Cities take a spin with bike sharing

Marketplace Staff Feb 2, 2010

Cities take a spin with bike sharing

Marketplace Staff Feb 2, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: Depending on where you live, you may be familiar with some of those car-share programs. You sign up for something like Zipcar. You pay a membership fee, and then you can rent a car by the hour. You pick it up in a neighborhood nearby. It seems to work pretty well. This summer, though, look for bike share in a city close by.

From WNYC in New York City, Andrea Bernstein explains.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: If you have a car share near you, it probably works like this:

NICOLE Freedman: With Zipcar, you have to go online ahead of time, you have to reserve your car for a certain time, you have to write in when you’re going to return the car, and you have to return it to the exact same spot.

That’s Nicole Freedman, who runs the bike share program in Boston, set to be up and running with 1,000 bikes this summer.

Freedman: With bike share you swipe your card, you take any bike, you don’t have to reserve ahead of time, and you can return it to any other station.

That’s the way bike share works in Paris, one of dozens of European cities that have it. There have been problems with theft, but some 100,000 riders a day use bike share in the City of Light. You pay a yearly membership, and a small fee per use. Tourists get special deals.

Freedman: And people ask me all the time, is it like Zipcar on bikes? I always say no, it’s Zipcar on steroids.

OK, but bike share is different from car share in one way: It’s not as profitable, and it needs more infrastructure — kiosks, bike lanes, and specially designed bikes that are rugged and theft resistant. It’ll cost Boston more than $3 million a year to run its program. That has to come from government money, private sponsors and bike rental fees.

Bill Dossett runs the Minneapolis bike share.

Bill Dossett: Times have changed really quickly. When we started this process a year-and-a-half ago, we didn’t even know if there was a manufacturer out there that wanted to sell us this equipment.

Now, companies are vying for the business, and quickly developing anti-theft technology.

Lee Jones is sales manager for the Bike-Share company, B-Cycle, which will be running Denver’s system. They’ve installed electronic identification chips and GPS devices in the bikes.

LEE Jones: And what this gives us the ability to do is not only know who has the bike, but more importantly, to know where the bike has been.

Jones acknowledges there’s a risk: No one knows how a large-scale bike share will work in a major U.S. city.

Jones: But this year, 2010 is really kind of the first time we will have actual installations open to the public.

There have been some demonstrations. To find out how bike share might be received, I took a ride with musician David Byrne in New York City’s Union Square.

DAVID BYRNE: I think it’ll make it easier for a lot of my friends. That we can just go out and get around together, and people who don’t have room in their apartment, people who come from out of town, stuff like that, we just say, OK, grab a bike, and we’ll go to a movie or we’ll get something to eat or whatever.

Meantime, some cities are already signing up corporate sponsors, like Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota.

Patrick Geraghty is the CEO. For $1 million his company’s name will be emblazoned on kiosks and bicycles moving all over Minneapolis.

PATRICK Geraghty: We thought it was a great deal, and we think it really reinforces our message about physical activity.

Bike czars like Boston’s Freedman and Minneapolis’s Dossett are working on developing incentives for cyclists. Minneapolis is selling memberships for $60 a year. But it’s throwing in a $200 coupon book for restaurants and downtown businesses.

Dossett: That’s something really important for what we are trying to do. We’re doing something totally new, people don’t know about it. We need to create a market for it.

A market dozens of American cities will be watching.

In New York, I’m Andrea Bernstein for Marketplace.

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