Uber wanted to get out of the bike business, so a Mexico City cyclist group took 1,600 bikes off the company’s hands. It’s a good thing they did — elsewhere in the world, Uber just sent them to the scrap heap.
When it isn’t rescuing hundreds of bicycles from destruction, Bicitekas advocates for bikeable cities, which it has done for the last 22 years. The group’s hope in rescuing the bikes to give people who usually don’t have access to bike-sharing programs another means of transportation. To do that, Bicitekas paid Uber a symbolic peso for each bike.
By coincidence, a few weeks earlier, Bicitekas was working on a similar project called “Recicletas” where they received old bicycles or spare parts to repair and donate the almost-new bicycles to medical staff and first responders, says Agustín Martínez, the group’s president. So far, they have repaired, assembled, and donated 113 bicycles to health workers since May. Reclaiming Uber’s Jump bikes was an obvious way to expand their work.
Uber acquired Jump for $200 million in 2018 with the goal of using the bike-share system to become a one-stop shop for urban mobility. At the time of the acquisition, Jump had 12,000 bikes in 40 cities and six countries.
Jump arrived in Mexico City in August 2019 with a little more than 2,000 bicycles. Not even a year had passed when it decided to leave the Mexican capital along with other major cities such as São Paulo in Brazil and Santiago in Chile. In May, after offloading Jump to Lime, Uber had to fire 14 percent of its employees worldwide due to the economic crisis from the pandemic. Lime has since returned some of the bikes to a handful of cities in which it operates.
But a majority of the bikes were sent to scrapyards. Uber sparked an outcry among cyclists when social media photos surfaced, showing the distinctive red bikes in the trash. When Bicitekas saw videos of the scrapped bicycles, they reached out to Uber’s bike division to make a negotiation. “We worked with repaired bicycles and there were more than a thousand bikes about to be destroyed … we just couldn’t let that happen,” said Martínez.
And it wasn’t just bike advocates who were upset. Darío Mejía, former chief of mechanics at Jump in Mexico City told The Verge, “I felt really sad because me and my team had worked so hard to make the Jump bikes the best ones in the world.”
The whole Jump team worked hard to save the rest of the bikes after Uber trashed 600 units that were “almost like new,” Mejía said. After looking for different ways to rescue them, Jump was able to sell the rest of its bikes to Bicitekas, once the batteries were removed. Bicitekas has to pay for adjusting them: patching the frame where the battery was, making the newly non-motorized bikes lighter, and removing the Jump branding.
The bicycles were renamed “Bici Catarinas,” or ladybug bikes, for their color. The cyclist group is still thinking about different ways to raise the almost $150,000 dollars they need to adapt the 1,600 Jump bikes.
Meanwhile, they found a way to work with one of the 16 boroughs in Mexico City and subsidize hundreds of bicycles. Bicitekas is lending 400 bicycles to Azcapotzalco, a periphery borough that is too far away from the government bike-sharing system. The local government will repair and adjust the bicycles to use within its limitations. How the group will raise the money for the other 1,200 is still uncertain.
Mexico City wasn’t the only city that received some part of the Jump bicycles. The Bike Share Museum in South Florida received five and reported that another 5,000 might find new homes through other organizations. The Shared Mobility Inc. in Buffalo received 3,000.
The pandemic brought major mobility changes in cities, benefiting cyclists. “I’ve been in this for 20 years and I’ve never seen such an interest in bikes,” said Areli Carreón, the Bike Mayor of Mexico City and also a member of Bicitekas. “In the last months, all the local governments from the 32 Mexican States had plans or were already implementing bike infrastructure in their cities. We even worked with the federal government. To see that level of political will is amazing.”
Bicitekas has a goal of getting bikes to make up 3 percent of the trips taken in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area, according to Carreón. Right now, 2.2 percent of trips taken are made by bikes. “Thanks to the pandemic that goal that seemed very ambitious in January now seems more than achievable,” Carreón says.
For now, the project is taking its first steps — but Bicitekas knows that this effort is not only about rescuing bicycles. Their goal is to give a service to traditionally marginalized areas that can improve the quality of life of thousands of families, or as they put it: ”We want people to think in mobility not as a commodity but as a right.”