Bike-share company Jump Mobility has just announced that, between January and March of this year, San Francisco will receive 250 stationless electric bikes across the city. For San Francisco, Jump is the first bike-share company that the city has granted a permit to operate in, in return for data analytics on bike-sharing in the city.

Jump Mobility, which first launched in 2013, has been granted a permit to operate in the City of San Francisco, becoming the first bike-sharing company to come to the hilly California city. Jump Mobility bikes are electric bikes, which run on 250 watt electric motors that boost speed across longer distances and up hills. Given the landscape of San Francisco, which is particularly hilly, this feature will enable bicyclists to traverse the city.

The bikes will be locked to what are called the “furniture zone of the sidewalk,” which includes lamp posts, benches, and other portions of sidewalks that bikes can be locked to. To secure the bikes, they will be equipped with built-in locks to prevent theft.

jump mobility

Bikes chained to what is commonly referred to as the “furniture zone.” (CC: Clem Onojeghuo)

San Francisco’s MTA (SFMTA) granted Jump Mobility permission to operate in the city on the condition that the company provides the city with data on the success of bike-sharing. For 18 months, Jump and the SFMTA will collect and evaluate data in order to assess whether bike sharing will work in the long term as it has in other cities like Washington D.C., where Jump also operates. The SFMTA told TechCrunch that the assessment of bike-sharing will also look at the impact of the stationless bikes on “the public right-of-way, including maintaining accessible pedestrian paths of travel, as well as the enforcement/maintenance burden on city staff.”

What may come out of the assessment is not only an expansion in the number of bikes Jump may provide San Franciscans, but also policy recommendations in stationless bike riding for the city in general. Within the first nine months of the assessment, granted the success of Jump’s stationless bikes, the city may receive an additional 250 bikes. Bike-sharing has been on the rise as an effective mode of transport in cities around the world like in Downtown Cairo or in Portland, which introduced a system of bike-sharing for the disabled.

Bike-sharing, according to People for Bikes, has three main goals: reducing traffic congestion, boosting public health, and increasing mobility. With increasingly car-central cities, the safety of cyclists is may be a constant bargaining chip for lobbyists against bike-sharing. However, a recent study on bike-sharing safety in London concluded that the number of deaths of bike-sharing riders is much less than those among regular cyclists, which is the same for the United States. Over the past seven years, there has only been one bike-sharing related death in comparison to the 700 deaths among regular cyclists. The cause for the discrepancy between the two is unknown.  

Opponents of bike-sharing primarily oppose the usage of tax money on bike-sharing since its usage as a mode of transport in American cities is not comparable to that of subways, railways, and bus systems. The reality is twofold: bike-sharing is a public good and tax money usually funds an insignificant amount of bike-sharing. In Denver, public funding only makes up 10 percent of the city’s bike-sharing system in comparison to Salt Lake City’s public transportation system, which derives close to 80 percent of its funding from taxes.

While the numbers speak to the potential success of bike-sharing in cities like San Francisco, bike-sharing has a number of other challenges it has yet to tackle before becoming a primary mean of transport. In cities like Detroit, where nearly a third of the population lives below the poverty line, bike-sharing can cost more and prove to be less accessible to people of color and those from low-income individuals. And while bike-share ridership is primarily dominated by white, upper-class men, female ridership in San Francisco has increased recently. The future of bike-sharing in San Francisco and elsewhere in the U.S. seems bright, but the numbers and data that come out of Jump’s pilot in the Californian city can either make or break bike-sharing as a practical and sustainable mean of urban transport.