Low-income cyclist faces heavy fine after rented bike stolen, despite it being returned

ByMichael Finney and Randall Yip via KGO logo
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
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A stolen bike was returned to its rideshare program -- but the original renter was still on the hook for the heavy fine.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- We've all wanted to kick ourselves for making a costly mistake. That's how one San Francisco man felt after someone stole the bike he rented from a bike share program.

It didn't take long for Ronald Berretz's rental from Ford Go Bike -- now Bay Wheels -- to get stolen.

The incident happened outside a convenience store near his home in San Francisco.

"I parked and moved the bicycle up against here, for what I thought was just a second, and then when I came out, it was gone," said Berretz.

Berretz left the bike unlocked and knows what he did was a mistake. He's still kicking himself today, several months later.

"I was disgusted with myself and I should have known better. I did know better," he said.

Berretz depends on the bike share program to get around, but the incident made him so upset, he stopped riding them.

Then one day he found another Bay Wheels bike sitting abandoned on the street. He returned it to a rack.

Shortly thereafter, he learned Bay Wheels had imposed a $430 fine on him for losing the bike he had rented previously. But he said he discovered that bike had already been recovered.

He let them know he could not afford the fine.

"I don't have it. I'm on a low income program," Berretz explained.

Berretz paid just $5 to become a member of the then-Ford Go Bike, under a special rate for the needy.

"They had gotten their bike back and I had returned another one to them as well. So I thought that maybe we could work out a deal," Berretz said.

Instead, Bay Wheels suspended his account until he could pay the fine.

So he turned to 7 On Your Side for help and we reached out to the company.

Bay Wheels told us a shared bike program can't succeed if their bikes aren't returned. "People need to lock their bike when they're done with the ride so that they're available for others," the company told us.

Bay Wheels waived the fine and reinstated Berretz's membership.

"I'm not trying to get anything for free. I feel terrible that it got taken, but I didn't know what else to do but be honest and see what can happen," said Berretz.

Bay Wheels tells us they are not setting a precedent, and emphasize riders need to lock their bikes.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.