Last summer, rideshare company Lyft said it was open to selling its bike and scooter rental business, which it operates in several U.S. cities and dozens of countries. Yet, last week the company was taking steps toward securing a contract to run Los Angeles County Metro’s bike share program.

Public calls for scrutiny last week briefly halted those ambitions.

An LA County Metro committee voted last Thursday to delay consideration of Lyft’s bid to operate Metro Bike Share. The vote to postpone a vote came after labor unions and other members of the public flooded officials with comments about the potential 11-year $132 million contract. 

The LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, also called Metro, received over 700 comments on the proposed contract with Lyft, all of which deserve consideration, Metro board member Kathryn Barger said in a meeting Thursday. The 13-member Metro board, which develops and operates county transportation services and infrastructure, is composed of elected officials including the five members of the LA County Board of Supervisors. (Barger also serves as Fifth District representative, which touches the Ventura, Kern, and San Bernardino County lines).

“Out of an abundance of caution and also transparency, I would move that this be continued one month to our next meeting so that we can fully address the public comment that has come in,” Barger said. “I just think it would be a fair process for us to do that.”

The agency’s Operations, Safety, and Customer Experience Committee which met Thursday will now revisit the topic at its February 15 meeting. 

A Lyft spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Overcoming Setbacks

Since deploying in 2016, Metro Bike Share has overcome setbacks such as waves of bike theft; impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic; and departures of Pasadena, and the Port of LA from the program. It expanded its reach to 215 docking stations across the county and grew ridership from roughly 312,000 trips in 2018 to over 441,000 in 2023, according to Metro data. 

Metro says it wants to cut costs for bike sharing; increase the number of e-bikes available; boost advertising options; and expand to Culver City, San Fernando and Burbank. Lyft Bikes and Scooters, LLC., the San Francisco-based company’s subsidiary, submitted its bid for the bike share contract last June and promised to tick all those boxes. 

Alison Cohen, co-founder and owner of Philadelphia-based Bicycle Transit Systems, the current operator of LA County’s bike share, told LA Public Press it’s unclear why Metro isn’t interested in her company’s bid to continue operating the program. 

“We actually don’t know how we got here,” Cohen said. “We’re not sure why the playing field isn’t level here.”

Metro Bike Share crew members move rental bicycles outside the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority building after the agency voted last Thursday, January 18 to delay consideration of ride-hailing company Lyft’s bid to operate the regions bike share program. (Martín Macías, Jr. / LA Public Press)

Cohen said she’s dismayed because Metro acknowledges the bike share program has consistently improved service and expanded its reach. In the last year, new GPS tracking cut down on bike thefts; e-bike numbers in the fleet increased from 97 to 370; and fare costs decreased, according to Metro data. 

Metro estimates it would save $47 million over 11-years with Lyft running the bike share program. The savings come, in part, from what Lyft claims would be a 30% reduction in operating costs and on the price of new bikes, docking stations and a new app.

The agency also claims a Lyft operation would bring decreased vandalism of bikes , improved GPS tracking, and a new fleet of e-bikes with batteries built within the frame to prevent theft.

Bicycle Transit Systems’s contract expires June 30.

After the vote last Thursday, Cohen was flanked by dozens of bike share staff wearing their fluorescent green crew uniforms. Union representatives, transit riders, and cyclists had filled the county board room prepared to give public comment on the proposed contract.

In a letter to Metro’s board, Yvonne Wheeler, president of the LA County Federation of Labor, urged officials to reject Lyft’s bid and instead support Bicycle Transit Systems’s union-led operation.

“We are disappointed Metro has chosen a car-centric, anti-union company that has made billions off the backs of exploiting workers. Lyft has fought to eliminate basic worker protections like paid sick leave, unemployment benefits, and a workplace free of discrimination and sexual harassment,” Wheeler wrote. “Bike Transit is the best choice for ensuring a robust union operated bike share program.”

The federation is composed of over 300 unions representing more than 800,000 workers in hotels, grocery stores, medical clinics, and other businesses. 

Outside the meeting last week, bike share staff, public transit advocates, and members of California Gig Workers Union said they fear Lyft could erode bike sharing in the county and treat unionized workers unfairly. 

Transportation Workers Union Local 320, a federation member, represents Metro Bike Share staff. Dozens of their members, along with representatives from California Gig Workers Union, filled the Metro Board Room on Thursday in anticipation of giving public comment on the contract.

Joe Borfo, a Metro Bike Share employee bike share staffer and union member of Transportation Workers Union Local 320, told LA Public Press he’s concerned that Lyft won’t care as much about equity as much as he and his colleagues do.

Decreased bike ridership

“We’ve seen in Minnesota and other cities how Lyft’s policies have led to decreased bike ridership, fewer docking stations in low-income neighborhoods, and unfair treatment of workers,” said Borfo, who’s also a board member with LA-based Bike Oven repair shop collective. “Lyft, on the other hand, is primarily focused on getting people into cars, which will only worsen our traffic congestion and air pollution problems.”

Sean Broadbent, an avid cyclist, told LA Public Press he attended the meeting to support the union-led bike sharing program, adding he’s concerned Lyft may mistreat workers given it’s costly legal battles in California seeking to continue classifying ride-share and food-delivery drivers as independent contractors barred from not on the company payroll.

“Lyft is notorious specifically in California for working against our interests as workers,” Broadbent said. “It doesn’t make sense why a public agency like Metro would give Lyft a cent.”

In the 2023 report, Metro claims that Lyft has committed to recognizing the union representing bike share staff and would extend job offers to people currently employed in the program. 

Cohen said she’s also skeptical about Lyft’s intentions for the bike share program and is concerned it’s not as invested in robust public transit as bike share workers are.

“Ultimately, this is an existential question: Is LA going to give bike share to a car company,” Cohen said. “We’re at a loss as to why Metro is so strongly making a decision without even talking to us.”

It remains unclear what level of renewed scrutiny Metro’s the proposed contract with Lyft will undergo in the coming weeks. 

If the committee advances the contract at its next meeting, the full Metro board could take a final vote on Lyft’s bid as early as February 22. 

The motion to move the contract forward Thursday was introduced by Metro board member Paul Krekorian (an LA City Councilmember representing District 2 who is also president of the LA City Council).

During the meeting, Krekorian asked his colleagues if the delay would also extend the window for any challenges to Lyft’s bid to be submitted.

“Absolutely,” said Barger, who is seeking reelection for a third and final term as supervisor.

“I mean we’ve got to be transparent.”