We’ve written about bike sharing programs across Europe and now, as bike month begins, we’re happy to share that the US has finally warmed up to the idea, making bike rental as simple and quick as a card swipe. Washington recently unveiled SmartBike DC, the first fully automated touch-and-go rental program in the US. It operates on a similar principle to Zipcar and other car sharing services, offering 120 bicycles at 10 locations throughout the city center. Jim Sebastian, manager of bicycle and pedestrian programs for Washington’s Transportation Department, is convinced that the program will take off, cutting congestion, pollution, and parking problems citywide.
Cities around the world have kick started public bike rental programs as global gas prices soar and concerns over carbon emissions deepen. This is welcome news, since you’d be hard pressed to find a greener mode of transportation – bicycles are cheap, efficient, and emission free. Copenhagen, Berlin, Barcelona and Lyon have already embraced the trend, and Paris recently initiated its epic Vélib program, supplying its streets with a veritable fleet of 20,000 bikes.
The Washington District of Transportation has teamed up with Clear Channel for the SmartBike DC program, exchanging advertising space for funds to maintain the bikes and improve upon the system. The arrangement is a boon to congested city districts, since it generates revenue while requiring cities to spend literally “no money on designing, marketing or maintaining” the program.
For a $40 membership fee, SmartBike users are free to rent a three speed for up to three hours at a time. An electronic system monitors the bikes, assuring timely returns and keeping track of lost bikes. If all goes well, Sebastian is hoping to expand the program up to 1,000 bicycles.
Vélib photo credit: Ed Alcock for the NY Times