If sharing works for cars, why not bikes? Pittsburgh got membership-based car-sharing in 2007. Now Zipcar Pittsburgh has about 40 locations around town, helping people travel more efficiently. Doing the same with bicycles -- putting them where people can rent them readily and affordably -- would go even further toward saving money, saving time and reducing pollution.
Here's how it works. Somebody buys a bunch of bikes and electronically locking stations -- dozens or more stations around town -- to store them. To rent a bike, swipe your credit card; the first half-hour is free, and a 24-hour rental might cost $5. When done, return the bike to any station.
And all the other kids are doing it. Popular since the 1990s in Europe, bike-shares are gaining momentum in North America, in towns like Denver, Washington, D.C., and even snowy Montreal.
The startup cost is steep. Nice Ride Minnesota, for instance, is a Minneapolis nonprofit that bought its 700 bikes and 100 stations with a $1.75 million federal grant and $1 million from corporate partner Blue Cross/Blue Shield (whose ads adorn the distinctive neon-green bikes). Some, but not all, bike-shares shut down for winter. And there are logistical challenges, like deploying staff and vehicles to restock empty stations.
But bike-shares have proved popular. Nice Ride Minnesota rented out 100,000 rides in its inaugural season, and regular users get annual subscriptions running $60, or $50 for students.
Fees and subscriptions largely cover costs, says Nice Ride chief Bill Dossett. Most bikes seem to be rented for transportation rather than recreation -- running errands, making appointments, grabbing lunch. "You see more people wearing suits riding green bikes downtown, rather than dressed as bike messengers," says Dossett. At least some of those bike rides are replacing car trips. And only two Nice Ride bikes have been lost or stolen.
Admittedly, Minneapolis is especially bike-friendly. Still, says city resident Jay Walljasper, a writer and biking advocate, "The beauty of this program is it brings more people into biking."
Boston's bike-share launches this spring; New York City and Toronto are studying the idea. Robert Hampshire, a Carnegie Mellon University assistant professor who studies bike-shares, thinks one could work in Pittsburgh. And Bike Pittsburgh executive director Scott Bricker calls bike-shares "absolutely the coolest thing ever." In fact, in April, Bricker is bringing Wisconsin-based bike-share system-designer B-Cycle to Pittsburgh, to try selling local officials on the concept.