Hot wheels

Uber’s electric-powered side hustle draws both excitement and concerns about safety and litter issues

A Jump bike improperly—some might say creatively—locked to a street sign on L Street between 24th and 25th streets. A parking hub stands about three blocks away.

A Jump bike improperly—some might say creatively—locked to a street sign on L Street between 24th and 25th streets. A parking hub stands about three blocks away.

Photo by James Raia

The Sacramento region already had more than a dozen public transportation offerings before Jump came to town four months ago. The region’s latest spin on the evolving bikeshare model isn’t its first attempt at uniting capitalist entrepreneurs and socialist consumers, but it may be the most ambitious.

Brooklyn-based Jump was founded in 2010 as Social Bicycles, which originated the concept of charging people to share rented recumbents. The company now has more than 30 global bicycle-sharing services. It was purchased by Uber in April but will continue to operate with the Jump name. (A few Social Bicycles are still visible in Sacramento.) The bikes feature an electric motor in the front wheel and a battery concealed in the frame. When a rider pedals a little, the bike senses the effort and supplements it up to 15 mph.

“Using it on the way to work is a little less work,” said Austin Heyworth, the public affairs manager for Uber in California, who lives in West Sacramento. “We’re hopeful that it will encourage folks who might not consider riding a bike.”

The bright red bikes appeared abruptly around the region on May 17, the same day the Amgen Tour of California arrived for the first of its three dates in Northern California. Within its first month, the system received both high praise and collected its share of detractors.

Jump’s regional rollout began with 300 bikes in Sacramento, Davis and West Sacramento, though most were dispatched around the capital city, saturating East Sacramento and Midtown in clusters, called hubs. Another 200 bikes were recently added to the fleet, with another 400 scheduled for distribution throughout the three cities by the end of the year. Heyworth notes the average Jump user pedals between two and three miles.

“These bikes help bridge the gap between cars and regular bikes,” he said. “Riders aren’t going to be laboring along like they would be on a regular heavy bike share option in the sweltering Sacramento summer day.”

Using the bikes costs $1 for the first 15 minutes and 7 cents for each additional minute, or $4.15 per hour. Other membership options include a monthly rate and low-income and student plans. Users can download the Jump or Uber-associated apps on their smartphones. Account holders can locate bikes and unlock them via the Jump app and pin code. Helmets are not provided and cyclists have to be 18 years old to rent a bike—although that policy is difficult to enforce.

Ideally, a Jump user should return their bike to where it was rented, to a traditional bike rack or to one or more artwork-style racks increasingly available. But users haven’t fully complied. Jump bikes are scattered around Sacramento, locked on utility poles, against buildings and benches, and in other creative but unthoughtful fashions.

Since Jump bikes are registered to users, a $25 fee can be assessed for illegal parking or distributing a bike outside the company’s regional boundaries. GPS tracking devices are installed on Jump bikes. On August 13, city spokeswoman Amy Williams said that callers to the city’s 311 help line have complained 61 times about Jump bikes, including for improper parking. While fines can be directly charged to renters’ accounts, none have, she added.

It didn’t take long for followers of the social media app Next Door to express strong, varied opinions. Accompanied by an image showing a Jump bike parked next to a fire hydrant and partially blocking the sidewalk, one poster sarcastically praised the bike renter’s parking skills and inquired, “Who would block a fire hydrant?”

Jim Brown, executive director of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, said he views the unique parking habits of some Jump users as the result of a lack of bike racks in key locations and not an issue with lazy renters.

Bikeshare programs in Seattle and Baltimore have failed as have similar programs in several countries. Vandalism, abandonment and programs that didn’t require adherence to a “locked-to” policy were the primary culprits.

Jump isn’t the region’s first bike-share effort. Ride Your Now Way was initiated in June 2001. A few dozen bikes were available at two Midtown kiosks. Theft and credit card fraud were immediate problems. The bikes also had to be returned to two kiosks. The program was short-lived.

Sacramento is also home to the free State Employees BikeShare program. It’s available only in the Sacramento region and to 230,000 state employees. The bikes are available for use 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Practical Cycle, based in Folsom, has several rental options, including electric bikes and children’s bikes.

Rad Beauton, manager of Peak Adventures bike shop at Sacramento State University, is encouraged by the Jump program.

“It’s a nice resource for us as a shop because if someone drops off their bike for repair and they still need to get home, there are enough Jump bikes around here that people can tag one of those and ride it back. It’s a pretty affordable cost,” Beauton said. “So far, so good. I really don’t have any beef with them [Jump], other than the whole lockup situation. Ideally, they’re supposed to be locked to a bike rack. But some people are just locking them up to street poles, but other than that I think it’s great.”

Heyworth reports the program tallied about 10,000 rides during its first three months in the region. The availability of helmets, recommended on the app, and expanding the boundaries of the program are under consideration.