Last year I took a two week trip with a bunch of friends to Spain over the summer. We started with a week on the party island of Ibiza and then my fiancee, one of my best friends and I flew to Madrid and drove about the mainland for the second week.

While walking through the streets of Valencia I noticed a bunch of bikes that were stationed on the sidewalk. On further investigation I discovered that this was a “bike-share” program. To be honest, in my ignorance I had not heard too much about this concept at that point but in hindsight, it makes perfect sense. Little did I know that this concept has actually been around in some cities in the Netherlands since 1965……

Now don’t get me wrong – I am no stranger to eco-friendly transport solutions. We have emission-free electric buses here in San Francisco and gas powered buses back in Sydney. I am also very interested in the whole “explore a city by bike” concept, having taken a Mike’s Bikes Tour in Amsterdam but this idea of bike sharing was somewhat new to me.

The basic premise of these bike-sharing systems is to reduce traffic congestion, noise and air pollution while providing free or affordable access to bicycles for short-distance trips in an urban environment.

There are three distinct categories currently available, these include: free bikes, coin-deposit systems and the latest generation of information technology-driven systems.

Presently there are over 500 bike-sharing systems operating around the world, consisting of an estimated 517,000 bicycles. The largest ones, as you might imagine can be found in Wuhan and Hangzhou, China with other cities throughout Europe following close behind. The countries that have adopted this eco-friendly transport system the most so far are Spain, Italy and China.

Earlier this year it was announced that New York City would be introducing a bike-sharing infrastructure throughout its streets. At first the residents were happy with the decision – that is until they noticed the bike kiosks popping up around the city. Some complained about the stations taking up precious space for parking spots and driving lanes while others considered the structures an eyesore.

This led to kiosks being vandalized and a number of lawsuits being launched. Now you might be thinking the city must have misled the residents or withheld important information about the program before it launched……… but you would be wrong. In fact, there was initially broad support for cycling, with many opponents saying they would be willing to try it if introduced.

There is one company I know of that is expanding the idea by removing the need for docking stations all together. SoBi (short for Social Bicycles) was founded by Ryan Rzepecki, an ex-worker at the Department of Transportation in New York, in 2010. SoBi’s bikes come with a built-in lock and a GPS unit. When you want a bike, you just use your smartphone app to locate one available, unlock the bike with a PIN and then once you’re done, simply reenter the PIN to lock it up. Voilà!

Living in San Francisco we already have a very bicycle-friendly environment. Bike lanes are abundant and you would be hard-pressed to go a few blocks without coming across a bike rental outlet. Strangely enough, we are only just getting a bike-share offering at the end of this month. Bay Area BikeShare will be launching at the end of August with locations in San Francisco, Redwood City, Mountain View, Palo Alto and San Jose.

Their plan is to have 700 bikes and 70 kiosks across the region to provide residents and visitors an affordable method of transport 24hrs a day, 7 days a week.

bay area bikes

From what I can gather on their website their pricing structure is targeted towards short commutes of less than 30 mins. A one-day pass will set you back just $9 but be prepared to fork out up to $150 a day if you go over the 30min/ per use timeframe and don’t even think about losing the bike……… that’ll cost you a whopping $1200.

All in all, bike-sharing is a great concept in my opinion. It is great for the environment, a good way to get people off their ass and exercise and a cheap, alternate city transportation system. I am looking forward to trying one out a little later in the year.

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