Car-sharing hit big with Zipcar, bike-sharing got its 15 minutes with Paris' Velib, and now, well, smartphone-enabled bike sharing might be the next big thing, with SoBi's (Social Bicycle System) plans to launch a test run of its GPS and mobile-enabled bike network in New York City this Fall.
According to their website: "This system will be more affordable and scalable than existing bike share systems and can be deployed in a wider range of settings—small cities, universities, and even corporate campuses. SoBi will allow a user to find and unlock bikes using a mobile phone and provide a viable public transportation alternative."
Indeed, with Paris' Velib system dependent on docking stations, domestic credit cards, and the occasional difficulty of finding available bikes at your preferred location, SoBi, like Zipcar, adds the crucial factor of convenience of search and reserving. And, of course it helps to save the environment and all that good stuff.
Back in the U.S. of A., a domestic peer is Colorado's B-cycle, which is still "traditional" in that searching and reserving is dependent on either checking at a nearby station or logging onto your computer, and they certainly don't have an attached lock-box, which is SoBi's main standout feature. SoBi also says that, unlike other social bike systems with infrastructure expenses as high as $4,000 per bike, SoBi has been able to shrink that cost to under $1,000—likely because docking stations don't appear to be part of the system. Additionally, since the device—a fairly huge, boxy thing, it should be noted—is attached to the bike itself, you could presumably just leave the bike anywhere. Wait, literally, anywhere?
Instead of relying on kiosks and docking stations to connect users to bikes, cyclists use their smartphones to locate, check out, and lock bikes — everything is portable, wireless, decentralized, and self-contained. The tech is stored in a small 'lock box' attached to the rear wheel, which connects the bike to a central server. Users create an account with SoBi, find a bike through a call or smartphone app, and receive a code which they can use to unlock the bicycle from an ordinary rack. They can just enter their account info directly into the lock box; they use the same pin code every time, 'just like with a bank card.
Any NYC biker who's come out of his or her destination to find a seat, front wheel, or handlebars missing might question whether the lock box is enough to deter (at least partial) theft. Then again, a hot social bike with big white box on the back would be pretty easy for cops to spot.