- Just two months after returning to San Francisco streets, Lyft has pulled more than 1,000 e-bikes from the city after multiple vehicles caught fire.
- It is unclear what caused the fires, although the issue appears to be limited only to bikes in the Bay Area. "Out of an abundance of caution, we are temporarily making the e-bike fleet unavailable to riders while we investigate and update our battery technology," Lyft said in a statement to Smart Cities Dive.
- The issue has prompted pushback from lawmakers and regulators. In a statement, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) said it has an inquiry into Lyft "as to the circumstances surrounding this incident as well as to how they intend to prevent any future fires and ensure the safety of customers and the ongoing operability of the bikesharing system."
The service suspension comes at a dicey time for Lyft. The company has been arguing that it has exclusive rights to deploy dockless electric bikes, although the city has said the contract covers only docked services (a San Francisco judge sided with Lyft in a preliminary ruling earlier this month). The company’s e-bikes were also recently pulled from service in three cities, including San Francisco, because of a brake issue and were only recently returned.
It’s still unclear what problem exists with the vehicles, which are designed and manufactured by Lyft. The company said it is investigating whether the vehicles have been tampered with, and that is has seen increased vandalism in the Bay Area. No other cities have seen similar issues, or a suspension of service, although other dockless services like Skip have also seen battery-related problems.
The fire issues, which were reported in the San Francisco Examiner, have already driven a backlash from policymakers. City supervisor Matt Haney told the outlet that one fire in his district was "really bad, and scary" and said the bikes "definitely should be taken offline until they figure out what went wrong."
SFMTA said in a statement that it is "working to ensure that our residents can consistently rely on the safety and availability of the bikeshare system." The agency added that it is encouraging Lyft "to develop a fleet management system to ensure reliability and mitigate against the risk of crippling service disruptions."
Since dockless vehicles are still relatively new to cities, there is a limited regulatory and safety framework that regulators can lean on. Brianne Eby, a policy analyst with the Eno Center for Transportation, cautioned that cities should avoid being "overly strict," and instead focus on data gathering after an incident like this.
"It’s important to think about the city’s policy goals," she told Smart Cities Dive. "If the goal is to reduce vehicle miles traveled, does banning dockless vehicles for however long meet those goals? This is something we can collect data on as we investigate, and I would approach it from that perspective."