Beginning in May, residents of Washington D.C. will be the first in the U.S. to take advantage of an automated bike-sharing program, called SmartBike. For a mere $40 per year, members of the program will simply swipe a card and pedal away, avoiding metro traffic and cramped subway cars.
From the New York Times:
A new public-private venture called SmartBike DC will make 120 bicycles available at 10 spots in central locations in the city. The automated program, which district officials say is the first of its kind in the nation, will operate in a similar fashion to car-sharing programs like Zipcar.
…“There’s a lot of stress on our transit systems currently,” said Jim Sebastian, who manages bicycle and pedestrian programs for Washington’s Transportation Department. Offering another option, Mr. Sebastian said, “will help us reduce congestion and pollution,” as well as parking problems.
SmartBike is slated to arrive in other major metro areas, including San Francisco, and possibly Chicago and Portland. In D.C., the company partnered with advertising giant Clear Channel, which gained exclusive advertising rights to city bus shelters.
Similar bike-sharing programs, like Vélib in Paris, Velo’v in Lyon, and Bicing in Barcelona, Spain, have been a success. Milan, Amsterdam, and Portland have long had bike-sharing programs, though the concept of an automated system is new.
SmartBike execs are hopeful that hi-tech bike sharing will diminish the rate of stolen and damaged bicycles.
From the NYT:
Improved technology allows programs to better protect bicycles. In Washington, SmartBike subscribers who keep bicycles longer than the three-hour maximum will receive demerits and could eventually lose renting privileges. Bicycles gone for more than 48 hours will be deemed lost, with the last user charged a $200 replacement fee.
Proponents of the program are hopeful that the low cost will also entice users. “I’d probably use it more in the summer than winter,” student Dewey Archer told the NYT. “But for $40? That’s cheaper than gas.”