I’m a long time fan of bike share programs. I’ve ridden bikes on more than 10 different systems across the world. I was also a heavy user of Bay Area Bike Share, until I had an unfortunate incident involving a bike that failed to dock completely (read the postmortem here).
Here’s a run down on my observations from my first day riding on a Ford GoBike.
Ford GoBike is a big improvement over Bay Area Bike Share. Here are my favorite improvements.
The new bikes are geared a bit differently, have narrower tires, and seem quite a bit lighter. This makes them faster. My unscientific gut feeling analysis indicates that I am able to ride 20% to 30% faster on the new bikes.
They’re not road-bike fast, but they’re fast enough that I need to watch out for the doors of careless drivers. The old bikes were so slow that I was able to break to a stop on every dooring-close-call.
The new bikes have handles made from a harder plastic. Hopefully this will resolve the most disgusting issue with the old bikes: their spongy, sticky handles would often leave your hands covered in mystery slime.
Another annoying part of Bay Area Bike Share was the odd shaped key card required to check out a bike. It wasn’t flat enough to fit in your wallet, and it wasn’t small enough to fit well on your keychain.
With Ford GoBike, you can tap your clipper card to check out a bike. Here are the steps:
In addition to clipper card checkouts, you can also borrow a bike with the mobile app. Here are the steps:
The previous generation docks showed only one indicator of a successful check in: a brief green light. As I found out the hard way, this was insufficient.
The new docks bear the same LEDs, but they’re backed up by check in notifications. These are awesome. Be sure to check for them after each ride to make sure your bike was safely docked, and to ensure that you’re no longer liable for the $1200 bike loss fee.
As great as my ride was this morning, not everything about Ford GoBike is perfect. Here are some things I’d like to see improved.
On the previous system I did not have auto-renew enabled, but when I logged in to Ford GoBike today I discovered that I was opted in to auto-renewal. It seems like they defaulted imported accounts into automatic renewal.
If I hadn’t accidentally clicked the auto-renew settings link while looking for something else, I would never have noticed it. I would have received a surprise-charge to my credit card in early 2018.
I encourage you to log into your profile, go to Membership Settings, and ensure that auto-renewal is set up correctly.
I installed the app a couple weeks ago, way ahead of time. I was greeted by over a hundred grey dots that represent the full planned network for SF and Oakland. I was delighted by the increased coverage.
Then launch day rolled around, and there was a bit of a bait and switch. I fired up the app and saw that only 35 of the stations were active. This is fewer than Bay Area Bike Share. In fact, the two stations closest to my workplace were inactive.
Riding around I saw that some of the inactive stations are already mostly set up, so I’m optimistic that the rollout will continue at a steady pace, including the increased coverage down into the mission district.
Despite paying an annual fee, the membership terms state that you are liable for $1200 from the time you check out a bike, until it is safely re-docked. That’s the cost of a pretty fancy road bike.
This is especially concerning because a lost clipper card, a stolen phone, or a hacked fordgobike.com account can all be used to check out a bike on your account.
For example, you get mugged. Your wallet is stolen with your Clipper card inside it. You’re scrambling to deal with the trauma of the mugging, and the loss of all of the credit cards and identity documents in your wallet. Before you know it, the mugger uses your clipper card to go on a Ford GoBike joy ride. When they’re done with their ride, they ditch the bike in the bay. Then a few days later Motivate charges $1200 to your credit card. Sad face.
Accounts on fordgobike.com have stupid password rules requiring the use of numbers, mixed case, and special characters. Rules like these are an outdated custom that hurts security. To make matters worse, there’s a maximum password length of 15 characters! Why on earth would a modern website have a maximum password length? I will be unable to use
correct horse battery staple as my password :(
If the password issues weren’t alarming enough, here’s where it gets wacky. You can change your account email, but changing it does NOT change your account’s login. That is apparently stuck as whatever you used to sign up. This is alarmingly puzzling.
The price of an annual membership for Ford GoBike has gone up by over 40%, from $88 per year to $124. This is a pretty jarring increase. But, the system will be much larger and the trip duration was raised from 30 to 45 minutes, so it’s still an OK deal.
Some changes are neither good, nor bad, but still notable.
The seat post height numbers are a little different on the new bikes. I used to ride with my seat height set to about 5. On the new bikes, this seems to map to a 4 1/2.
All in all, I’m pretty happy with Ford GoBike. Some issues remain, but they addressed most of the concerns I voiced about Bay Area Bike Share, and the planned coverage area is much bigger. I hope the new bikes hold up better than the previous batch :)
About 7 years ago I discovered an awesome twist on the traditional Software Engineering career: Developer Relations. Over the years and across organizations the titles have varied – from Developer Evangelist, to Developer Advocate, and even to Senior Staff Developer Programs Engineer. But, all the while, one thing has remained the same: it’s really hard to explain what the heck we do.
Today my teammates and I, inspired by #BadlyExplainingYourJob, discovered that failed attempts are actually a great way to explain our jobs. Here is a list of those failed attempts.
I go places and talk to people about products, but don’t care if you buy them.
Explain how a Developer Advocate is not the same thing as a Technical Evangelist, over and over.
~~ Paul Newson
I’m a professional translator. I translate between Real World Engineer and Google Engineer.
~~ Aja Hammerly
I help people cause trouble with code.
~~ Jen Tong
I travel the world, excited to learn about how our products are broken.
~~ Brian Dorsey
I read Hacker News and Reddit, and pretend I’m an expert on stage.
I collect t-shirts from conferences, and tech companies while travelling the world.
~~ Mark Mandel
I’m the one Developers yell at when the platform isn’t working how they want; And I’m the one the engineers yell at when the developers aren’t using it right
~~ Colt McAnlis
I practice abstract driven development.
~~ Myles Borins
I look for places I want to travel to, and then see if there are conferences there I can speak at
~~ Mark Mandel
I make explosion noises at my computer when demos fail and get paid for it.
~~ Aja Hammerly
And, of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without…
I’m a people person. I take the code from the engineers and I bring it to the developers.
~~ Myles Borins
So yeah, hopefully that worked. You have a better idea of what it is we do, right? And it sounds great? Maybe you should come join us!
I was a big fan of Bay Area Bike Share from the start. As long as everything goes right, it’s awesome. You can ride to work, and take a bus home when it starts raining. I used it for years without incident, but then I discovered its darker side yesterday.
In software we do postmortems when things go wrong. They help us learn from our mistakes, and improve systems so we can do better next time. They usually include a few sections: what happened, what went right, what could have gone better, and lessons learned. I find this format useful, so I’m using it here so you can learn from my experience.
Here’s the story of what happened, written up as a sequence of steps.
It’s always important to note what went well, so you don’t un-do those things while you try to prevent the bad things from happening again. Here’s a list of things that went right.
And here’s the core of the postmortem: what needs to be fixed. Here’s a list, along with some recommendations for improvements.
In the end I didn’t owe Bay Area Bike Share anything, but I did waste most of a day searching. The experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I still believe in bike share as a concept, but I’m done with Bay Area Bike Share. The liability is just too high. After 2 years of use, and hundreds of successful rides, it only took one problem to ruin my experience.
Perhaps once they have more than a 3 second window to confirm a bike is returned, I’ll give them another shot.
Oh, and about the other provider: Bluegogo. They have an even scarier policy. The responsibility period is the same (until the next rider checks the bike out), but they don’t use docks. So, say you park your bike and it goes unused for 3 days, but then some mean person throws it in a pickup truck at 2am. In that case you’re liable for an undisclosed replacement cost, and losses due to loss of use. Pretty scary!
Photo credit: Bay Area Bike Share