Uber disposes of tens of thousands of bikes, sparking backlash
Uber sold its bike and scooter business to the startup Lime earlier this month. But thousands of vehicles didn’t transition to Lime, which acquired only bicycles that hadn’t been made available for consumer use in cities.
Roughly 20,000 to 30,000 Jump vehicles have now disappeared from streets nationwide in recent weeks, according to estimates from four former Jump employees. Uber confirmed that tens of thousands of its bikes and scooters are being “recycled.”
It is a dramatic turn of events for Jump, which unveiled a new scooter in March and had seen ridership gains in the last year.
“I would have never imagined when joining the company just over 90 days ago that we would be in the situation we find ourselves in today,” Bill Knapp, who had led Uber’s Jump team, wrote in a farewell email earlier this month to staff, most of whom were laid off.
Fewer than two years ago, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was proudly reporting that its purchase of Jump was going well. Uber users were switching from cars to bikes trips during rush hour.
“Our acquisition of JUMP was a direct investment in the idea that the best way to get around a city is sometimes not in a car at all,” Khosrowshahi said in a Sept. 2018 blog post. By 2019, Uber users were taking six times as many trips on Jump’s vehicles compared with the year before.
But along came 2020, Uber’s financial struggles during the pandemic, and the sale of Jump to Lime.
Tens of thousands of new bikes were acquired from Jump, according to a Lime spokesman. Some of the bikes had been minimally ridden for maintenance, testing and training, the spokesman said.
Asked why Lime did not take all of Jump’s bikes, the spokesman said the company took the newest bikes that will allow it to offer a quality bikeshare service over the long term. The rest were left for Uber to deal with.
Footage of bikes being scrapped has touched a nerve with bike and scooter advocates, including ex-Jump employees. Many were attracted to the company because of the environmental appeal of promoting car alternatives.
“We were getting people out of cars. It had a net positive,” said Jamaica Lambie, a former head mechanic for Jump in Sacramento, California, told CNN Business. “Now it has this huge net negative. It’s not right to see bikeshare and micromobility as something a tech company can come in and dump on a city and pull away.”
Uber said in a statement that it explored donating the bikes.
“Given many significant issues—including maintenance, liability, safety concerns, and a lack of consumer-grade charging equipment—we decided the best approach was to responsibly recycle them,” Uber’s statement said.
Shared bikes like Jump’s are generally made with proprietary parts, which better protects them from theft and vandalism, but makes it all but impossible for a local bike shop to perform maintenance.
Lambie and other Jump employees believed Uber could have put more effort into finding uses for the bikes, especially as cycling has become increasingly popular as people seek active, outdoor activities during the pandemic. Bike shops are reporting record sales.
“Why do the bikes have to get tossed away in the dark of night given two days notice,” Lambie said. “I could’ve called my local boys and girls club and said ‘hey you want the bikes?’ “
Tier Mobility, a European shared scooter company, has offered to take Jump’s bikes, repair them and give them a second life.
“We believe that micro-mobility stands for sustainability and responsibility and not waste,” Tier CEO Lawrence Leuschner posted on LinkedIn Thursday.
Bikeshare companies have donated bikes in the past, and some groups told CNN Business they would have been interested in such an offer.
Spin, the scooter-sharing company owned by Ford, donated 20% of its bicycles in 2018 when it switched its focus to scooters, and some proprietary parts were replaced first, according to a Spin spokeswoman. The bulk of the fleet was sold to another bikeshare company, Koloni. Brian Dewey, CEO of Koloni, told CNN Business he would have been interested in buying some Jump bikes.
Ofo, a Chinese bikeshare company, has given away some of its used bikes in recent years. Patrick Van Der Tuin, executive director of the St. Louis organization BWorks, said he received 400 bikes from Ofo, and would have accepted as many Jump bikes as he could temporarily store.
Unlike Spin and Ofo bicycles, Jump’s bikes have the additional wrinkle of an electric battery, which wasn’t designed to be charged in someone’s home. The battery could be removed, but the bikes weigh about 75 pounds, making them difficult to pedal.
Phil Kaplan, president of Working Bikes Board, a Chicago nonprofit that received 13,000 donated bikes had donated to it last year, said his group discourages electric bike donations.
Cris Moffitt, who posted online videos of Jump bikes being scrapped, said he hoped to spur the company to donate any remaining bikes to a non-profit. Moffitt said he depended on a bike in college to get to work and school after he wrecked his car.
“My ability to eat as well as continuing my education was dependent on that bike,” Moffitt said. “Give them to kids who show they have a job and need transportation.”