulted in improved service, quality, app and rider experience.
Campbell also acknowledged the counter-argument in support of the public-private partnership between Emeryville and Lyft. “There’s concern that those companies might go away one day without the public-private partnership,” Campbell said.
SF Threatens to Revoke Lyft’s Permit Over Delay
Bay Wheels subscribers have grown increasingly frustrated with the delay and lack of clarity of when the e-bikes will return. The San Francisco Examiner recently reported that San Francisco transportation officials have given Lyft an ultimatum on communicating the cause of the battery fire and a date that the e-bikes will return to service. The date of the ultimatum passed without action.
Lyft has also come under fire for its operation of the Divvy bikeshare system that it acquired in the Chicago area.
It’s time to boycott @lyft because of its AWFUL operation of @DivvyBikes. Bike kiosks around River North are constantly empty or only have failed bikes (pics to prove it but data also resides at Divvy). And our elected officials need to act too. @chicagosmayor @AldermanReilly pic.twitter.com/n7XlW1LJM1
— Kirk Hartley (@kirklsp) August 7, 2019
Most Recent Issue: Vandalism Disables as Many as 30 Stations
As if Lyft didn’t need any more bad news, as many as 30 stations in the area including Emeryville, were recently targeted by vandals. Online reports suggested that components were stolen from the kiosks, disabling them from use.
It has also become increasingly common to see bikeshare components used in bicycle chop-shops.
The frame and wheel-well of this dude’s bike … so familiar, I just can’t quite put my finger on it. 🤔 pic.twitter.com/EmENCv9I31
— The E’ville Eye News (@TheEvilleEye) September 15, 2019
⚠️EAST BAY SERVICE UPDATE: We are continuing to experience issues with multiple East Bay stations due to vandalism. With replacement components arriving soon, we hope to bring these stations back in service over the next few days.
— Bay Wheels (@baywheels) November 1, 2019
When the e-bikes finally make their way into town, they will share the current docking stations with regular bikes. The exact number of e-bikes provided will depend on the final permit. For the time being, Lyft Communications Manager Alex Rafter stated that there won’t be any new docking stations, since this is a different process that will require public hearings and separate timelines.
“We are doing everything we can to return e-bikes to service for our riders, and at the same time having conversations with cities and agencies about our continued long-term investment in bikeshare in the Bay Area,” said Rafter.
10/8 update: Lyft issues update on e-bikes returning to system in the “coming weeks and months,” but fails to provide specific dates.