Uber, the company behind Sacramento’s Jump bike-share program, said this week it has struggled to keep enough bikes on the street to meet demand but plans to address the problem starting Friday.
The company will bring another 200 of the distinctive cherry red, electric-motor bikes to town, placing them at curbside hubs this weekend in central Sacramento as well as West Sacramento and Davis.
That will increase the total fleet to 500 in the Sacramento area. The first 300 were introduced in mid-May.
Uber plans to add another 400 bikes later this year, bringing the Sacramento total to 900 and making it one of the largest electric rental bike fleets in the country.
“Lack of bikes, that has been the biggest complaint,” Uber’s Sacramento spokesman, Austin Heyworth, said this week.
At any given point, about 30 percent of the bikes are down because they need maintenance or have run out of electrical charge. Heyworth said that percentage should drop as Uber’s Jump bike team hires more crews to do nighttime maintenance and as more charging stations get set up at local bike racks.
But Heyworth said the main reason for lack of available bikes is that Sacramento’s bike-share program has been popular. Heyworth said 10,000 people have tried the bikes since they were introduced here in May.
“We now are averaging 1,000 rides a day in the Sacramento area,” Heyworth said. “They are being pretty heavily used. It is exciting to see.”
Besides adding bikes, Uber has launched a new program to encourage users to bring bikes low on juice to docking stations that can charge them. The company hopes that will lead to more bikes remaining in service. Currently, only 20 percent of riders return bikes to one of the bike-rack hubs.
Jim Brown of Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates said he believes the easy-to-spot motorized bikes have already made biking more visible in general in Sacramento, and he wants to see how well it progresses.
He had not expected to use a Jump bike but says he found the rentals more convenient at times than his own bike. He rented a bike to go to a concert at the Crest Theatre recently because he didn’t want to drive and he didn’t want to leave his own bike locked on K Street for hours at night while he was inside the theater.
“The indications I’m getting are that this is a good thing for the community,” he said. “I hear impatience from people who want to see more bikes on the street. That’s not a criticism. We are still in the rollout phase.”
Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, a bike-share advocate, said he expects Jump to add 200 bikes in August and 200 in September. He and others at City Hall have been encouraging Jump to add staff to respond more quickly to maintenance issues and other challenges.
The bike popularity has caused some to complain about bikes parked in inappropriate places, such as on sidewalks. City rules require that the bikes be parked at bike racks, but city officials acknowledged they have not been fining people who lock them to poles or other stationary devices.
The Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which oversees the implementation of the bike-share program, has joined with Jump this week and next in asking users to recommend where the program should add bike hubs. Users can respond at wikimapping.net/wikimap/SACOG_Bikeshare.html.
West Sacramento Mayor Chris Cabaldon, an avid Jump rider, is eagerly anticipating the influx of new bikes. Cabaldon said he uses Jump about five times a day for short commutes, but the scarcity of bikes means he never knows how long his return trip will take.
“I’m not sure that there’ll be a bike within a couple blocks when I go home,” Cabaldon said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee’s Editorial Board, which he traveled to using Jump. “You have to have a density of bikes for it to be reliable enough that you can get your trips back.
“What Jump has reported to us is that our numbers were three times San Francisco’s for the equivalent launch period. Our original planning forecast was about half as many (as theirs),” he said.
New riders include Chris Johnson, 19. He usually walks from Capitol Mall to get his hair cut at Cultivation on 25th and K streets. But Wednesday, he decided to use a Jump bike for the first time.
“I saw one and I thought I’d try it. It was really easy,” he said. “It was really fun.”
Johnson didn’t have any trouble locating a bike. But Scott Sochar, who has been commuting from West Sacramento to downtown Sacramento for more than three weeks via Jump bike, can’t always find one.
“People are using it, so they’re not available,” said Sochar, 58. “I like (the program) a lot. I wish there were more bikes available.”
Uber, the San Francisco-based ride-share giant, bought Jump two months ago from the company’s New York-based founders just as the program was being launched in Sacramento. The motor-assist Jump bikes are also in operation in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Uber has added the bike-share program to its smartphone ride-share app, and company officials say they believe the car and bike share programs can work in conjunction with each other.
Heyworth, who lives in Sacramento, said Uber believes that some people who use Uber will also use Jump bikes instead of a ride-share car for shorter rides because bikes are more convenient and less expensive than cars for some trips.
He said he’s already seen that cross-usage happening with younger users who live and work downtown and around the Capitol. The company intends to include price comparisons between bike and car share on its app.
Uber’s purchase of Jump is part of a longer-term effort to expand the company brand, Heyworth said. “Our goal is to become the platform for all mobility services if you don’t own a car.”