Employees keep dumping Facebook's free bikes in surrounding neighbourhoods, and police are hassling local kids who try to ride them

BIA recent photo, shared by a resident, of one of Facebook’s bikes.
  • The free bikes Facebook provides its employees are being dumped in surrounding neighbourhoods.
  • This is causing issues, with reports of local kids who try to ride the abandoned bikes being stopped by the police.
  • Other times the bikes are left in inconvenient locations or stripped for parts.
  • It seems that in some cases Facebook employees are riding the bikes into town then leaving them, while in other cases they’re being stolen from Facebook’s offices, residents said.

SAN FRANCISCO – Facebook’s fleet of free bikes it provides its employees is causing tensions in the community.

The baby-blue bikes, which are supposed to be used to get around Facebook’s sprawling campus in Menlo Park, California, are turning up in nearby Bay Area neighbourhoods like East Palo Alto. But residents say that they can be stopped by the police when they use them, and that 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 in a private East Palo Alto community Facebook group showed bikes, stripped of parts, left on street corners.

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

A Facebook representative, Anthony Harrison, told Business Insider in an email that the company was “exploring a variety of ways to collaborate with local organisations so that we are able to support access, safety, and repairs for bike use in the community, but nothing is finalised yet.”

He said about 60 of Facebook’s bikes go missing a month, though many are subsequently recovered (20% of the fleet is GPS-tracked).

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

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

Facebook bikesRob Price/Business InsiderFacebook’s employee bikes on its campus in Menlo Park, California.

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 have circulated that they have been pulled over by the police for it.

In December, residents tried to raise funds to buy bikes for local children, saying that they had been stopped by the police for riding the Facebook bikes and that this could be disproportionately affecting nonwhite kids.

“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. Neighbours are encouraging other neighbours to call the police enforcement on kids riding the Facebook bikes and this needs to come to an end,” the fundraiser’s page 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 criminalise our already marginalized youth!”

Photos on social media have purported to show people being stopped for riding the bikes.

Facebook has told residents that it never asked law enforcement to stop people riding the bikes, and it’s not clear how many people have been stopped for using the bikes or arrested. The Menlo Park and East Palo Alto police departments did not respond to Business Insider’s requests for comment.

The Almanac, a local news outlet, described the Menlo Park police chief, Dave Bertini, as saying at a community forum in February about the issue that officers “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 dumped bikes are littering streets.

One local told Business Insider they had seen “bikes dumped around town three or four times a week” for the past couple of years, adding that it “used to be Google bikes, now it’s FB.”

“My assumption is that, in general, FB employees take the bikes to get places and leave them once they have no further use,” the local said.

Another said it seemed there were fewer bikes around recently.

“Their blue bikes were at one point all over East Palo Alto, similar to what you’d see in Santa Clara (Google bikes),” they said. “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 last March, someone posted a photo of two of the bikes and wrote: “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 appeared to have been stripped of their parts and then discarded on a street corner. “Scavenged bike carcass are beginning to up in my neighbourhood,” they wrote.

Harrison, the Facebook representative, 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 footpaths, or in public places outside of campus.”

The issue is reminiscent of the problems that some bike- and scooter-rental startups have caused in cities in recent years, with riders dumping the vehicles in inconvenient or unsafe spots.

Google, headquartered in Palo Alto, has also faced similar struggles with its bikes. The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2018 that the company estimated it lost 100 to 250 bikes a week and that residents, viewing them as a “community service,” often ended up using them.

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

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.