This morning, local residents awoke to find a number of blue bicycles sprawled along the 400 block of Castro Street.
Tipsters Daniel B. and Patrick B. alerted us to the appearance of the bikes, which they found propped up against palm trees and along the sidewalk.
"They appeared sometime before 8:45am this morning when I exited [Castro station]," said Patrick B. "They were not there yesterday."
The bikes are owned by Bluegogo, a China-based, dockless bike-share company that has been at odds with the city.
Earlier this year, Bluegogo planned to drop a fleet of its bicycles on city bike racks and in public areas without city approval. But after the city threatened to impound the bikes, the startup said it would abandon its controversial plan to fill the city with its stationless bicycle rentals.
Since then, Bluegogo has rented out 11 parking spaces from private businesses across the city to use as temporary stations, where bicycles must be both picked up and returned. However, none of the rented parking spaces are in the Castro.
This morning, Hoodline reached out to Bluegogo spokeswoman Lindsay Stevens, who declined to explain why the bikes were in the Castro. She said the company would be removing them immediately.
“Within two hours of learning that bikes were left in the Castro, we removed them,” Stevens told us, adding that the company will also be removing bikes from its paid parking spots. “As of tomorrow, all of our bikes will be removed."
Stevens told us that the company's entire fleet will remain in a warehouse, until the city figures out how to permit stationless bike-sharing.
"We just want to play it safe," Stevens said. "We thought that by renting private parking spots, we could operate legally. We didn’t know we were in violation of anything, but apparently we were required to get some permits ... Hopefully, you'll see us back on the streets soon.”
Not everyone is as hopeful.
“This is a shock,” said Darcy Brown, the executive director of SF Beautiful, a nonprofit that works to beautify and activate the city's streets. “[Bluegogo] thinks that it’s better to ask forgiveness than ask permission.”
Brown told us that she thinks the company is testing the waters, to see how the city reacts.
“It’s a corporate entity dumping bikes on sidewalks willy nilly, making cash and skirting local laws," she said.
Brown would like to see the city enact a law allowing SF Public Works to immediately confiscate any Bluegogo bikes left on neighborhood streets and sidewalks.
Even then, “it would still be the city picking up the tab,” she explained. “It would take time for Public Works to pick up the bikes, when they could be doing something else. The bikes should be crushed, and Bluegogo should be sent the trash and bill.”
Further appearances by the Bluegogo bikes may be in violation of District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s new stationless bike permitting and enforcement legislation, which was signed into law by Mayor Ed Lee on Friday.
When asked about the Bluegogo bikes in the Castro, Sunny Angulo, chief of staff for Supervisor Peskin, had this to say:
“For the first time, the City is getting out in front of an evolving industry to ensure appropriate regulation at the outset, instead of waiting for corporations to make up their own laws ... SF Public Works will be able to legally enforce [the new law] by the end of April.
We continue to receive almost daily complaints and photo documentation from constituents frustrated that their public realm is being turned into a private marketplace.”
Angulo said that Peskin’s office will be meeting with the Mayor’s office, the SFMTA, SF County Transportation Authority, Planning and SF Public Works in the coming days, to fine-tune the legislation's roll-out.
Bluegogo’s rogue behavior has drawn negative comparisons with the planned, gradual rollout of the Bay Area Bike Share (BABS) program, which is operated by bike-share company Motivate.
BABS already has numerous permanent docking stations downtown and in SoMa, and has been working with the city to expand its services to more neighborhoods.
“People want sidewalks and streets maintained in an orderly way,” said Motivate director of communications Dani Simons, citing the company's extensive outreach to local communities. “We want our stations to fit into the existing landscape.”
Castro Merchants president Daniel Bergerac told us that bringing BABS to the Castro has been a long process, but that Motivate has been great to work with. “They’ve worked very hard with the city and local neighborhood organizations to increase bike share in San Francisco,” he said.
By comparison, Bluegogo’s bike-drop "is an unpermitted take over of our public right of ways, and should be removed," Bergerac said.
We'll continue to follow this story.