Lyft sues San Francisco to block other bike sharing companies

The Ford GoBike owner says it has an exclusive contract with the city.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Ford GoBikes have an exclusivity agreement in San Francisco, Lyft argues.

Sean Hollister/CNET

Lyft has filed a lawsuit to block San Francisco from granting bike share permits to other companies.

Lyft entered the San Francisco Bay Area bike share market last year by acquiring Motivate, the company behind Ford GoBike. Uber is in the market thanks to its Jump acquisition in April 2018. 

The suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Friday, is asking for a temporary restraining order against the city and county of San Francisco.

Lyft is "eager to continue investing in the regional bike-share system," but San Francisco must "honor its contractual commitments to this regional program -- not change the rules in the middle of the game," a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement.  

Under its 10-year contract with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), Lyft says it has exclusivity in providing bike sharing services.

The complaint asks for the court to "prohibit" San Francisco from "issuing bike share permits, entering into contracts or agreements, or taking any other measures that would disregard, dilute or otherwise prejudice Motivate's exclusive right to operate a bike share program in the public rights-of-way in San Francisco as to all types of bicycles, including, but not limited to, traditional pedal bikes, e-assist, electric assisted or electric bikes ("e-bikes"), stationed or docked bikes, and/or stationless or dockless bikes.

"Motivate seeks both injunctive relief and declaratory relief to protect its negotiated right to exclusivity for a bike-share program." 

Lyft said it made several attempts to use the dispute-resolution process in its contract prior to filing the lawsuit, but that SFMTA hadn't participated. It added that it'd made a onetime exception to its exclusivity contract to allow Jump to provide e-bikes while it was still developing its e-bike model.

Lyft recently signed an agreement with SFMTA to provide another 4,000 hybrid electric bikes that'll be deployed in the next few weeks, on top of the 4,500 bikes it already provides.

A report by the San Francisco Examiner added the SFMTA argues that Lyft's exclusivity contract only covers bike share services using sidewalk docks, but that Jump is "dockless."

Lyft's complaint argues that a bike share program can be made up of bikes that are locked in docks, bikes that are dockless, or both.

"As we will explain to the court, the agreement between Motivate and the city was about a docked bike share system," John Coté, communications director of the Office of City Attorney Dennis Herrera, told CNET in an emailed statement. "It does not give Lyft the right to a monopoly on bike sharing in San Francisco. Lyft can seek a permit for dockless bikes on equal footing with everyone else."

Originally published June 7.  
Update, June 10, 10:10 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Office of City Attorney.

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