Having recently gone to the Netherlands and been awed by the current state of excellence in their cycling infrastructure, I’ve been thinking of ideas for improving cycling infrastructures in the US.
An idea for a bike rental system popped into my head. The idea would be to have rental bikes with credit card machines attached to them. To rent the bike you pop in the credit card which releases wheel locks on the bike. You use the bike as long as you want (getting charged a low hourly rate) and once you reengage the wheel locks your credit card stops being charged.
This bike rental system could work well in dense urban areas. A key part of the idea is that after someone uses the bike, it ends up in a convenient place for someone else to pick it up. New York City or Boston could be a good place to try it out. Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Tucson might be even better with their milder winters. The bike rentals would have to be made very visible with a distinguishing color to the bike and a large fleet so that people would quickly become familiar with this transport option.
Admittedly, this system has plenty of potential for problems. There could be people stealing the bikes or the bikes could end up in places that no one will use them. Putting a tracking devise on the bike could help alleviate these problems. Bicycle that hadn’t been used or showed up in remote locations could be retrieved and at the same time have maintenance done. The costs with setting up bikes with the credit card machines and tracking devises could be prohibitive. Also insurance might be another big problem.
Currently, bike rentals are available in many cycling friendly cities. A problem is you must return the bike. You can’t use it for a quick jot across town and then just leave it somewhere. I’ve heard of some cities that just have bikes that are available for everyone to use. In pursuing such a bike rental scheme, it would be interesting to discover how these cities are doing with their free bike programs. In fact there is a rental program of note underway in France… http://www.guardian.co.uk/france/story/0,11882,1547732,00.html