Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bike Sharing, DC

This is a great idea! Really cool!

The Washington Post reports that we will soon have access to SmartBike DC, a bicycle-sharing program touted as the first of its kind in the nation. The program is a public-private partnership between the District government and advertising giant Clear Channel Outdoor, which operates similar automated bike rental systems in France, Norway, Sweden and Spain.

By mid-May, the racks will be filled with 120 red three-speed bicycles ready for riding around town, said Jim Sebastian of the D.C. Department of Transportation.

The concept is similar to such car-sharing programs as Zipcar. For an annual fee of $40, bikes can be rented for as long as three hours at a time for an unlimited number of rentals.

The bicycles, which look like a cross between a folding bike and a BMX with a metal basket on the front, are not designed for the Tour de France but for use on lunch dates, errands and local excursions.

SmartBike DC works by swiping a magnetic card at one of 10 designated kiosks. The sites are mostly near downtown Metro stations. A few are not, such as one in the Logan Circle area at 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW.

The computerized system assigns the rider one of the bicycles, which are locked in numbered spots on the rack. A light indicates when the bike may be removed. The bicycles may be returned to any of the 10 racks and are available 365 days a year, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.


elrj said...

It's totally a great idea and it's SO exciting! But it's just not quite "there" yet.

For one thing, when projects like this have been launched in other cities, they've been launched with hundreds to thousands of bikes (not kidding!), not a mere 120 bikes total for an entire city. Particularly not for a city of our size, and with such a high tourism base.

Secondly, the bike racks are intended to serve locals AND tourists, however the payment system is not tourist-friendly. There are other simple credit card swipe systems which are super tourist friendly, which are used successfully in other cities in the USA and around the world. Why on earth is DC choosing to do the $40 annual fee which will pretty much eliminate most tourists from using these bikes???

They are not being wise about this. I fear they will launch this project, and in two years call it a failure. Then refuse to finance similar projects in future, pointing at this one as if to say "DC doesn't DO bikes: we know because we tried it already and it failed".

WondrousPilgrim said...

i had a friend who used the tourist friendl versions while in france, and had a lot of troubles with it. the kiosks were often full, and so they couldn't check in the bikes, and they got charged for extra hours. crazy.

But it is a great idea. I think that a lot of problems will be worked out in practice.

elrj said...

But with an annual fee of $40, what tourist will pay that to use a bike for a few days? I think none. I live in the city and I won't even pay that because I don't think it'll pay itself off. I think 120 bikes you'll have the opposite problem of your friend in France: too few bikes here in DC will result in showing up to borrow a bike, and none being available!