PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — They’re not exactly hard to spot: hundreds of brightly colored red-orange bicycles with matching baskets zipping around the city of Providence.
Yet police say the conspicuous JUMP bicycles are repeatedly being used by criminals, particularly teens, who are robbing convenience stores, assaulting people and vandalizing property before taking off on the vivid getaway vehicles.
Target 12 has obtained a dozen police reports from this summer alone that describe crimes ranging from minor (snack thieves) to serious (armed assault), with several involving weapons.
Providence Police Commander Thomas Verdi said many of the suspects, mostly juveniles, can tamper with the bike locks to bypass the payment system and ride the electric pay-as-you-go bicycles like regular bikes.
It then gives them an accessible way to flee from scenes that’s faster than leaving on foot. Verdi said police have removed 26 disabled bikes from the street and sent them back to the company.
He said the police department wants the bikes “configured so that they are not so easily compromised, disabled, and used illegally.”
In the most recent incident involving JUMP bikes, four suspects are accused of punching a man in the face and robbing him on Penn Street on Monday.
A police report says the juvenile suspects shouted “Give me the money” while hitting the 44-year-old man in the face and knocking him down. The report alleges they took the man’s phone and sped off on JUMP bikes.
Police chased the bicycles as they pedaled down several city streets, cutting through parking lots. Three juveniles were apprehended and are charged in Family Court with robbery and conspiracy.
Monday’s robbery was first reported by the Providence Journal.
Last week, WPRI 12 reported two dozen cars in the West End had tires slashed overnight, allegedly by suspects who fled on JUMP bikes.
On Thursday, police said about 100 kids on bicycles, mostly JUMP bikes, organized a “rideout.” The juveniles were riding recklessly in traffic, vandalizing vehicles and even assaulting people, according to police.
In another report on July 13, an officer stopped a teen on a JUMP bike after someone called police to report he had a gun. Officers found a gun marked Glock 19 in the front basket that turned out to be a replica. They also found a large hammer.
Other reports describe suspects dashing into stores like 7/11 or the Dollar General, stealing items including potato chips and soda.
Mayor Jorge Elorza said members of his staff would meet with representatives from JUMP later this week to discuss the problem.
“The whole idea with bringing JUMP into the city was that they would be able to control and know who’s riding the bikes,” Elorza, a Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday. “They’re not holding up their end of the bargain.”
Elorza has touted the bikes repeatedly, riding them at press events and encouraging city residents to use them. But the bicycle company, owned by Uber, has faced rocky headlines including criticism of a rate hike this summer that was later lowered amid outrage.
An Uber spokesperson said the JUMP crime problem appears to be unique to Providence, and said bikes that have been tampered with can’t be tracked by the company via GPS.
“This report is deeply concerning and something we take seriously,” Harry Hatfield said. “We are supporting the active law enforcement investigations.”
The city first entered into a contract with JUMP back in 2017, before it was acquired by Uber.
The city bought the bike racks and other infrastructure for $399,775, but JUMP owns the bikes and is responsible for operating and maintaining the program. That includes providing the locks, running the app and paying for an insurance policy that covers the city.
A small percentage of annual sponsorship fees that JUMP receives is also required to go towards the city. A spokesperson said the city hasn’t received any of these funds yet because the program hasn’t been in place for a year.
The number of bikes taken off the street by police so far represents a small percentage of the 1,100 bikes in the city, and many people have been using them to commute or get from place to place.
Kathleen Gannon, vice-chair of the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition, said bike sharing is great for the many neighborhoods in Providence where people don’t have cars.
“We’re generally in favor of the bike share program and really applaud how they increase the transportation alternatives that people have,” Gannon said. “We don’t approve of people misusing the bikes, or vandalizing the bikes, or using the bikes for nefarious purposes of course.”
The city’s contract with JUMP automatically renews each year for five years, though it allows both parties to terminate it at the end of each contract year with 30 days notice. The city can also cancel the contract for cause, but must give JUMP 60 days to fix the problem.
“We’re prepared to do whatever it takes,” Elorza said. “Their inability to provide even the most basic security measures is certainty not them holding up their end of the bargain, and that needs to change.”
Alexandra Leslie contributed to this report.