CA: Unions and gig workers win fight as Metro denies Lyft bike share contract

April 3, 2024
LA Metro is reexamining the scope of the program and plans to put the contract out for bid once again under a Request For Proposal.

Apr. 1—In a victory for local unions, LA Metro has reversed course by canceling the proposed turnover of its bike share contract to Lyft, documents show.

The contract was slated to go in February to Lyft's subsidiary, Lyft Bikes and Scooters LLC, but that was abruptly squashed after heated protests from unions and gig drivers said the rideshare company was not friendly to unions.

A letter dated March 26 sent to current contract holder, Bicycle Transit Systems, Inc., (BTS) said: "The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) has decided to cancel the subject solicitation." It was signed by James Giblin, senior contract administrator for Metro.

Instead, LA Metro is reexamining the scope of the program and plans to put the contract out for bid once again under a Request For Proposal (RFP). There's no timetable for the new RFP, said Dave Sotero, Metro spokesperson on Monday, April 1.

"There will be no interruption in bike share services," he said.

Both Lyft and BTS said they would reapply under the new RFP.

"We are elated the voices of Angelenos were heard. Metro listened," said Alison Cohen, founder and owner of BTS, which has been operating the system for the last nine years. "It is rare that once a decision is made they (Metro) change course. But it was the right thing to do."

The contract was the subject of a rally by drivers for Lyft, Uber, DoorDash and other car and bicycle delivery workers — known as gig workers — in front of Metro headquarters on Jan. 18. About 40 rallied against giving the contract to Lyft's subsidiary, arguing that Lyft has not treated workers fairly and that the contract would downgrade bike share service in L.A. County.

Workers said they had been trying to join a union and have had labor disputes with Lyft, a ride-sharing company that has other ventures including operating bike share programs in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco.

A letter sent to LA Metro from David Green, SEIU Local 721 president and executive director, said Lyft's alleged anti-union practices and failure to uphold equitable standards made it a bad choice.

This was one of 700 comments, letters and emails brought to the attention of Metro's Operations, Safety, and Customer Experience Committee that agreed to put off the matter in January. Although Metro staff recommended Lyft over the other vendors, the contract solicitation was canceled a short time later.

"We are proud of our submission, which earned the highest score from LA Metro, and look forward to reapplying to the new RFP," wrote Jordan Levine, a Lyft spokesperson in an emailed response received on Monday, April 1.

On its website, Lyft wrote that a new ruling from the Department of Labor defining an independent contractor does not change Lyft's business model and will not reclassify Lyft drivers as employees.

Lyft said that 92% of its drivers support a policy under which drivers would remain independent contractors and would receive "some but not all of the benefits that employees receive."

Others that opposed giving Lyft the contract said Metro should not privatize a public transit system. "I applaud Metro reconsidering and ultimately canceling a frivolous contract which would have given taxpayer dollars to a private company making millions off the working poor," wrote L.A. County Democratic Party Chair Mark Gonzalez in an emailed response.

Political and union forces could remain steadfast when Metro rejiggers the contract and opens it up to the lowest bidder.

"I hope LA Metro continues to heed the call for a robust bike share system worthy of Los Angeles that protects union jobs," Gonzalez said.

Cohen said her company BTS, which is women- and LGBTQ-owned, has about 65 employees. Of those, 40 are unionized, she said. She is looking for a one-year extension at the very least. The BTS contract ends in August, she said.

The canceled 11.5-year Lyft contract proposal would have cost Metro $47 million less than the estimated cost of the current BTS contract, according to a Metro staff report.

BTS argues that under its leadership, LA Metro Bike Share has grown.

In all of 2023, Metro Bike Share ridership reached 441,199, which is the highest annual ridership thus far, Sotero reported. The 2023 ridership figure shows an increase of 128,787 trips or 41%, compared to the highest pre-COVID ridership of 312,412 trips in calendar year 2018, he wrote in an emailed response.

Lowered costs and more available bikes increased use of the program, which mainly operates within the city of Los Angeles. The number of on-street bikes increased from 1,224 in April 2022 to 1,726 in November 2023. Pedal assist e-bikes increased from 97 in April 2022 to 370 in November 2023, Metro reported.


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