The SF bike sharing service has increased its rates. Users say it’s now the same price as an Uber

On a recent Sunday evening, Lauren White opened the Bay Wheels app to plan her weekday morning work trip when she received a pop-up alert about price changes for the bike-sharing service.

“Maybe they lowered the prices,” White thought before hitting the alert, as San Francisco’s only bike share program, owned and operated by Lyft, had raised prices. and introduced a new pricing structure the previous year. “I clicked on it, and I couldn’t believe they had raised the prices even more to the point where (driving Bay Wheels) is almost the same as taking an Uber or Lyft car with someone driving you . “

The price hike for using Bay Wheels’ e-bike fleet marks the latest development in the city’s micromobility saga and comes as the city examines whether it should municipalize bike-sharing to stabilize costs for the cyclists.

Several users, including White, posted about the increases on social media, noting that in some cases using Bay Wheels e-bikes to get from one destination in town to another costs more than to use carpooling or take Muni.

As part of the Bay Wheels price changes, which went into effect on September 23, the cost per minute to ride an e-bike has increased from 15 cents to 20 cents for Bay Wheels members (annual membership: $ 159) and from 20 cents to 30 cents for non-members. According to Lyft, users are also being charged a per-minute overrun fee instead of 15 minutes, in an effort to simplify Bay Wheels’ pricing structure. Prices for less popular Bay Wheels manual bikes remain unchanged.

Bay Wheels drew White and many other riders for its convenience. Although months earlier, she had purchased a subscription to Bay Wheels – which offers discounted rates for e-bikes – the fee increases have made using Bay Wheels less attractive. Using the program to commute to work on weekdays on Market Street would cost hundreds of dollars a month, White calculated, even with a membership.

“The price will definitely affect my behavior,” White said. “When I think about spending $ 2.50 for a bus ride or $ 8 to $ 12 for a one-way trip for the same distance, it doesn’t make a lot of sense from an economic standpoint.”

The bikes are locked in a Bay Wheels docking station along Townsend Street in San Francisco.

Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Bike sharing has had a tumultuous history in San Francisco since its inception in 2013. The city piloted a small fleet of bikes and stations before starting to allow private companies to operate bike-sharing programs in 2018. Companies, such as Bird with electric scooters, have acquired other rival companies, with Lyft now the city’s only bike-sharing operator.

But self-service bicycles and scooters have annoyed some residents who say their use is not well regulated.

And like public transit, Bay Wheels experienced a sharp drop in ridership during the pandemic.

The bike-sharing program saw a record 433,277 rides in February 2020 drop to less than 84,000 rides in April of that year, according to data from Bay Wheels. Although monthly ridership has nearly doubled since January, Bay Wheels’ 210,949 trips in September reflect only half of its pre-pandemic peak.

“We are always working to improve the Bay Wheels system and these price changes will help ensure it can continue to grow and prosper,” Lyft spokesperson Jordan Levine said in a statement. “While passengers who are not eligible for the reduced fare program will pay a bit more for e-bike rides, longer rides will be cheaper with the move to a price per minute rather than a flat rate for 15 minutes. “

In San Francisco, the city’s transportation agency oversees the micromobility market and does not set prices.

It could change. The city’s budget and legislative analyst is expected to release a study this month examining options for a city-owned bike share program.

Supervisor Dean Preston, who commissioned the study, said a city-owned service would prioritize passengers better. He said he was “absolutely” in favor of the city subsidizing micromobility programs such as bike sharing, but “not subsidizing a private company”.

“Like so many other things, what’s best for the people of the city doesn’t always mean what’s best for the bottom line of a private business,” Preston said.

While its recent price increases have shocked many of its users, the prices of Bay Wheels are not an outlier nationwide, and other cities where Lyft operates bike share – like Boston – have. more limited service options, according to Marcel Moran, a UC Berkeley and regional city. doctoral student in planning.

Nationally and internationally, cities and private companies have adopted a wide variety of pricing structures. In New York City, it costs 18 cents per minute to use Citi Bike’s e-bikes, in addition to the $ 3.50 fee. In Los Angeles, self-serve bicycles operated by LA Metro cost $ 1.75 for every half hour.

San Francisco has spent years developing its bike share infrastructure, and the city might consider either finding major advertising partners or implementing congestion pricing as a way to subsidize bike share. Moran said.

“There’s just this tension of, what’s that sweet spot for this type of operation that meets our priorities in terms of product, expansion, geography and price,” Moran said.

Ricardo Cano is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]

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