Bikes, Yes, But Ford NoBikes

Here’s a simple idea to reduce the vandalism of Ford GoBikes, the shared bikes placed throughout San Francisco, Oakland and other parts of the Bay Area: Remove the Ford logos from them.

Here’s another basic idea to prevent riders from getting injured because they may not know a particular bike has been vandalized: Encourage Ford GoBikers to check out the bike, especially the brakes, before they ride away.

I make these humble if not obvious suggestions after the San Francisco Chronicle published an article this week that claimed a vandal or vandals are now “putting riders lives at risk” by making the brakes inoperable on all the bikes at one Ford GoBike station. The article, which actually calls the vandalism “attempted murder,” doesn’t go into much detail about the actual act of the vandalism itself.

Ford GoBikes have been around the Bay Area since 2013, and the program has been expanding. For a fee, riders can get a bike at a station and hit the road. The program is operated by Motivate, a privately-held company that bills itself as a “global leader in bike share.” The company partners with companies, such as Ford, to make the bikes available in some cities throughout the country. For example, Citi Bike, as in Citigroup, operates in New York and Jersey City.

I’ve certainly seen cheerful people riding Ford GoBikes here, but the bikes have also been met with some righteous and understandable protest among locals about the obvious symbolic gentrification they represent. People have complained about them on a socio-cultural and class basis as well. Some bikes have been vandalize over the months, and this may or may not be connected to the real argument against them. Maybe the vandalism just comes down to the fact that the bikes are an easy target. At least one bike ended up in Lake Merrit. Tires have been gashed. One was damaged and hung in a tree in San Francisco.

Ford Motor Company, which manufactures vehicles that operate on the fossil fuels that are destroying our environment through accelerating global warming, is hardly an environment-friendly company when it comes to the natural world. What Ford executives really want you to do is buy a F-350 pickup truck for $40,000, not get on a non-polluting bike and get some exercise. Ford is getting sued right now for allegedly rigging their emissions controls on vehicles to cheat on federal tests.

The company wants you to forget that when you go for a sweet ride around the Bay Area. On your ride, you might as well forget about that big tax cut Ford and other big corporations recently received from the Donald Trump administration and the GOP majority in the Senate and House. Not to take anything away from the legacy of capitalist giant Henry Ford, but the auto industry in general has a terrible track record when it comes to polluting our air and other major safety issues for drivers and passengers. It continues to this day. Ford GoBikes is a contradiction or simply another advertising distortion. Ford is GoFord at any cost.

On another note, one of the main sources for the story about the “attempted murder” was a manager for BART, who supposedly was almost killed in February when she got on one of the vandalized bikes and found the brakes weren’t working. What was a lot more interesting to me, as a BART rider, is that the manager says she uses Ford GoBikes instead of using the BART system to get to work because “[h]aving one less person getting on the train is a good thing.” Hmm. If a BART manager won’t ride the train, then should we?

My point is not that it’s okay to vandalize the brake systems of a bunch of shared bikes. It isn’t. Bike ride share programs are genuinely good for the culture. But the type of corporate branding Ford GoBike represents is suffocating. This type of branding in virtually all aspects of our public lives has worked to numb many Americans from the myriad of social problems large corporations have created in our society, including the larger issue of massive income inequality.

If corporations like Ford paid their fair share in taxes, maybe San Francisco, Oakland and any city could afford to operate their own completely free bike share program and maybe BART could be improved to make it good enough and easy enough for one its managers to actually use it.

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