Chinese bike-sharing startup Bluegogo may have to backpedal on its plans to expand to San Francisco. City officials are warning the company not to proceed without permits and perhaps to the detriment of infrastructure and in violation of local law.
The Chronicle confirms speculation that Bluegogo, which is expanding aggressively with more than 100,000 bikes in four cities so far, plans to make San Francisco its next conquest. In total, Bluegogo says it hopes to add 200,000 bikes to American cities this year.
Mashable explains that Bluegogo is one in a growing crop of bike share startups. Like two other major players — Mobike, which is backed by Tencent, and ofo, supported by Xiaomi — its bikes are "stationless." Because they're GPS-connected, they're located throughout a given city, via an app, from which you can both find and unlock them. Bluegogo is also cheaper than the average bike share: In Shenzhen, for example, use of a Bluegogo bike requires a $14 deposit and just 8 cents per half hour.
Bluegogo, which is headquartered in Beijing, is the newest of the three companies and a relative latecomer to the industry, making up for lost time with grand gestures. The company's 28-year old founder Tony Li claims Bluegogo produces 10,000 bikes a day at its own plant and with eight factories through manufacturing partnerships.
In what Forbes frames as a clash of East and West customs surrounding regulation, local officials are concerned that Bluegogo thinks it can just barge in to town and drop off thousands of bikes. According to the Chronicle, some in San Francisco are exchanging photos of Chinese bike-share bikes left piled up on sidewalks and streets. SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin and Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru sent Bluegogo a letter warning the company that the city "will not tolerate any business model that results in obstruction of the public right of way or poses a safety hazard," according to Bay City News.
Meanwhile, concerned Supervisor Aaron Peskin held an emergency press conference Wednesday morning and declared that Bluegogo's plans represent "the age old tech arrogance," as he told the Examiner. “There are dozens of laws that would apply to them, from public nuisance to littering,” he added to the Chronicle. “In the end, they are going to use the public commons for their financial gain at great cost to citizens of San Francisco. They can’t use San Francisco as an experiment lab, and our citizens aren’t guinea pigs.”
A letter to the mayor from San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive director Brian Wiedenmeier obtained by Bay City News also urges caution. "The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is deeply concerned about the impact of this planned launch on the accessibility of the public realm, as well as on the health and safety of all San Franciscans," Wiedenmeier writes. As opposed to the current system in San Francisco, which has specific docks for bikes and enforces safety and cleanliness standards, "Bluegogo's model would leave thousands of uninspected and unpermitted bicycles to be stored unattended for long periods of time on sidewalks, in parks and on our streets," worries Wiedenmeier.
A spokesperson for Bluegogo tells the Chronicle that reports on the company's plans so far have been “based on rumor, speculation and false facts." The tech company listing website AngelList does indicate that Bluegogo is hiring for several positions in San Francisco, and the company's vice president of US operations, Ilya Movshovich, revealed to the Chronicle that he has been in discussions with the SFMTA to get on the same page. Bluegogo only intends bikes to be placed where it is legal to park them, he says — but that's basically anywhere that isn't blocking sidewalks, driveways, or streets.
Another point of contention: San Francisco has entered into a 10-year agreement granting exclusive rights to use the public right of way for the purposes of bike sharing to our existing Bay Area Bike Share system. That launched in summer 2013 and in September 2016 the automaker Ford announced it would partner with the originators of the system, bike sharing company Motivate, to rebrand the system as Ford GoBike and expand the system's 700 bikes to 7,000 by 2018.