Chinese bike-share startup meets hurdle in SF

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | | Updated: 2017-02-08 13:02

Chinese bike-share startup Bluegogo, which had planned to fill San Francisco's public bike racks with rental bicycles, is seeking permits after drawing backlash from city leaders.

The Beijing-based company has recently faces resistance in its first US market – San Francisco, which is home to other share-economy innovations like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

Different from other bike-share programs, Bluegogo's bikes are equipped with smart locks and GPS, which allows riders to locate and unlock the bikes using their smart phones and leave them at any public bike rack without locking. The service costs only 99 cents per half hour.

The company had planned to launch the program last month, but city leaders vowed to impound their bicycles and fine the company if they go ahead without permission.

The city official, who called Bluegogo a "rogue" company, were worried that the company would "dump" tens of thousands of bikes that would clutter public sidewalks. Bluegogo does not reveal how many bicycles it plans to deposit in the city.

"Every single time, these arrogant tech companies ask later for forgiveness, or ask later for permission. This is the first time where San Francisco has gotten ahead of the curve," Supervisor Aaron Peskin said at a press conference on Jan 18.

A month earlier, Uber faced a similar conflict with the city for its unpermitted self-driving car program. After a weeklong standoff, the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked the cars' registrations and forced them off the road.

"We'd still really like to come to an agreement with the city regarding the use of public racks," Ilya Movshovich, Bluegogo's vice president of US operations, told China Daily in an email.

"We last met with the city on Jan 25 and are still waiting to hear back on what permits might be needed. In the next week we will be bringing out more bikes to be housed at our rented-out stations," said Movshovich.

Currently, the company is operating bike-rent program with less than 200 bikes parked in rented private parking spots.

Bluegogo is reported to have put 130,000 bikes on the streets of China's Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Chengdu. But media reports said similar bike-share programs have caused problems in China, such as fights for limited curb space and damaged bikes that were thrown into piles and turned into dumping grounds.

Peskin also said on Jan 18 that he was drafting an ordinance to make it easier to go after Bluegogo, according to media reports. Under the state's existing Unfair Competition Law, Peskin said Bluegogo could be liable for fines of up to $2,500 per day, per violation.

He didn't immediately respond to request for comment.

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