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10,000 Bicycles Coming to a New York City Block Near You

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

image You leave your apartment. A couple of blocks away, there’s a bunch of big, but perfectly good bikes locked into racks. You slide your bikeshare card into a reader next to one of the bikes and the rack releases the bike. You have an appointment about 50 blocks away, so you ride the bike to a bike station two blocks away from your appointment. You shove your bike into an empty rack, slide your card through the card reader, and you’re good to go.

This is the urban cyclist’s bike heaven. A working bike available where you start and where you go, but no investment, nothing you have to carry a lock for, and nothing you have to worry about after you leave it. It exists in Chicago and Boston, and it’s coming to New York in May of this year, with 10,000 bicycles located at 600 stations throughout Manhattan below 96th Street, with a few stations in Brooklyn. Eventually the system will extend throughout the entire city.

It will use a membership system. The annual cost is rumored to be $85, although the exact amount has not yet been officially announced. Rides under 30 minutes are free, with a nominal charge to the card you buy your membership with if you exceed the base time. You can keep it out for longer, but if longer is more than 24 hours, it is assumed to be stolen and your card is charged for the bike. How a malfunctioning card reader will be dealt with is to be determined.

However, Alta Bicycle Share, the company that is going to run the program in the City, probably has most eventualities covered. It has its very successful Boston Hubway program, which recorded 100,000 trips in its first two months last year. But more important, it has been able to build on some 20 years of trial and error, upon dozens of bike share systems both in the U.S. and abroad that have been tried and scrapped when virtually every bike put into it was stolen or vandalized. Interestingly enough the only bikeshare city where no bikes were stolen and very few even damaged or vandalized was Hangzhou, in China. It’s a statistic that stands in stark contract to the earlier programs in the U.S., where not one bike was left after a few months, or to Paris’ Velib’ system, which lost 50 per cent of its bikes in its first year.

The system that is coming to New York now is the result of that learning curve. It uses a heavy single-speed bike with distinctive markings, not one you’re eager to own and lug into your building. It is rumored that each bike is equipped with a GPS sensor, the easier to find if it goes astray. The card readers, and a kiosk providing temporary cards, operate on solar power — a nice touch — and provide accountability.

Local community boards will hold information sessions throughout February in the parts of the City that will have the first bikes. Everyone welcome.

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