If you live in certain parts of the world, like France, Spain, China, Italy, or Germany, you already are familiar with the joys of having an extensive bike-sharing system readily available. North America is slowly catching on, with cities like Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York City gradually rolling out bike-share systems. The problem is that it can be expensive to set up large bike-sharing operation–the popular station-based kiosk infrastructures used by many cities aren’t cheap.
ViaCycle, a Y Combinator-backed bikesharing startup, has a potential solution: high-tech bikes that be locked, unlocked, and located with a smartphone. A system on the back of ViaCycle bikes, including a battery pack, solar panel, chain lock, and GPS system, ensures that users don’t need to lock their bikes at designated docking stations–instead, they can use the ViaCycle app (or send a text with the bike number and membership pin) to unlock and lock the bikes at any available bike rack. The bike still need to be returned to designated spots at the end of the ride.
Payment is straightfoward: After a yearly membership fee of $60 to $80, all rides under half an hour are free. Anything over half an hour has an hourly fee of $3 to $5.
The ViaCycle bike system is currently being tested on two college campuses–Georgia Tech and George Mason University. Next up: Google’s main campus and the Hub, a San Francisco coworking space. At the universities and Google, bikes can be dropped off at any designated location when riders are finished with them. At the Hub, they can only be left at a garage across the street. That will change, though, as ViaCycle expands. Ideally, users should be able to choose from multiple drop-off points across the city where they can leave their bikes at the end of each ride.
ViaCycle isn’t too concerned about theft. “Major bike sharing programs in North America haven’t had too many problems, says ViaCycle CEO Kyle Azevedo. Besides, he says, “it’s hard to tamper with the GPS system. So even if a bike goes missing, it won’t be hard to track it.
The system is, according to Azevedo, “like a Zipcar for bikes.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because we recently wrote about Scoot Networks, the so-called “Zipcar of electric scooters.” There is certainly room for both of these services, especially in cities that are lacking in quality public transportation. There’s a reason (besides the welcoming local government) that so many transportation sharing startups choose to pilot their programs in San Francisco.