Despite a decade of regional planning, the Bay Area’s bike share system is growing more fragmented. While the region is now home to a half-dozen bike share operators, a two-horse race is emerging between Ford GoBike, the dock-based system operated by Motivate serving San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, and LimeBike, the dockless startup with an expanding war chest of venture capital money. Riding a wave of momentum and growing list of city partnerships, LimeBike seems poised to conquer the Bay Area’s suburbs and challenge Motivate’s control over the Bay Area’s biggest cities.
Six months since launching in the Bay Area, LimeBike has rapidly grown its footprint. It’s bright green bikes can now be found in its official partner cities of Albany, Alameda, Burlingame, El Cerrito, South San Francisco, and Walnut Creek. It has imminent plans to launch in Gilroy and is considering Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda, among others.
Moreover, intentionally or not, LimeBike has developed a sizeable unofficial presence in San Mateo, Millbrae, San Bruno, and parts of Berkeley, Richmond, and Pleasant Hill. While LimeBike’s fleet is smaller than Ford GoBike – it has at least 1,300 dockless bikes, compared to 7,000 Ford GoBikes at 550 docks – LimeBikes can be found in three times as many cities, and its dockless model now covers about the same geographic area as Ford GoBike’s dock-based system.
The reason for LimeBike’s success is simple: it provides a high quality, affordable mobility product to cities for free with no strings attached. Cities left out of Ford GoBike’s regional system once faced a long and costly and process to buy in; now, a dockless bike share system can be launched within weeks. Moreover, LimeBike now offers additional services that Ford GoBike does not, including e-bikes and electric scooters. While far from perfect – irresponsible parking representing a key issue – the opportunity is hard to refuse.
LimeBike has a ways to go before surpassing Ford GoBike’s supply and ridership, but it’s not inconceivable that it becomes the Bay Area’s biggest regional operator. Considering only a fraction of Bay Area residents are served by bike share, there remains tremendous potential for growth – and LimeBike’s nimble, bottom-up approach is much better positioned to capitalize on the opportunity than Ford GoBike’s costlier, top-down system. However, we’re still very early in the dockless revolution, and LimeBike is not the only player: well-funded competitors like Spin, Ofo, and MoBike could catch up at any point.
Jump may be a dark horse: the company’s recent launch of dockless e-bikes in San Francisco includes a partnership with Uber, transcending multimodal mobility as a service. It remains to be seen how LimeBike adapts, and whether any of these services can develop a viable business model over the long-term. It i is clear, though, that the brief reign of dock-based bike share is already being disrupted.