SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Ford GoBikes are rolling out in more and more Bay Area neighborhoods these days, with riders enjoying the convenience of hopping on a bike at one station and leaving it at another.
However, some report their short rides turned into huge -- and costly -- ordeals.
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"When it happens, it's very frustrating for the customer,'' said GoBike customer Peter Farmer of San Francisco.
Farmer's ordeal began when he decided to take a GoBike to a day-long meeting downtown.
"The idea was that I would leave the bike there and, at the end of the day, I'd rent another bike to get back home."
So, he rode down, locked the GoBike at the Powell Street Station, ran to his meeting and, eight hours later, rented a new bike -- or tried to.
"I couldn't rent another bike because the app said I was still riding the first bike,'' Farmer said.
Sure enough, the app showed he'd been riding the bike that whole time and still was riding.
"I was confused. I said hey, I'm not riding so how could I still be riding? I know I locked the bike."
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He emailed GoBike through the app. When no one responded, Peter walked home. An hour later, GoBike emailed back.
"They said I had better go back and find that bike or else I would have to pay $1,200 for a missing bike,'' Farmer said. "So there was a little panic going on. You think, yeah, $1,200 -- that makes it a very expensive ride."
Farmer said he was sure he did lock the bike. He'd pushed the front wheel into the dock, heard the locking mechanism click, tugged on the bike, saw that it was secure, and dashed to his meeting. He figured it was OK because the sign at the station says "Green light on dock confirms bike returned properly."
However, he didn't notice the app showed he was still riding that bike.
But facing that $1200 fine, Farmer trudged back downtown and looked for the bike. It wasn't there. He went to several other stations, searching through rows and rows of those identical blue bikes, looking for the one that had his bike number on it.
"I rode around for an hour,'' he recalls. "It's pretty upsetting if it happens to you after a full day of work and you're hungry and you can't eat because you just got a message to go back where you came from and find that bike. And beware, you are responsible for $1,200."
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Farmer never did find that bike. He went home and sent out a message on the Next Door website, which connects residents in the neighborhood. "I said, hey did anybody see a GoBike laying around somewhere?"
No one did. However, neighbors pointed him to Yelp, where he found a dozen GoBike reviews by riders who had the same complaint: They had returned their bicycles, but GoBike said they did not. They, too, were facing $1,200 fees for missing bikes.
Farmer kept emailing GoBike. "I said I was sure I locked it and they kept telling me I didn't know how to dock the bike like I'm the idiot,'' Farmer said. "They didn't want to admit there was a glitch somewhere."
He contacted 7 On Your Side and we contacted GoBike. The company said the system is working properly and its customers are on a "learning curve" for properly returning bikes.
The company said: "It's clear you've returned a bike correctly when you see a green light and get a push notification on your phone. When something goes wrong, we make every effort to work with the rider and track down the bike."
The app lets you notify the company if a returned bike is still listed as being out. However, some riders complained the company failed to send help when that happened.
However, GoBike said it later found Peter's bike and never charged the extra fees, saying, "We're sorry it was a stressful experience."
"It was a huge relief,'' Farmer said. "Contacting 7 On Your Side worked like a charm. Right away, they said no charge. I don't think it would have happened otherwise."
Final note: If you have a problem with GoBike, contact 7 On Your Side.
Click here for more stories, photos, and video on bikes.
Click here for a look at more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
Written and produced by Renee Koury
San Francisco man returns rented GoBike, company claims he didn't
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