THE TRUTH: Uber Trashes JUMP Bikes in Video

Street Justice Newsletter: Special Edition (5/27/2020)

Special, Vacation-Breaking Edition: Hello from Jacksonville, where I have been on vacation this week to see my brother — a Navy pilot, and a recent first-time homebuyer. I dialed back in today to work on this story and I’m making it free for everyone. This story touches on many of the key issues of Street Justice: infrastructure, transport, energy, critical neighborhood amenities, housing, and more.

Please, please pledge via Patreon, subscribe on YouTube, and donate on Ko-Fi. This week has been a big picture thinking week looking at the frustrating nexus of critical journalism in 2020. To paraphrase my brother, this news organization may have “gained traction” on substance and community impact, but at what point should I consider my own personal stability?

My brother asked me: who comes first — you or the people you care about and work to serve? He wanted a simple answer. I said, “the people come first.” However, it’s not possible for me to continue unless more people pledge monthly subscriptions and we can access YouTube ad revenue by connecting with subscribers there. This may sound like do-gooder, cheesy bullshit. But, this is really how I feel and why my family is worried about me! I’m just the stubborn asshole that wants to believe good, important work will succeed.

Video Shows Uber Trashing JUMP E-bikes, Says They Were Unsafe for Consumer Re-Use

Bike and mobility industry advocates have had many concerns about the future of scooter- & bike-sharing company JUMP after Uber gave the market-leading operator to Lime — a competitor — plus $170 million in cash and Uber’s right to purchase Lime at a future date. Those industry, advocate, and stakeholder concerns were amplified today when a video went viral showing mechanical cranes lifting dozens of JUMP bikes in scrap-heap fashion. The vehicles are being recycled for raw materials, instead of being re-furbished for private citizen use. This comes at a time when bike shops are swamped as pandemic-era travelers seek bicycle transport in lieu of public transit.

The DC market saw the instant removal of JUMP’s shared e-bikes, a high-quality vehicle Street Justice sees used every day for errands and other essential trips. Lime is working to redeploy JUMP bikes next Monday June 1st, after transitioning the fleet to the fruit company’s operations system. This transaction meant that DC’s essential workers using JUMP bikes had to use Lime scooters over the last few weeks.

The video embedded above comes from Cris Moffit, who — so far as Street Justice could tell — is a bike advocate and entrepreneur from Florida. Reached for comment, Moffit gave us the statement below. He shared pictures with us that are included at the bottom of the story.

“I'm not directly involved in any way. A friend of mine works at the recycle yard in North Carolina that has the contract to dispose of them and he took the videos and shared them with me. I just felt like it was a very unfortunate outcome and maybe I could get it some exposure on Twitter to pressure them to do something better.”

The Bike Share Museum has for several weeks been sharing accusations that Lime intends to kill JUMP off completely while the citrus company has almost pulled out of all markets with its own e-bike. However, Lime sources have confirmed with me that they’re re-deploying JUMP bikes — with the JUMP branding. It’s not necessarily a clean, quick transition — but Lime isn’t killing JUMP.

If anyone is killing JUMP, it’s Uber’s desire to offload the bikeshare and shared scooter arm while the main ride-hailing option struggles to achieve its first profitable quarter for investors. The Bike Share Museum is an enthusiast-run operation that collects old bikes and scooter from sharing systems for commemoration and advocacy. Kurt Kaminer founded the Museum and has blogged about the Uber-JUMP-Lime transaction.

The Moffit video today depicting the reduction of a large fleet of JUMP bikes to component parts is distressing to so many advocates who see the need for affordable, capable bikes post coronavirus. If you’re looking for a villain, that’s Uber. The bikes in the video were Uber’s — not among the operational fleet that was sent to Lime. According to Moffit, the video comes from a North Carolina facility — though he and the Bike Share Museum are in South Florida.

Street Justice reached out to Lime. The company tells us that they “purchased all usable bikes, bike parts, and machinery.” Also, “nothing in the deal that requires them to take these steps, so questions about end-of-life are best directed at them.” The company confirmed their intention to re-launch JUMP bikes in DC on June 1, but cautioned they’re meeting with DDOT this week and regulatory issues may cause a delay.

Street Justice would have reached out to Uber for info, but they fired all of our sources — indeed, even canning the engineers who understand the firmware that run JUMP’s motor and battery. After tweeting the statement Lime provided us, Uber got in touch. Both companies’ statements are at the bottom in full (emphasis ours).

Other information Uber provided to Street Justice: The company says that JUMP bikes were developed with custom parts and maintenance that require specially trained technicians. Lime has all the intellectual property and design, but not all the technicians Uber fired, so it may indeed be hard for the citrus-named company to re-deploy existing bikes. As Street Justice notes in our first two e-bike reviews [Riide 2; GoCycle GX], proprietary components seem great until they need to be fixed.

However, beyond the proprietary nature of JUMP bikes, Uber’s reasons for not upcycling the vehicles strain credulity. The company offered Street Justice the explanation that there’s no “consumer-grade” charging set-up. But, e-bikes of all shapes and sizes — including the JUMP model being scrapped — have stuff you could retrofit with a trip to Home Depot and some YouTube tutorials. Uber says maintaining the bikes would be impossible in a regular bike shop. That’s true-ish.

It’s hard for consumers buying an e-bike of any kind to maintain it using regular bike shops since most of those are unwilling to work on electrical parts at all. There are standardized components (e.g., Bosch drivetrains and batteries). And many bike shops are beginning to work with them to perform diagnostics and fixes. DC needs more e-bike focused shops, for sure. But that’s not a unique problem to JUMP bikes.

Now into the absolute ridiculousness of Uber’s reasons. They told me that every day JUMP operations require safety protocols and that those steps and checks aren’t “accessible” to the average rider. But, all owned bikes and scooters should involve making sure it’s charged and the screws are tight and you’re riding with a helmet. These are bikes, not the Millenium Falcon. Uber told me that JUMP bikes are only designed for adults, so using the trashed bikes for youth re-furbishing/donation programs would be unsafe. That’s a surprise to Street Justice, who’s seen teenagers ride JUMP bikes all the time for all reasons. We celebrate how — anecdotally — a Hell of a lot more young people of color are riding them than analog bikes in Captial Bikeshare.

In short, Uber says those bikes being dismantled for parts are complicated beasts of math and poetry and surely only a hex wrench multitool-wearing computer whiz could safely use them. The bikes pictured in the videos are older generation vehicles than what Lime got in the transaction — and there are scooters being trashed as well. However, the parts which Uber used aren’t ineffable gems of the Ottoman Empire. They’re fucking Lithium-ion batteries and internally-geared wheel hubs. Children with iPads use more complicated and dangerous-in-theory tech every day. This is a deconstruction of old bikes rather than the material re-use and open-sourcing of software/firmware of still-usable electronics for maxim public benefit. Oh, gears and metal, I weep for thee.

Uber: “As part of our recent deal, Lime took possession of tens of thousands of new model JUMP bikes and scooters. We explored donating the remaining, older-model bikes, but 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. It’s our understanding that Lime has already begun deploying many of the bikes and scooters they’ve acquired from us, and will continue to do so in other markets.” ~ Uber Spokesperson

Lime: “Lime is committed to providing safe and affordable bike and scooter solutions for the communities we serve. As part of the JUMP acquisition, we took possession of tens of thousands of e-bikes -- including the spare parts and tools to fix them -- and have already begun to deploy them.  We have not recycled any of the JUMP e-bikes in our fleet and are committed to scaling and operating them during this critical time. Once the transaction officially closes, we plan to work with Uber to find sustainable ways to donate and re-use any remaining e-bikes in their inventory.” ~ Robert Gardner, Director of Government Relations at Lime