Could Boston's bike-sharing scheme catch on in car-obsessed America?
posted on Monday, August 17, 2009 12:23 AM
By this time next year, Boston could have the biggest urban "bike-sharing" programme in the US. Yesterday the project stepped up a gear when Bixi, the Canadian company that's going to provide 6,000 bicycles for London's 2010 bike hire scheme, was announced as Beantown's cycling partner.
Despite similar efforts in cities such as Portland, Oregon, Americans generally view a car as freedom and bikes as toys for 12-year olds with newspaper routes. So "biggest" is relative. Boston will start out with 2,500 bikes and a goal to expand the number to 5,000 including the neighbouring urban areas of Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline.
Elsewhere in the US, Washington, DC put a bike-hire programme in place a year ago, but there are only about 100 two-wheelers around town (though Washington has a smaller population than you may think: the district proper has fewer than 500,000 residents). Still, it's an economical mode of transport with annual memberships available for $40 compared to a ride on the bus at $1.35 a journey, and car club ZipCar membership at $50 a year plus $7 an hour minimum for the vehicle.
By contrast internationally, Paris now boasts 20,000 Velib bicycles. There are many more of the successful European ones listed here. And it's catching on in Asia too. Hangzhou in China will have 50,000 bikes if all goes as planned.
In Britain there have been mixed results. You might expect a slightly better response to a bike-share scheme in a university city such as Cambridge, famous for its cycling students. But a scheme launched in 1993 with a fleet of 300 bicycles had to be abandoned after most of them were stolen on the first day, many of them ending up in the Cam.
But Britain has come a long way since then, not least because cabbies and cyclists rarely see eye to eye. In 2004 former-cabbie Bernie Hanning launched the OYBike system which allows you to hire and return a bike from places like tube stations in London using your mobile phone.
Relatively small it may be, but what's local enthusiasm like for the Boston scheme? The comments on the Boston Globe are half-enthusiastic, and half-fearful of bicycle-car accidents. Some of the concerns – lack of bike lanes, lack of accommodation by drivers - are legitimate. What do you think? Does bike sharing have a hope of working inautomobile-obsessed America?