Judge Sides With Lyft in Shared-Bike Dispute With San Francisco

A bike lane on Folsom Street, between Third and Fourth streets.  (Dan Brekke/KQED)

Updated 4:35 p.m. Thursday

A Superior Court judge is siding with ride-service company Lyft in its legal battle with San Francisco transportation officials over the future of the city's shared rental-bike system.

Judge Ethan Schulman granted Lyft's request for a preliminary injunction barring the city from granting permits to about half a dozen other companies who want to operate dockless shared electric bikes.

In a tentative ruling made final Thursday afternoon, Schulman said that Lyft has been granted an exclusive right to operate a docked or dockless bike-share system using "traditional" pedal-powered bicycles under a contract negotiated by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and approved by the city in 2015.

But the issue at the heart of the case is who will get to operate the next generation of shared rental bikes in the city -- electric-assist bicycles that can be docked either in street kiosks like the city's current system or locked anywhere else in the city.

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The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced in April its intention to vastly expand the city's fleet of shared rental bikes, with an emphasis on the e-bikes.

The agency invited applications from new operators, a move that prompted the lawsuit from Lyft, which cited a contract provision that gives the company "right of first offer" to operate e-bikes in the city.

Judge Schulman agreed with the company, writing that the contract bars the city from soliciting e-bike operators unless it complies with Lyft's right of first offer.

The contract calls on the city to negotiate the terms of an e-bike program with Lyft. If the city and company are unable to reach an agreement within 90 days, then the city would have the right to solicit other bids -- a process in which Lyft would be entitled to participate.

Lyft has said it's ready to introduce 1,000 new "hybrid" e-bikes that can be docked in street kiosks or locked elsewhere. The new bikes, rebranded from Ford GoBike to Bay Wheels, have already been deployed in San Jose and Oakland.

Schulman's order allows the Municipal Transportation Agency to extend an 18-month pilot program that has permitted Uber-owned Jump to deploy 500 of its bright red e-bikes on the street. The Jump pilot may continue, the judge said, through the 90-day period in which Lyft will attempt to negotiate an e-bike agreement with the city.

San Francisco city attorney's spokesman John Coté said while his office doesn't agree with Schulman's order, "We look forward to good-faith negotiations with Lyft to provide more stationless e-bikes going forward."

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