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Chinese bike-share startup Bluegogo plans soft rollout while placating City Hall

San Francisco’s newest transit tech endeavor plays nice

Ten blue bikes in a San Francisco parking lot.
App-enabled bikes await San Francisco riders, provided San Francisco law warms up to the idea
Adam L Brinklow

Bluegogo, the app-based bike-sharing company based in China, was supposed to launch in San Francisco today. But after running afoul of lawmakers’ ire last week, they have since backed off a bit, promising a soft rollout “sometime this week” while meeting with city officials to smooth things over.

Ilya Movshovich, a San Francisco local heading up the overseas’ company’s first U.S. venture, showed off a few of the signature bright blue bikes in a downtown parking lot on Monday.

Bluegogo’s business model works like this: Bikes may be rented out, via app, and then returned at any public bike rack, rather than having to rely on fixed bike stations, like the city’s own bike-share program.

But first, the company will rent private parking spaces in busy San Francisco neighborhoods where customers can pick up and drop off their ride.

“It’s the best way of doing it right now,” says Movshovich.

The company’s American VP shows off the company bikes’ nuts and bolts—literally.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin ran down the bike company in a press conference last week, accusing Bluegogo of charging into a new market with no regard for local law. He predicted a mess as thousands of new bikes pour into San Francisco streets.

Unlike our homegrown tech companies—e.g., Airbnb and Uber, two outfits noted for their brash defiance of city regulators—Bluegogo made pains today to establish itself as the nice startup.

“It’s not the city’s fault” that lawmakers didn’t hear about the planned launch sooner, Movshovich said several times during this morning’s press conference. He adds that company honchos wanted to make friends with lawmakers and SFMTA before employing their full fleet to the streets.

Supervisor Peskin and SFMTA have not yet commented on the amount of outreach Bluegogo has engaged so far.

[Update: Through a spokesperson, Peskin declined to comment beyond what he said at last week’s press conference. SFMTA says they’ve “been in touch” with the company, asking via a letter last week asked for specifics on Bluegogo’s business model and plans to make sure it abides by local right-of-way laws and registers with the city.]

The bikes themselves (ten of which were lined up for display in a lot at Steuart and Howard streets, one of the company’s newly rented parking spots) are slick from a design perspective, with their signature blue frames and solar-powered onboard gadgets.

Solar electronic locks keep the bikes stationary until unlocked with a QR scan, at least until bike thieves get tech savvy.

Users unlock the wheels by scanning a QR code on the frame or handlebars, and available bikes may be tracked down via GPS.

Each bike has an alarm in case anyone attempts to carry it away without unlocking it, and the screws holding them together are of an odd hexagonal shape to stymie theft of parts.

Privatized bike-sharing is an enormous market in Asia and Europe—Bluegogo alone operates at least 100,000 bikes overseas, and it’s still in its infancy as a business—but such ventures have been rare in this country.

Time will tell if San Franciscans like the look of app-powered bikes as part of their commute. The company plans their limited scope launch by the end of the week, but hasn’t yet announced a specific date.