Next spring, hundreds of bikes sporting Ford Motor Co.’s blue logo will hit the streets of Oakland.
The world’s second largest automaker announced earlier this month it will sponsor a new bike sharing program in the Bay Area that will put 850 bicycles in Oakland, allowing the city to ramp up its efforts to reduce its reliance on cars.
The deal is part of an agreement with bike-sharing company Motivate to increase the Bay Area’s shared bicycle count from 700 to 7,000, giving the region the second largest network in the country behind New York City. According to a chart released by the company on Thursday, the downtown, midtown, Rockridge and Temescal regions in Oakland would receive the first stations. Motivate said it will install a total of 70 stations in the city.
The idea to expand bike sharing had been in the works for nearly a year-and-half as part of Bay Area cities’ ongoing efforts to overhaul transportation to ease congestion and mitigate climate change. Until now, however, there was no one to pay for it.
The emergence of Ford as a sponsor is particularly significant for Oakland because, unlike San Francisco, it currently has no bike-sharing.
Last year, Mayor Libby Schaaf created a new position to address this very issue: the city’s transportation policy director. “It’s going to be a major game changer,” said Matt Nichols, who was recently hired for that role. Nichols has also been working to bring car sharer Car-To-Go and expand services like Zip Car and City Car Share by providing the companies economic incentives to open in low income regions of Oakland.
For Ford, the project is part of a strategy to transform itself into a broader transportation company. Urban consumers are projected to shift away from owning personal cars in favor of ride-hailing services like Uber. Despite strong yearly sales growth since 2009, Ford reported a 9.6 percent decline in second-quarter profits this year to $1.97 billion and warned that U.S. sales would be weaker for the rest of the year, according to its quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“As bikes become an increasingly popular form of sustainable transportation, partnering with companies like Motivate to offer bike sharing supports Ford’s goal of becoming part of the broader urban transportation ecosystem,” Ford spokesperson Angie Kozleski wrote in an email.
Ford also acquired San Francisco shuttle startup Chariot this month, a move which complements its efforts to roll out autonomous ride-hailing fleets by 2021 like other traditional automakers and Silicon Valley firms.
Some Bay Area transit officials expressed surprise by the company’s move. “If you would have asked me [a year ago] who was the front runner for this sponsorship, Ford would have been a dark horse for sure,” Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) spokesman John Goodwin said, noting Ford’s over century-long status as strictly a car manufacturer. MTC acts as the Bay Area’s regional transportation commission.
According to Nichols, the bikes can be reserved on Ford’s mobile app or at each station itself. The app, which went live early this year, already allows users to call shared vehicles and is aiming to add an array of transportation services such as public transit mapping.
Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley, said this was part of the East Bay’s long-term transportation vision to get all modes of shared transportation working on a single mobile app. Such a system would allow people to call, route, and pay for a trip across town using any combination of bikes, BART, AC Transit and rideshares from their phones, all with a single push of a button.
According to Goodwin, the new bike sharing stations will spread across much of Oakland by the end of 2018. Low-income regions, including much of West and East Oakland south of the 580 freeway, will receive 20 percent of the stations. Berkeley and Emeryville will combine to offer 500 new shareable bikes.