Facebook's free employee bikes are causing headaches for its neighbors

facebook bikeA recent photo of one of Facebook's bikes shared by a local resident.BI

  • The free bikes Facebook provides for its employees are being dumped in surrounding neighborhoods.
  • This is causing issues, with reports of local kids being stopped by police when they try to ride the abandoned bikes.
  • Other times, the bikes are being left in inconvenient locations or being stripped for parts.
  • It seems that in some cases Facebook employees are riding the bikes into town then leaving them, and in other cases, they're being stolen from Facebook's offices. 

SAN FRANCISCO - Facebook's fleet of free bikes it provides for its employees are causing tensions in the local community.

The baby-blue bikes, which are supposed to be used to get around Facebook's sprawling Menlo Park, California campus, are turning up in nearby Bay Area neighborhoods like East Palo Alto after being dumped. But when local residents use them, they can be stopped by police - and the bikes are sometimes discarded like litter in dangerous locations.

"Bikes are often abandoned by restaurants, bus stops, the train, and dumped in the San Francisquito creek or the baylands. Also random street corners," one resident told Business Insider. Photos posted to a private East Palo Alto community Facebook group shows bikes, stripped of parts, being left on street corners.

The incidents highlight the headaches tech giants like Facebook can cause for their neighbors in the Bay Area, who are already struggling with soaring house prices and gentrification fueled by the tech sector.  And it's another example of how Facebook's well-intentioned efforts can have concerning, albeit unintended, real-world consequences.

In an email, Facebook spokesperson Anthony Harrison told Business Insider that the company is "exploring a variety of ways to collaborate with local organizations so that we are able to support access, safety, and repairs for bike use in the community but nothing is finalized yet."

Around 60 of Facebook's bikes a month go missing, he said, though many are subsequently recovered. (20% of the fleet are GPS-tracked.)

Residents said that some of the bikes are being dumped by Facebook employees around town after they have finished using them, while others have suggested some of the bikes are stolen from Facebook's campus. The bikes are not locked up, and anyone can walk onto parts of the campus.

However they make their way off campus, once they're in the city, anyone can use them - and that's where the issues begin.

facebook bikesFacebook's employee bikes on its Menlo Park campus.Rob Price/Business Insider

There are concerns that children are being criminalized

Locals, including kids, sometimes use the discarded Facebook bikes to get around the city for free - but reports are circulating of them being pulled over by cops for it.

In December 2018, residents created a fundraiser to try and buy bikes for local children, saying they had been stopped by police for riding the bikes and that this was impacting minority groups.

"Children in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park are getting pulled over by the police and harassed by community members for riding the Facebook Bikes. Neighbors are encouraging other neighbors to call the police enforcement on kids riding the Facebook bikes and this needs to come to an end," the fundraiser said.

"African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US population, however they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015 ... As a community lets not criminalize our already marginalized youth!"

Photos have also circulated on social media purporting to show people being stopped for riding the bikes.

 

Facebook has previously told residents that it has never asked law enforcement to stop people for riding the bikes, and  it's not clear exactly how many people have been stopped or arrested for using the bikes. The Menlo Park and East Palo Alo Police Departments did not respond to Business Insider's requests for comments.

Even so, the bikes have become a clear source of friction between Facebook and the local community in recent months.

Earlier in February, locals held a community forum event to try and address the issue. Local news outlet The Almanac attended the event, and reported: "[Police chief Dave Bertini said] Menlo Park police treat people found riding Google bikes the same way they have approached people on Facebook bikes: They ask riders if they are employees, and if they are not, detain them and confiscate the bikes."

The bikes are littering streets

There are also concerns that the bikes are littering streets after being dumped there. 

One local told Business Insider they "see bikes dumped around town 3 or 4 times a week for past couple years (used to be Google bikes, now it's FB)," and that "my assumption is that, in general, FB employees take the bikes to get places and leave them once they have no further use."

Another said the number seemed to have reduced recently: "Their blue bikes were at one point, all over East Palo Alto, similar to what you'd see in Santa Clara (google bikes). Currently, the number of blue bikes have been reduced to a very low amount, you hardly see them anymore."

In a post in a local Facebook group in March 2018, someone posted a photo of two of the bikes, writing: "Two more Facebook bikes have been left right outside of the Los Robles school entrance. On my way into the school I almost crashed into the bike on the left-hand side of this picture. If you see people leaving these bikes around please be aware if the bikes are in a safe place."

In November, another user shared photos of bikes that had been stripped of their parts and then discarded on a street corner. "Scavenged bike carcass are beginning to up in my neighborhood," they wrote.

Anthony Harrison, the Facebook spokesperson, said: "Our Transportation team regularly reminds our employees that Facebook bikes are only for intercampus transportation. Our goal is to ensure that our employees are not abandoning our bikes on sidewalks, or in public places outside of campus."

The issue is reminiscent of the problems that some rental bike and scooter startups have caused for cities in recent years, with the vehicles being dumped in inconvenient or unsafe spots after users have finished riding them.

Palo Alto-headquartered Google has also faced similar struggles with its own bikes. The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2018 that the company loses 100-250 bikes a week, and they often end up being used by members of the local community, who view them as a "community service."


Do you work at Facebook, or live in the local neighborhood? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via Signal or WhatsApp at +1 (650) 636-6268 using a non-work phone, email at rprice@businessinsider.com, Telegram or WeChat at robaeprice, or Twitter DM at @robaeprice. (PR pitches by email only, please.) You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

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