It was surprising, and very cool, to see two purveyors of bike share programs exhibiting at Urban PressCamp. Bike shares are a way for urban spaces – cities, or even college and corporate campuses – to offer sturdy city bikes for short-term rental, thus easing congestion and offering independent mobility. (See the Wheel News story in Bicycle Times #7, “Bicycle Sharing Grows in the U.S.,” on page 22 for a brief history.)
Our host city of Washington, D.C., boasts one such program, Capital Bikeshare. Stations of red bikes were prominent throughout the city; the program boasts 500 bikes scattered through 110 stations, available 24/7/365. The District was in fact the first U.S. city to offer bike sharing, in the form of a limited program called SmartBike. Arlington County, Virginia, then combined forces with the city in May of 2010, and selected Public Bike System to implement the more permanent Capital Bikeshare. A “Winter Weather Warrior” contest in February helped boost trip numbers to record levels.
Public Bike System is a nonprofit that has experience with successful bike sharing in cities around the globe. The brainchild of former public parking administrator, the concept began as BIXI in Montreal, and has since spread to London (Barclays Cycle Hire), Melbourne (Melbourne Bike Share), and Minneapolis (Nice Ride Minnesota). CEO Alain Ayotte’s refreshing philosophy is that a Public Bike system should be more than a mere municipal service – it should be something that the citizens adopt as their own.
There was a Capital Bikeshare kiosk just outside our host building, the House of Sweden. I went outside with Public Bike Share’s communications director, Bérengère Thériault, to see how the system works: a friendly self-serve kiosk lets you swipe a credit card to check out a bike, or program members can just insert their keys at any bike dock to unlock the ride. The first half-hour is free, and hourly rates are low after that. You can return the bike to any station when you’re done.
The bikes themselves, made by Cycle Devinci, are overbuilt versions of Dutch-style bikes with substantial step-through frames, 3-speed internal gearing, thick, 26” puncture-resistant tires, and thief- and vandal-proof fittings. A unique front rack gives some carrying capacity. These forty-pounders are not meant to go fast or far, but they’re quite comfortable for the short trips the program intends to serve, and they sure do look bomb-proof. If something does go awry, the user can just re-dock the bike and push a button to alert the centralized computer that it’s out of commission, then grab another. The central system also tracks how many bikes are at each station to alert staff when reshuffling is necessary.
Speaking of staff, there are around 20 people who work maintaining and administering the D.C. fleet. Public Bike System has also implemented programs to help at-risk youth stay in school, involving the students in bike maintenance, with great success.
Another major player in bike sharing at Urban PressCamp was the homegrown B-Cycle, an offshoot of Trek Bicycle Corp. It first started as a cooperative project between Trek and the Humana health insurance company, which sought to encourage employees to exercise, then evolved into a bike sharing program offered nationwide. The first city to adopt B-Cycle was Denver (launched, appropriately enough, on Earth Day in 2010), followed by Chicago, Des Moines, San Antonio, and others. Many other cities are investigating the prospect of using B-Cycle’s services.
Jason McDowell, Projects and Logistics Manager, said that by waiting to enter the market with their bike sharing solution, B-Cycle has been able to see what works and what doesn’t, and to tailor their system for American cities. Among their innovations are modular, customizable bike stations, a fail-safe bike locking system, and GPS tracking ability that allows a high level of bike tracking and data collection. Tracking is important in changing or adding stations, and in studying the usage of bike shares in general, something that could yield interesting results in the future and probably help persuade more towns to try it.
The B-Cycle bikes, made by Trek, are similar to Public Bike System’s in looks and functionality. They feature a larger front basket with a cool integrated cable lock that, when coiled, can double as a cupholder. That’s engineers having some fun for you.
McDowell made the excellent point that bike sharing is very cost-effective, something that cash-strapped municipal governments should like. A bike sharing system that consists of 500 bikes distributed through 50 stations sounds like a lot at first, at $3,500 to $5,000 per bike, typically equals the cost of just one city bus. The system can also run without further investment, paying for itself with member fees or with corporate sponsorship. There’s also the enticing fact that from B-Cycle’s studies, they’ve found that 43% of bike share trips actually replaced trips via car—great news for easing gridlock
Continue reading part 3