A coalition of Mission District organizations, called United to Save the Mission, is calling for a study of how the expansion of a bike sharing program impacts residents, especially low-income ones.
Details of how the study would be done are not clear yet. Calle 24 Latino Cultural Corridor co-chair Jon Jacobo, speaking on behalf of the group United to Save the Mission, said it would explore the concerns that the group has about Ford GoBike’s accessibility to people of all income levels.
A spokesperson for the Mission Economic Development Agency, another United to Save the Mission member organization, said the coalition supports a “pause” on the program.
“United to Save the Mission supports a pause on the Ford GoBike Rental Program while a community planning process and impact report are done that will ensure the program has a strong equity component and meets the needs of our working-class community members,” wrote MEDA’s Christopher Gil.
It’s unclear what such a pause would look like on a program that has some 20 active stations in the Mission. Ford GoBike has already pulled out of the 24th Street corridor after pushback from Calle 24. Others have taken direct aim at the bikes, slashing tires and in one case stripping a bike down to its frame and leaving it in a tree, KPIX reports.
“When you put something into a neighborhood, whatever it is, it has a ripple effect,” Jacobo said.
That effect could include anything from impacting traffic to favoring one socioeconomic category of the population as users to unspecified effects of where the stations are placed.
Jacobo said many of the groups in United to Save the Mission, which includes everything from tenant advocacy nonprofits to artist groups, were also frustrated that they had not been consulted by Motivate, the company that operates the bike sharing system sponsored by Ford.
“What we want is to be able to take a look at what an equitable transit project looks like for the Mission District, [and] for planning to be done with the Mission, not over our head,” Jacobo said.
He said it wasn’t decided yet what specific changes the coalition would be asking for from the bike sharing company – they could include everything from no bikesharing in the Mission at all to maybe having only some stations in designated areas.
“We want to have discussions and have a community evaluation process,” Jacobo said. “What comes from that is the direction we want to travel in.”
United to Save the Mission has met with Motivate to discuss concerns, Jacobo said, but discussion of what could be done to address those concerns was tabled for a later meeting.
For its part, Motivate says it’s ready to listen and figure out what can be done.
“They shared their concerns and we totally respect Calle 24 and USM, where they’re coming from, very much. Even though we may not agree on everything, we know that they bring an important voice to the Mission and agree that we need to work together to fight displacement in the Mission,” said Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, a spokesperson for Motivate.
“That said, our mandate is to provide … affordable transportation options to San Francisco and the Mission and so we’re proud that the bike share will make it easier for Mission residents to get around no matter their income.”
Using the bikes generally costs about $15 a month, which allows the user to take an unlimited number of rides so long as they last less than 45 minutes. For people with very limited incomes, those who have CalFresh and qualify for discounted utilities and Muni passes, GoBike is available for $5 for a year, with unlimited rides lasting up to an hour. After the first year that rate goes up to $5 a month.
Aside from the price point and the corporate branding, residents have raised concerns about data collection. In 2016, Ford reportedly made very clear that it would be using the bike share network to collect data.
Investment media and services company The Motley Fool reported in 2016 that a Ford executive had presented the bike sharing investment as a data gathering venture to support its recently acquired commuter shuttle service Chariot.
“What we’re doing differently in San Francisco … is we put telemetry on that bike,” said Jim Hackett then, later adding, “The opportunity is not bikes. That’s not why Ford’s in it. The opportunity is data, and the data is super valuable because it tells us these invisible paths that people are taking in this complex city in terms of how they want to get around.”
But Motivate insists that the bikes do not contain GPS or any telemetry equipment whatsoever, and are not tracking any data about riders or where the bikes travel.
“There is no GPS and no telemetry on Ford GoBikes,” said Motivate’s Cosulich-Schwartz. “Motivate is the owner-operator of this system and we have not included GPS or telemetry as part of our program.”
Ford is merely the sponsor for the program, Cusolich-Schwartz said, and does not make the bikes or control the program.
What is collected is information about how many bikes are at each station, to make sure bikes are available when consumers want them. Data collected at the stations are anonymized, and as the program progresses, will be shared publicly on a dedicated web page that currently details the type of information collected.
“We share anonymized data publicly that helps government researchers and the public understand how bike share works and helps people make public policy,” Cuslich-Schwartz said.