Bike Sharing

“]DC SmartBike [flickr: TrishsWishs]
My Other Bike is a Public Transportation System by Greg Beato at Reason.com:

A bike delivers a strong sense of autonomy, too—stronger even than a car in many ways. It doesn’t, for example, require a license, registration, insurance. You aren’t beholden to routes or schedules. You go where you want, when you want. Unless the bike you’re riding is part of a bike-sharing program. Then your usage is more proscribed. Take, for example, SmartBike D.C., America’s first high-tech bike-sharing program. Launched in August, and, like Velib, funded by an advertising company (Clear Channel Outdoor in this case) in return for the right to advertise on the city’s bus shelters, the program currently consists of 120 bikes and ten docking stations, all of which are clustered within a relatively small radius downtown.

For a $40 annual fee, users get a smart card that allows them to unlock a bike from its docking station and start contributing to America’s energy independence.

Sounds like a great free-market solution. Right? Greg doesn’t think it’s so great:

it’s like you own the bike, except you don’t. You’re not permitted to let someone else ride it. You’re not permitted to put too much stuff in the front basket. (The baskets are for “light goods” only.) You aren’t supposed to ride it in “inclement and dangerous weather.” You have to return it to very specific places at very specific times. If something on your bike breaks while you’re riding it, you aren’t supposed to take it to the nearest bike shop or attempt to make the repair yourself. Instead, you have to call SmartBike’s customer service line and wait for a repair person to respond to your request for help. At least when a bus breaks down, you can abandon ship and take destiny in your own hands.

For me, this would still be good if there were stations nearby, because I just don’t have room to store a bike or two. There’s a large basement in our building, but for some reason the landlord doesn’t want to use any of it for storage. I think combining this service with a gym membership (for the showers) is a great way to commute. But there just has to be a critical mass of stations for it to become viable…

  • Bill Nelson

    Maybe you should consider buying a folding bike? There are some that fold very small: http://www.strida.com/

    I used to have a 20-mile bicycle commute, and I used a folding bike that would fold into a small package so I could bring it into my building. That said, you also need to find some streets that aren’t suicidal to bike on.

    Anyway, the bike-sharing rules sound a lot like car-rental rules — and they are particularly analogous to Zip Car. So I don’t see a problem with the concept.

    But I would worry about maintenance. Unlike a car, which is pretty hard for the prior motorist to make unsafe, a bike is pretty vulnerable. If I “bike shared”, I would EVERY TIME, at a minimum, check the axle bolts, the brakes, the spokes, the bottom bracket, and the tires — and violate the contract by doing an on-the-spot adjustment if needed. And that means carrying some tools, and being prepared to spend a little time doing inspections.

    I wonder what kind of consent form you need to sign before becoming a member. And I wonder how many times the phrase “in case of injury or death” appears in said document.

    But the biggest problem is the lack of decent biking facilities. New York’s bike lanes are awful, and provide no protection whatsoever — except to the bureaucrat whose “monthly report” can have phrases like “twenty miles of bike lanes added this month.” Which are twenty lanes that will not be maintained, that will wear off, that will be dug up by ConEd, that will be used for double parking, that will have car doors flung out into, that will have broken glass, and will in general be ignored by all — to the peril of the cyclist who, under the false impression of safety, lets his guard down.

  • Bill Nelson

    Maybe you should consider buying a folding bike? There are some that fold very small: http://www.strida.com/

    I used to have a 20-mile bicycle commute, and I used a folding bike that would fold into a small package so I could bring it into my building. That said, you also need to find some streets that aren’t suicidal to bike on.

    Anyway, the bike-sharing rules sound a lot like car-rental rules — and they are particularly analogous to Zip Car. So I don’t see a problem with the concept.

    But I would worry about maintenance. Unlike a car, which is pretty hard for the prior motorist to make unsafe, a bike is pretty vulnerable. If I “bike shared”, I would EVERY TIME, at a minimum, check the axle bolts, the brakes, the spokes, the bottom bracket, and the tires — and violate the contract by doing an on-the-spot adjustment if needed. And that means carrying some tools, and being prepared to spend a little time doing inspections.

    I wonder what kind of consent form you need to sign before becoming a member. And I wonder how many times the phrase “in case of injury or death” appears in said document.

    But the biggest problem is the lack of decent biking facilities. New York’s bike lanes are awful, and provide no protection whatsoever — except to the bureaucrat whose “monthly report” can have phrases like “twenty miles of bike lanes added this month.” Which are twenty lanes that will not be maintained, that will wear off, that will be dug up by ConEd, that will be used for double parking, that will have car doors flung out into, that will have broken glass, and will in general be ignored by all — to the peril of the cyclist who, under the false impression of safety, lets his guard down.

  • http://marketurbanism.com MarketUrbanism

    A folding bike sounds like a good solution. Being that I’m 6′-5″, would I look like a clown or be unstable?

  • http://marketurbanism.com Market Urbanism

    A folding bike sounds like a good solution. Being that I’m 6′-5″, would I look like a clown or be unstable?

  • Bill Nelson

    I used to own a custom Bike Friday (www.bikefriday.com).

    They build their bikes to order, and size them based on your measurements. They ask you about the dimensions of your present bike — and lacking one, I assume they’ll ask for inseams, arm lengths, etc.

    When I got mine, it fit just like my non-folder — and I put 2500 miles on it before trading up to a different model, which I then rode for 5000 miles — almost all commuting. They’re very high quality, not like the Dahon junk that you see all over. Their New World Tourist line is my favorite, and they cost about $1200 to $1500. (Far less than auto insurance, especially when amortized over a decade or so…)

    So, I think that the bike would be very stable. I also doubt that you would look like a clown — or for that matter, attract any attention whatsoever in NYC. That said, I always dress in the most tasteless clashing clown-like neon colors when biking — I want to be seen by motorists. A clown look can be a big plus…

  • Bill Nelson

    I used to own a custom Bike Friday (www.bikefriday.com).

    They build their bikes to order, and size them based on your measurements. They ask you about the dimensions of your present bike — and lacking one, I assume they’ll ask for inseams, arm lengths, etc.

    When I got mine, it fit just like my non-folder — and I put 2500 miles on it before trading up to a different model, which I then rode for 5000 miles — almost all commuting. They’re very high quality, not like the Dahon junk that you see all over. Their New World Tourist line is my favorite, and they cost about $1200 to $1500. (Far less than auto insurance, especially when amortized over a decade or so…)

    So, I think that the bike would be very stable. I also doubt that you would look like a clown — or for that matter, attract any attention whatsoever in NYC. That said, I always dress in the most tasteless clashing clown-like neon colors when biking — I want to be seen by motorists. A clown look can be a big plus…