Beijing-based stationless bike-sharing startup Ofo is crying foul at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency over its decision to have an exclusive pilot program with startup JUMP. Earlier this month, JUMP obtained an exclusive permit with the SFMTA to launch 250 dockless, electric bikes in San Francisco.
Now, Ofo is asking the SFMTA to consider reopening the permit process and continue giving permits to other startups that fulfill the requirements and show a commitment to improving the city’s transportation system.
Ofo is one of two billion-dollar bike-sharing companies from China. In July, Ofo raised a $700 million Series E round led by e-commerce giant Alibaba, Hony Capital and CITIC Private Equity.
In a letter to SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, Ofo Head of North America Government Affairs David London expresses “strong disappointment of the Agency’s unnecessarily opaque permit granting process.”
Over the last six months, London writes, Ofo has been in talks with the SFMTA about the permit process, ensuring the startup fulfills the requirements with the city. London also accuses the SFMTA of conducting “a sole source procurement process under the guise of an open permitting system.”
He points to cities like Seattle and Charlotte — both of which have more open permitting processes that allow multiple operators to conduct pilot programs.
“Our ultimate goal has always been to obtain permission to launch our dockless bike-sharing services in San Francisco and complement the City’s existing dock system,” London wrote. “Our dockless system is scalable, inherently equitable, and accessible to all residents of San Francisco.”
Because stationless bike-sharing is new for the city, the SFMTA has said it will not issue any other stationless bike-sharing permits during the 18-month period its piloting the program with JUMP.
Update 11:30am PT: The SFMTA says it “supports the spirit of innovation and as the city’s transportation manager, our job is to prioritize public safety, focus on equity and build in accountability,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told TechCrunch in an email.
SFMTA, which opened up its application process for the bike-share permit last March, says JUMP was the only company to have actually completed an application. Although Ofo is asking for the SFMTA to reconsider its exclusive stationless bike-share permit with JUMP, Rose reiterated to TechCrunch that the agency will not issue any other stationless bike-share permits while the JUMP pilot is in effect.
He went on to note how shared bicycles in the city will increase to about 5,000 bikes, between the Ford GoBike program and JUMP.
“With this expansion underway, the SFMTA is taking a thoughtful approach to stationless bike sharing,” Rose said. “We must ensure there will not be an over-concentration of shared bikes in the public right-of-way or an imbalance in their geographical distribution.”
Here’s Ofo’s letter to the SFMTA.
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