Los Angeles County has proposed that Lyft take over its public bike share program. LA bike share workers fear Lyft will gut their program and undermine their union — so they’ve joined with public transit advocates to fight privatization.

Members of the Transit Workers Union and public transit advocates rallied at the Los Angeles Metro Board meeting in January. (Courtesy of Karim Sahli)

The Los Angeles County Metro Board of Directors has proposed awarding the contract to operate the county’s public bike share program to the rideshare company Lyft. But they’re facing resistance from workers, riders, and public transit advocates.

At its monthly meeting on January 18, LA Metro’s Operations Committee received over seven hundred comments on the proposal, prompting the committee to postpone consideration of the contract. The meeting also saw dozens of bike share workers attend to express their concerns in person, along with labor leaders, transit riders, members of Democratic Socialists of America Los Angeles (DSA-LA), cyclists, and others. Organizers are preparing for another mass demonstration at Metro Headquarters February 15 before the upcoming board meeting.

Public transit advocates in Los Angeles doubt whether Lyft really has the motivation to sustainably operate a public bike share service when the company’s business model is centered on funneling people into its car-sharing service. In New York City, a comptroller review found “worrying decreases in service reliability under Lyft’s operation, especially in low-income neighborhoods.” In Minneapolis, Minnesota, Lyft permanently closed the city’s bike share program that it had acquired, deciding it was no longer financially viable.

LA Metro Bike Share has been operated by the company Bicycle Transit Systems (BTS) since the program’s deployment in 2016 and has overseen ridership growth from around 312,000 trips in 2018 to over 441,000 in 2023. Workers at BTS have been unionized since 2022 with Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 320, representing bike share workers in New York City, Jersey City, Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Portland, Detroit, and Los Angeles.

TWU members are concerned that a bike share operation run by Lyft, a pioneer of the gig work model, would mean worker mistreatment, loss of their hard-fought, industry-standard contract, and even the potential loss of their union.

On February 8, Joe Versen, an organizer with the Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, spoke to Ramon Marron, a field technician for BTS and a TWU member, about the impact this decision could have on the day-to-day life of bike share workers and the long-term viability of the county’s bike share program.

Joe Versen

Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you ended up working at Bicycle Transit Systems.

Ramon Marron

I was looking for a better opportunity for myself to work a more stable job. I was working as a security officer for around five years, and it was a bit of an issue. Even working two jobs, I wasn’t able to provide for my family and be there for them as much as I wanted to. BTS created a great opportunity for myself and my family so I could be there for them and also be financially stable.

Joe Versen

What’s a normal workday like for you?

Ramon Marron

Working there is really incredible. I’ve met a lot of really cool people there who have a can- and will-do attitude, who are willing to help whenever.

My typical day starts with filling a van up with materials such as e-bike batteries, saddles, station batteries, and even bikes to place in different stations that might not have any. I’m a field technician. We change e-bike batteries for the pedal assist bikes and make sure that bikes are balanced from station to station. We check that bikes are up to date, inspect them thoroughly and check that stations and their solar panels are up and running. We bring batteries into the field and swap them out if a solar panel station hasn’t been adequately charged. We also check that all bikes are in working condition and bring any in need of repair back to the warehouse.

A great thing about working at BTS is that we have a four-day workweek, which gives us time to be with our families and allows us to be more efficient out in the field on workdays.

Joe Versen

How do you see your work as part of a greater sustainable transformation of our transit systems?

Ramon Marron

I think that showing the public a way to minimize having so many cars out on the road is a great thing. I think we should have bike share everywhere.

For myself, it’s given me a passion for bikes again. I really enjoy having my own bike now, which I’m obsessed with. It changes how you think. I hadn’t had a bike for a long time, but now I’ve got my own and fixed it up and done everything I can to make it mine. Riding these bikes brings you back to when you’re a kid. It can give you so much peace.

Joe Versen

BTS kept the bike share program running through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. How did that affect your work?

Ramon Marron

I started this job during the pandemic, and BTS did everything to make sure that we were protected at all times. We disinfected bikes throughout the pandemic to make sure that the people that were using the bikes were safe.

Joe Versen

What does being part of a union mean to you at your job?

Ramon Marron

Being part of a union is a really good thing. To me, it’s more of a family thing where we are able to express our concerns to the company and figure out solutions to any problems that we may have.

Joe Versen

How might you expect your life to change if Lyft is awarded this contract? What’s the reaction been for you and your coworkers regarding the potential decision?

Ramon Marron

We wonder what’s going to happen to all of us and what’s going to happen to the quality of the service. We put our heart and soul into our work at BTS and we don’t know what Lyft would bring to the table.

I hope that our voices can be heard. I really believe in this service; we all work as hard as we can to have bike transit out there, and we try to help as many people as we can. I’m worried about wages, that we wouldn’t be paid the same, or that we wouldn’t receive the benefits we have right now.

It’s concerning that we don’t know what’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen. We’re just fighting for what we believe in and what we think is right and wishing for the best.

Joe Versen

A lot of people from different groups are coming together to support you. How does it feel to see that sort of solidarity in action?

Ramon Marron

It feels really good. I love it. I love that so many groups are showing up for us and care so much. We want to make sure that our voices all get heard and I hope they listen to us.

Joe Versen

What would you say to other people who are looking to show support?

Ramon Marron

People can write to the LA Metro Board and let them know that you know these cost cutters are not the way to go.

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