So I did it again…I read the NYT. And it actually paid off this time! If you don’t know this already, I am a huge proponent of expanding public transporation here in America (see my MagLev train rant). Today that conviction was affirmed, as Europe yet again demonstrates that it can have effective ways of being environmentally friendly, easing traffic, and providing a wonderful public good.
As it turns out, the new hot trend in Europe is bicycle sharing programs. They are varied, but proliferating quickly, and the logistics are really quite awesome:
The new systems are successful in part because they blanket cities with huge numbers of available bikes, but the real linchpin is technology. Aided by electronic cards and computerized bike stands, riders can pick up and drop off bicycles in seconds at hundreds of locations, their payments deducted from bank accounts.
Here [in Barcelona], a customer buys a yearly membership for about $30 and is issued a smart card that allows the rider to remove a bike from a mechanized dock. The first 30 minutes are free, with a charge of 30 cents per half-hour after that. A bike must be returned to any bike rack in the network within two hours or the card may be deactivated.
Most programs in Germany and Austria work on a different system; members receive cellphone text messages providing codes to unlock the bikes.
The success has apparently even outstripped expectations in Europe. In Barcelona, there are still some issues with bike stations emptying in some parts of the city while in others the stations are maxed out and riders have to search for a place to drop their bikes off. Officials who run the Barcelona program admit that it still has to be tweaked before expanded
We now have to consolidate and start working so that maintenance is adequate, and improve the system at all levels.
I still think this is pretty awesome, and why don’t we have this is America? The New York Times has some suggestions:
In North America, issues like insurance liability, a stronger car culture, longer commutes and a preference for wearing helmets have slowed adoption of bicycle-sharing programs. None of the European programs require helmets.
So I will end with a resounding “fuck you” to litigious society and suburban sprawl…