It’s like Uber, but for bicycles.
On Wednesday, Uber announced a San Francisco pilot project that lets people rent electric pedal-assist bikes.
Instead of calling a black car or shared carpool, select Uber users will have the option starting next week to reserve a bike from Jump Bikes. The electric bike has a small electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery. It senses when you’re struggling on a hill and gives you a boost, but you still have to power the bicycle with your legs — it’s not a motorcycle.
Through the app, users can ride one of Jump’s dock-less bikes for $2 for every 30 minutes. The pilot program on 250 e-bikes will run for the next nine months.
Dock-less bikes mean the bikes can be picked up and dropped off at any bike rack or designated parking facility. A U-lock is built into the bike, which the company believes helps cut back on bike clutter and dumping. (We’ve seen how that can go awry quickly.)
The company’s foray into two-pedaled vehicles, called Uber Bike, comes as ride-hailing cars clog city streets and make it more dangerous for bicyclists to ride through city centers. Ford has pumped thousands of its Ford GoBikes throughout the Bay Area and has its own electric bike plans coming in April. As Uber said in a release about the program, “We’re particularly excited about bikes because they can provide a convenient, environmentally friendly ride even in dense cities where space is limited and roads can be congested.”
Also, as seen in China with ride-share app Didi and bike programs Ofo and Bluegogo, bike shares are gobbling up a large share of car-less customers. Jump CEO Ryan Rzepecki said in a blog post that the e-bikes “are an evolution of bike sharing that bridges the gap between cars and bikes.” Uber wants in on all forms of transportation.
Bike activist and former Uber software engineer Eric Butler is cautiously optimistic about the new bike program. He’s firmly in the camp that the more bikes the better for bike-friendly city planning and infrastructure. But just because Uber is offering a bike-share, “this does not solve Uber’s relationship with urban cyclists,” he said in a call.
In New York, the city has cracked down on e-bikes for delivery couriers for services like UberEats.
San Francisco Bicycle Coalition spokesman Chris Cassidy is mostly here for the Uber-Jump partnership. “More people biking makes our cities healthier, safer and more affordable,” he said. But the coalition is still dubious of the company’s values and how it impacts congestion and bike safety on city streets.
Cassidy is mostly optimistic about getting more people experiencing city streets from a bicycle seat. With more riders able to get on a bike through a well-used and familiar app, he sees this an opportunity for a new base of people to have a stake in San Francisco’s transit and bicycle issues.
Riding up San Francisco’s hilly streets for people with disabilities also makes the electric assist on the e-bikes crucial. In a blog post, Jump CEO Ryan Rzepecki said riders travel three times the distance per ride compared to a regular bike. So people who normally shy away from biking might actually hop on.
That’s what Uber wants — even if you’re not hailing a car through the app you’re still using Uber on your alternative “sustainable” commute. But with the limited number of bikes, you have to sign up on the waitlist to start riding.