Bike share programs have become popular across the country, and it is no surprise that famously bike-friendly Portland is part of the trend. That’s why the news that Motivate, the company that runs Biketown (and many other bike share programs nationwide), has a new owner should be of interest to anyone who cares about Portland as a cycling community.
The buyer is Lyft, a company best known for its car-hailing app. The Oregonian quotes a company statement promising “to help take bike share to the next level” with more bikes and more docking stations. With a single company running the bike share programs in cities across the country there is also the potential for rentals to become nearly seamless nationwide.
But Lyft’s emergence as a major player in bike share also raises questions. Let’s start with maintenance. When you return a rental car it is checked before being sent back out with another customer. When you roll a share bike into a docking station it usually just sits there until someone else checks it out or until the bike share operator moves it to a different location (regular and systematic redistribution of the bikes is a key element of any successful share program). Clearly no one is going to select a bike from the docking station if it has serious, visible damage. But there have always been legal questions about how bike share companies should deal with more subtle mechanical problems. Gears, the chain and the brakes can all be damaged in ways not immediately visible to someone who knows little about bike maintenance. It is worth asking what steps are being taken to guarantee a safe ride for bike share customers.