Public transit like many City functions is in flux: Muni is running at a skeletal pace and the cable cars are near extinction. San Francisco needs more implementation of sustainable public transit and leaders with the innovation to do so. In early February, District 5 Supervisor Dean submitted an official request to the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst to determine what it would take for San Francisco to get a new public bike-share program. San Francisco is a city in need of such a policy for reasons of equity and inclusion.
At this time there is only a privately owned bike-share in San Francisco. Bay Wheels, now owned by Lyft, has a near-monopoly over dockless and docked electric bicycles in The City. Bay Wheels originally began under the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and was publicly run. Lyft is a for-profit company and that has already been shown to harm consumers. The monopoly restricts local control over environmental regulations, pricing, and equity. A prime example was when the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was feckless to stop Bay Wheels from raising prices in March 2020.
Our city must continue to hold these companies responsible while investing in socialized transportation. This is vital to meet our demands for green transportation as well as our goal for reducing bicycle and pedestrian fatalities. Vision Zero is a City policy adopted in 2014 that is a commitment to eliminating traffic deaths by 2024. The city is not on pace to meet its Vision Zero goal. Deaths increased from 2018 to 2019 and the numbers are not pretty for 2020. All this looks increasingly dire when numbers show that Uber and Lyft ride-share companies contribute to higher rates of road deaths.
Another US city has seen success with public bike share. Washington DC, Capital Bikeshare operates over 5,000 bicycles in the metro DC area. The City’s counterpart in DC has shown that the socioeconomic disparities are difficult hurdles, but not impossible to overcome. If the SF service was publicly owned, SFMTA could integrate bike-share trips with MUNI and BART like a transfer. SF also could follow DC and implement a low-cost annual fee for low-income residents. Preston’s office believes that “a municipal bike-share program would allow oversight and control to serve transit, environmental and equity goals, not prioritized by large for-profit companies that currently own the network of bikes and bike stations across The City.”
Local advocates are in agreement. “We have always advocated for a successful bike-share system because we know that a system that’s affordable and accessible will get more people to bike,” Janice Li, advocacy director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said in a statement. “We welcome this move by Supervisor Preston towards a municipal bike-share system so that we can get an affordable, equitable system that works for all San Franciscans.” Preston’s office continues to show it will push policies that help the most vulnerable in the city and which build public ownership of community resources like transportation.
Photo Courtesy: “Bikes in parking space on street” by Maarten van den Heuvel