Uber drops 300 electric bikes in San Diego. Will they last?


Despite the fast failures of bike sharing companies in San Diego, which suffered from the exuberant embrace of electric scooters in their stead, it seems the city is getting yet another e-bike player. And this one has stability on its side.

Uber announced Monday it is rolling out a fleet of electric bikes throughout San Diego called Jump. These bright red bikes come equipped with baskets and give users an electric boost while they pedal, letting cyclists travel up to 20 miles per hour without breaking a sweat. Uber is deploying 300 of these bikes across a 28 square-mile radius, largely concentrated in the beach communities and downtown San Diego. The company plans to ramp that up if demand warrants it, eventually expanding its service area to 95 square-miles by the end of the year. To help spur adoption, the company is offering free trips locally from now until Dec. 9. After that, they’ll cost $1 to unlock and 10 cents per minute to ride.

But will the red bikes stick? Alternative transportation has been a hot and crowded space this year, with companies exiting nearly as quickly as they’ve arrived. This year, the dockless bike industry’s top companies — all rolling in hundreds of millions of venture capital — have cruised into San Diego to battle for the loyalty of urban residents. While electric scooters have flourished, dockless bikes have struggled to stick around.

The yellow bikes from Ofo were some of the first to debut in San Diego, but disappeared from the streets this summer. Mobike rolled in — and back out — in a heartbeat. A local favorite — Lime — originally deployed a fleet of green and white electric bikes en masse in San Diego, but even they appear to have retracted e-bikes in favor of e-scooters. Although the company didn’t respond for comment as of press time, the Lime app is dominated by scooters. No e-bikes in sight.

Does Uber have an edge?

And yet, Uber believes the San Diego market is full of potential. In April, the ride-sharing giant decided to get in on the dockless bike action, acquiring Jump Bikes, a New York-based bikesharing company that already had its e-bikes deployed in 40 cities at the time. Since then, Uber has been expanding the e-bikes to new cities. They’ve also deployed electric scooters in select cities, including Austin, Santa Monica and Los Angeles. Uber’s Mike Egziabher, who’s general manager of Jump’s Southern California region, said the company has already seen success in other California markets. In San Francisco, the company started with only 250 bikes, but doubled that to 500 after their data showed 38,000 people took 326,000 trips during the pilot phase. And they’ve seen similar responses in Sacramento and Los Angeles.

“We think that this success will carry over into San Diego, not only because of the city’s topography and favorable climate, but also because of the large number of tourists who need affordable and easy ways to get around there,” Egziabher said.

Plus, they’ve got an advantage over other competitors, he said. “Our riders are already familiar with Uber, and can access a wide range of transportation options right from the app.”

Egziabher said Uber’s planning on rolling out e-scooters in San Diego in the near future.

City still embracing dockless mobility, despite some concerns

While city officials have long applauded the use of bikes and other modes of alternative transportation to meet sustainability goals, the deployment of more e-bikes may not be universally welcomed. In the city of San Diego, where long-promised bicycle lanes have yet to fully materialize, many scooter users have taken to riding on sidewalks, frustrating business and unnerving pedestrians. Injuries — befalling both pedestrians and riders themselves — have spurred lawsuits against electric scooter companies and stoked public concern over a lack of regulation.

Despite safety and cost concerns over the past year, the City Council repeatedly pushed the issue onto the back burner. Following months of public outcry, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced last month a proposal to regulate dockless mobility devices throughout the city, including restricting speeds in select areas and requiring companies to share ridership data.

City spokesperson Anna Vacchi said the city remains a proponent of more mobility options for residents and visitors because that’s consistent with climate action plan goals.

“The rapid evolution of this industry is evidence of the popularity of dockless mobility devices as great options for folks who would like to leave their car at home,” Faulconer said in a statement last month. “As with many disruptive new technologies, there are issues that need to be addressed. First and foremost, public safety is our top priority and that will be reflected in these common-sense regulations.”

Uber’s Egziabher said the company did not need a permit to operate in the city, but that the company has been “working with the mayor’s office and city council throughout the development of their permit process.”

“We are looking forward to continuing to work with the city on the development of, and compliance with, local regulatory priorities,” he said.

Business 619-293-1286 Twitter: @BrittanyMeiling