Two hundred of the company's new dockless bikes joined the ranks of Lime and Bird in north San Jose earlier this week.
(TNS) — With scooters and bikes now parked on seemingly every street corner and office doorstep in San Jose, the purveyor of the city’s original bike share system is getting into the dockless ride sharing game this week, too.
On Wednesday, Ford GoBike rolled out 200 new dockless bikes in north San Jose, its first foray into the increasingly popular dock-free realm. Unlike the existing Ford GoBikes, which have to be picked up and dropped off at one of several dozen docking stations throughout the city, riders can leave the new bikes wherever they are — on sidewalks or at a public bike rack or most anywhere at all. The bikes must be within a service area that runs from roughly the Guadalupe River in the west to Coyote Creek in the east, and from the South Bay Freeway in the north to Trimble Road in the south.
A number of major companies, including Samsung and Cisco, have offices in the area.
“We’re thrilled to be expanding the Ford GoBike system so that more of the San Jose community can participate in bike share,” said the system’s general manager Emily Stapleton in a statement.
The dockless bikes, which riders can find using the Ford GoBike app, will cost the same as the docked bikes: ranging from $2 for a single 30-minute ride to $149 annually for unlimited 45-minute rides. (Low-income residents who qualify for Calfresh or PG&E’s discounted rates can get a $5 annual membership.)
The plan for Ford GoBike — which partnered with the city and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to bring shared bikes to San Jose last year — to introduce a dockless system was in the works well before private companies like LimeBike and Bird flooded the city with their own dockless bikes and scooters, insisted Colin Heyne, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation.
But as competition has increased, pressure has mounted on Ford GoBike to keep up.
Asked whether the rise of Bird and LimeBike have hurt Ford GoBike’s ridership in San Jose, a Ford GoBike spokesperson said by email only, “Ford GoBike is proud to have pioneered bike share in San Jose. There’s a ton of enthusiasm for our bikes, membership and ridership continue to grow, and we are continuing to focus on providing our reliable and affordable mobility option to San Jose riders.”
(Last year, Seattle shuttered its city-backed docked bike sharing program, Pronto, and began allowing LimeBike and several other companies to fill the void.)
“Things have changed so rapidly in just the last few months,” said Emma Shlaes, director of policy for the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, which is thrilled at the increasing number of car-free ways to get around San Jose.
In April, Ford GoBike launched a motorized bike service in San Francisco, an apparent attempt to woo riders who might otherwise gravitate toward the electric scooters that have proliferated across the Bay Area in recent months.
The rollout of that service, as with the dockless system in north San Jose this week, happened after lots of talks with city officials and applications for permits. Ford GoBike has an exclusive contract to operate docked bike-sharing systems in several Bay Area cities, including San Jose, and has made a point of working collaboratively with the cities.
“We’ve learned that — to be done well — a successful bike share network needs to commit to: rebalancing; maintenance; equity; and open data sharing with cities and the public. These are ingrained in the values of Ford GoBike and what we’re committed to in all of the cities we serve,” the Ford GoBike spokesperson said.
Newer companies like Bird and LimeBike have been decidedly less cooperative and transparent.
Bird notified the city it was going to be operating in San Jose, Heyne told the Mercury News in April, the day the company dropped the scooters off. One reason is that Ford GoBike gets support from the city while private companies like Bird have been able to rely on Silicon Valley venture capitalists to fund their operations. According to the New York Times, Bird “is raising $300 million in new funding that would value the company at $2 billion.”
That lets the companies operate the way Uber did when it launched: enter the market and ask for forgiveness later. (The founder of Bird, Travis VanderZanden, is a former Uber executive.) But that approach isn’t likely to work long term.
Next Thursday, San Jose’s Department of Transportation will host a community meeting where the city will propose regulations for bikes and scooters. Heyne declined to specify exactly what the city will suggest, but right now there’s no framework at all governing where or how many are allowed.
Other cities are forming their own regulations, too. San Francisco instituted a cap and Santa Monica in Southern California imposed an annual fee. A statewide bill by Assemblyman Heath Flora would allow people to ride electric scooters on sidewalks only if there is no bikeway nearby.
In San Jose, the city is in the midst of developing a “Better Bikeways” plan to create a series of bike lanes downtown between sidewalks and parallel parking spots, to essentially create a barrier between bikers and moving vehicles. The project is still in the planning phase, but some of the new bike lanes should be finished later this year with more slated to be complete in 2019. It’s possible they could soon be a safe riding area for scooters, too.
Neither Lime or Bird responded immediately to interview requests, and while the companies have been in talks with the city, they haven’t shared detailed ridership data.
Anecdotally, Heyne acknowledged, the city is hearing more interest and excitement than concern about the new car-free options for getting around town.
Around lunchtime on Wednesday, Ashlynn Cellon, 21, was happily zooming around the plaza in front of City Hall testing out an electric LimeBike scooter as the temperature soared into the mid-80s.
“It’s less work” than riding a bike, Cellon, who was visiting San Jose from near Minneapolis, said. “They go fast!”
Nearby, a nearly full dock of Ford GoBikes sat untouched.
©2018 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.