GoBike’s Rocky Path
By Stephanie Miller
Ford branded GoBikes have appeared all over the Bay Area’s trendiest neighborhoods. Photo Credit: Stephanie Miller
Motivate’s GoBike program (the “Ford Bikes” as they’re commonly referred to) is easily recognizable by Berkeley residents. Signs include long rows of vibrantly painted bicycles where there were none before, decreased parking in front of local businesses, increased vandalism and commuters with questions. To some, the bikes are convenient and useful. To others, it seems like a hostile takeover by a foreign, New-York-City-based, for-profit corporation. For Berkeley students and residents living in a steadily gentrifying Bay Area, one of the main issues is figuring out not only why these bikes exist, but how they can be beneficial.
The bad blood between Bay Area natives and big corporations like Ford is largely due to skyrocketing rents caused by increased housing demand. All decade long, mega companies (including Facebook, Uber, Twitter, Airbnb, and most notably, Google) set up shop in Silicon Valley. The aftermath, a steady surge in market values that borders on unbearable for members of the middle class, is dismantling the culture of the Bay Area. The traditional image of a Berkeley resident is not someone pushing a car company’s logo around on the way to a tech job.
The program’s implementation bypassed standards of neighborhood courtesy. Neither Ford nor Motivate notified any owners of commercial properties or residences before implementing the 25-foot-long GoBike stations, causing disarray for homeowners and business owners alike.
When asked about how Ford or Motivate gave notice to the areas, a life-long resident of East Oakland stated, “No one saw that coming. It wasn’t broadcast, it wasn’t public at all. It was very hard to know.”
According to residents in Berkeley and Oakland, “No Parking” signs just turned into bike rental stations one day. The program was an issue for some Berkeley residents, students, business owners, and visitors.
Residents blame Ford, but Ford is merely a sponsor. Justin Nguyen is a spokesperson for Motivate, the company running the Bay Area’s GoBike program and the CitiBike program in Portland, Ore.; Washington, D.C. and New York City. When The BCC Voice asked Nguyen about the intent of Motivate and the bike sharing pilot program, he clarified.
“Ford has a stadium deal,” said Nguyen. “We put their logo on the bikes so that this program is not a burden to the taxpayer. I feel that people are just vandalizing them because of the logo, like people tend to do when there is new street furniture.”
GoBike-related vandalism includes “lynchings” of bikes in the Mission District and “drownings” in Lake Merritt. They are not subject to the type of attention that regular “street furniture” receives. Rarely does Berkeley or Oakland see a traffic sign or a patio set lynched. The GoBikes have spawned a unique type of vitriol.
East Bay bus stop with windows smashed, surrounded by broken glass, amid rows of vandalized GoBikes. Photo Credit: Stephanie Miller
Nguyen reasoned that they seek to provide healthy access to affordable transportation, partner with the public and reduce traffic deaths, accidents and congestion. He contends that “the biking culture, infrastructure and weather in the Bay were all factors of why we made the choice to bring the program to the Bay Area.”
Nguyen had no comment on why Motivate did not notify residents of the implementation. Rather, he made points about how lack of parking would be negligible compared to the amount of cars taken off the road as GoBike is utilized by residents, thus creating a mass elimination of parking demand. The ends could very well justify the means.
Although the benefits of biking over driving manifest in both the environment and public health, this doesn’t change the feelings of life-long residents who no longer have a space for their cars or their guests’ cars. It is hardly practical to offer the solution of a $15 per-day bike rental to replace a car, citing that residents should be doing what is responsible for the Bay Area’s traffic problem. Although there are low-income programs, and bike rentals can be as low as $149 for a year’s membership, this figure is not within everyone’s budget. The bikes are somewhat obtainable, yet the fine print cites overuse fees and charges.
“The idea is to make the bikes obtainable, but still have them available for everyone,” Nguyen continued, in defense of the overage fees. “It is a bike share program, so the idea is that they have to be there for everyone to have access to.”
For $149 a year, many proponents contend that just buying a year membership is a better solution. But people of lower incomes don’t always have that much cash to spare at a time. When the only other option for consumers is to “buy in bulk,” this may seem reasonable to those marketing the product. This suggestion is solely useful to the middle-class, and useless to those who are not in a position to give up that much of their income at a time. They will pay more in the long run to use GoBike. It is expensive to be poor.
The Berkeley map for GoBikes will be filled out by October, while the number of GoBike stations will double in San Francisco by winter. GoBike stations are also moving into Emeryville, SF beach areas and Richmond. Motivate anticipates a percentage of the bikes being stolen, damaged or ruined and has the staff and equipment prepared to rectify any vandalism promptly in any Bay Area neighborhood.