Launching a citywide bike-share program costs many millions of dollars–taken from taxpayers or corporate sponsors–and often is a bureaucratic nightmare. But maybe it doesn’t have to be like that.
Spinlister, a platform that lets people rent outdoor sports equipment to nearby enthusiasts, is launching a bike-share program in Portland, Oregon that shirks the traditional hub and spoke model (designated bike parking and rental stations) for a decentralized network that’s more akin to what Car2Go offers for cars.
There’s another twist: Spinlister won’t own the bikes. Local cyclists will.
With Spinlister’s existing rental service, users rent bikes from a specific person at a certain time and location. The bike-share model will be completely different.
Spinlister power users will be given a new bike from manufacturer VanMoof, designed specifically for the bike-share program, with a Bluetooth lock, motion-activated lights, one-size-fits-all seat, lightweight alloy frame, puncture-resistant tires, and all sorts of theft deterrents. “There’s wireless tracking in the bike, and the only way to turn it off is to saw through the frame,” says Andrew Batey, Spinlister’s CMO.
Instead of paying for the bike upfront, these power users will pay it back over time through revenue earned from rentals (50% of the rental cost goes into their pocket, 50% goes to paying back the bike). They won’t keep the bike at home; instead, renters can pick it up anywhere across the city and leave it at their destination (within a designated bike-share share zone inside city limits). At any time, the bike’s owner can turn off bike-share mode and ride the bike, though Batey says that he expects most owners will keep their bikes available for rental the majority of the time.
An onboard computer on the VanMoof bikes will show Spinlister app users where available rides are at any given moment. Once a renter selects a bike, they can open the Bluetooth lock with the app. The app also keeps track of a bike’s condition–it will send out an alert if something is wrong with a tire, for example. If a bike sits on a rack for more than two days, Spinlister will contact the owner to collect it (and presumably move it to a higher traffic location).
“The best way to view these bikes is as a microbusiness opportunity,” he says. “We’re giving our best users a bike, and making it risk-free for them. It’s a high-quality bike that even a bike enthusiast would love riding.”
Portland, a city that is theoretically working on a big, traditional bike-share system, was chosen by Spinlister as a pilot city at least partially because of its enthusiasm for the company. “We did an impromptu meetup and had 30 people show up with notebooks, questions, comments, and feedback. Portland hasn’t had the volume of [Spinlister] listings of other cities, but the fulfillment rate is extremely high,” says Batey.
There are still lots of kinks to work out–Spinlister hasn’t even yet decided how many bikes it will offer to users in Portland at launch. Other questions that have yet to be answered. Among them: Will Spinlister encourage people to take the bikes off the street at night? How will customer support work? Where will be the bike-share zone be located in the city?
Batey says that the bike share will launch with a small number of bikes in late summer and will expand from there–both further into Portland and into other cities.