Since Ford GoBikes hit San Francisco streets in late June, a number of controversies have flared. On NextDoor, neighbors have bemoaned the loss of parking spots and what they claim was a lack of comprehensive outreach. Tourist-oriented bike-rental companies attacked the program for a $15 three-hour “GoPass” that undercut their business — eventually forcing its removal. A section of the Mission District, Calle 24, has banned the bikes all together. The stations have been vandalized with paint and Sharpies, and bikes have had tires slashed. It’s been a bumpy start to this version of citywide bike share — remember BABS? — to say the least.
But one part of Ford GoBike’s program does appear to be working: reaching low-income communities. This week, the company announced that it had hit 500 members in the “Bike Share For All” initiative, which offers low-income residents in the Bay Area a full year of bike rentals for only $5. After one year, the rate increases to $5 per month, roughly one-third of the cost of normal membership. Eligibility is determined through membership to other low-income programs, such as Calfresh, SFMTA’s Lifeline Pass, or PG&E CARE’s utility discount.
“I can’t fully put into words how much security it gives me as a low-income, queer, trans person of color to know I can now just grab a bike in most of the places I frequent, and get myself home using bike share,” says Keiryn Darkwater, who lives in Oakland. “If my bank account hits zero, and I can’t even take transit, I can at least bike. It has taken a huge source of anxiety off my shoulders.”
The low-income membership goes hand-in-hand with the placement of Ford GoBikes, as well. As part of the agreement between the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Motivate (the bike share company that runs Ford GoBike’s program), 20 percent of the system’s bikes must be in designated “communities of concern” — or areas with significant populations of minorities, low-income households, non-English speakers, or single-parent households. Nearly one-third of all Ford GoBike stations are located in these areas, knocking that request out of the park. And more than 2,300 bikes are now available for rent in San Francisco, the East Bay, and San Jose, with more on the way.
As the steady march of Ford GoBike stations moves westward in San Francisco, the backlash will undoubtedly continue, but even the naysayers can’t argue against this low-income policy. Now if only Lyft and Uber would set up something similar.