SFMTA moves to regulate ‘stationless’ bike sharing

A new permit program is taking aim at a new form of bike sharing where the bikes are not returned to a station or dock.

On Tuesday, The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors approved the Stationless Bike Share Permit Program that will help regulate the stationless or dockless form of bike sharing.

The permit program will establish the permit fees and requirements for the issuance of the permit, administrative penalties for leaving an unattended bike that is part of the program on the street, sidewalk or public right of way, penalties for not obtaining permit and holding a public hearing if companies want to use on-street parking spaces to leave or park the bikes.

Jamie Parks, principal transportation for the SFMTA, said the stationless bike share model would be treated similarly to Bay Area Bike Share, which does use docking stations.

Some of the main focuses that would be similar include making sure the bikes are available citywide and not just in certain areas of The City, rental fees for the bikes are affordable, the bikes are not blocking the public right of way and sharing data with the SFMTA.

There are more than half a dozen stationless bike share companies, said Parks. But the one that has caught eye of city officials. including Supervisor Aaron Peskin, is China-based company Bluegogo.

In a SFMTA report, three startup bike share companies have contacted the SFMTA expressing interest in the San Francisco market. The report though did not indicate if the companies were stationless bike share models.

Parks said it was best to get ahead of the growing stationless bike share model:

“Knowing the growing interest in stationless bike share as model overall, we really must get out in front of it with some legislation that would make sure it’s well regulated and that we’re proactive.”

Bluegogo has already begun operations in The City since January of this year, using parking spaces in private parking lots to store its bikes for public use. Users of Bluegogo use the company’s app to find the location of the bikes and pay on the app to rent the bike. Users are given a code to unlock a bike.

While The City has asked for the company’s future plans and its business model, city officials had concerns over the company’s stationless bike share model in China, where bikes were left in the public right of way and parked anywhere on the street.

The SFMTA’s permit program will go hand in hard with Peskin’s approved legislation at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which will establish a violation for stationless bike share programs who do not have a permit from the SFMTA.

San Francisco Public Works will also be allowed to take enforcement action on the bike left in the public right of away that does not have a SFMTA permit under the legislation.

SFMTA director Malcolm Heinicke praised staff for being aware of the impact the stationless bikes could have on the public right of way:

“We really need to recognize our sidewalks are now major arteries for people getting around and we can’t one mode trump over the sidewalk.”

Heinicke said that or one or two bike cluttering the streets can cause a major problem.

Bluegogo is currently having compliance issues with the San Francisco Planning Department.

Gina Simi, a spokesperson for the Planning Department, said last week that Bluegogo missed a March 10 deadline to file permits with the department for its operations inside the privately-owned parking lots:

“As the required permit applications were not filed for each site by March 10, we will begin the standard enforcement process this week with a Notice of Enforcement with a 15 day period to begin abating the violation or demonstrating compliance with the Planning Code.”

Simi added:

“If they fail to respond to the notice by abating the violation or demonstrating compliance with the Planning Code within those fifteen days, it will result in issuance of a Notice of Violation by the Zoning Administrator.”

If the company can show the Planning Department that they plan to file the proper building permits, the enforcement process could close on some or all of Bluegogo’s sites, said Simi.

Bluegogo has 200 bicycles spread out in 15 stations in The City.

UPDATE 03/22/17: Gina Simi, spokesperson for the Planning Department has informed SFBay that the department has started the enforcement process at all of the Bluegogo bike sharing sites. The department still has not heard back from company as of Wednesday.