Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Last to See the Future
The future is here at last. I hope. I was excited to see the demo bike station of the New York City Bikeshare program to be launched in the summer of 2012. I never thought I would see a bikeshare program in New York City. We hear of these things in places such as Portland, Oregon, considered to be a model city when it comes to progressive ideas and quality of life. Here in New York, these things are like faraway fantasies of tropical islands in the cold of winter. Never going to happen.
But it is. I am impressed that Alta Bicycle Share was able to work out the details and orchestrate such a large program like this in New York. Programs which may be simple elsewhere can find monumental hurdles or impasses here. The beauracratic nightmare, along with issues of handling payments, security, theft, safety, vandalism, collecting and redistributing bikes using rebalancers, location of kiosks, etc. have to be worked out in a city already packed to capacity with pedestrians and competing vehicles.
Alta Bicycle Share designs, deploys, and manages bicycle share programs and systems worldwide. They have launched systems in Washington, DC/Arlington, Virginia, Boston, and Melbourne, Australia. The NYC program will roll out with 10,000 bicycles available at 600 stations in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. I spoke with a representative for some time and took a test ride on one of the bikes. The details seem to be very well thought out - I asked many questions and raised many concerns.
One of my biggest concerns for any plan that requires things left in public spaces is theft. Theft has been an issue that has severely limited the widespread use of bicycles in New York City. Bicyclists resort to heavy chains and lock systems along with the use of old bikes that are least desirable for stealing and resale.
I was told that the bikes used in the program are designed to use unique parts and have tracking devices. A stolen bike would be obvious on the streets, not to mention that a 40-pound clunker is not going to be particularly desirable in the resale market of stolen goods.
Bike Share in NYC will be funded by private sponsorship and user fees, not taxpayer dollars. Memberships are expected to run about $100 per year, and bikes will be available 24/7 (day passes will also be available). Membership will give unlimited use, but rides are limited to 30-45 minutes (for longer trips, a bike can be dropped off at any station and exchanged for another). See more here.
There are still problems to work out, not the least of which is $50 million in sponsorship funding. The program does look like it is moving forward. In many arenas, the latest and greatest can be found in New York City. However, in areas that involve large systems to be implemented, it often feels like we are Last to See the Future…
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