American cities are adopting a form of bicycle-renting program that has swept through Europe. The bike-renting system allows users to swipe a card, receive a bike and drop it off virtually anywhere within the city.
Washington, D.C., plans to unveil a pilot program in March. San Francisco recently reached a deal to provide for a bicycle rental system. New York; Chicago; Portland, Ore.; and Louisville, Ky., among others, are currently either accepting bids or considering launching similar programs.
The model program, called Velib,' was launched in Paris last summer. The program featured 10,600 bicycles at 750 stations citywide. Cyclists swipe a card to unlock a bike, ride it anywhere in the city and then drop it back off at any bike station--often located at subway/train stations.
The first 30 minutes are free of charge, allowing cyclists to get to their destination in time while still encouraging an efficient turnover rate. After 30 minutes, a small fee is applied. Residents and tourists can obtain memberships of one day, one week or one year at any station using a credit card.
Since its inception, Velib' has racked up millions of rides and Pads officials have doubled the number of bikes and stations. The success of the program owes much to the city learning from previous design flaws. Previous models involving free or cheap bicycles experienced rampant theft and vandalism.
Paris was the first major city to accomplish a successful bike-renting program on a wide scale. By charging initial membership fees, tracking missing bicycles to the owner and installing alarms that activate when the bike has not been returned, the program practically eliminated bicycle theft. Bicycles have now become a more flexible alternative to the automobile due to the dense network of renting stations.
While such a vast program might sound too expensive and daunting for local governments, businesses have reached out and established partnerships. Programs in …