12 August 2008

SmartBike DC a sham

As far as I've ever seen, the Europeans are so much more advanced and forward-thinking than we Yanks. They got on the engergy conservation and public transportation infrastructure building almost 40 years ago. What were we doing? Oh that's right, we were busy making bigger, gas guzzling cars and trying to figure out ways that we could invade our oil-producing 'friends.' Today, I saw an article in the Washington Post about bike-sharing in DC. The idea is different than I'd imagined, and WAY different than I experienced several years ago in Europe.

I was in Vienna, Austria for a period in the summer of 2002. That was the first time that I ever experienced a type of ride-sharing with bikes. The way it was set up was that big companies would sponsor the bikes. Generally you'd see them emblazoned with logos for T-mobile or Nokia. There were bike racks located all over the city, and all you needed was a single Euro to get a bike. You pop your Euro coin under the bike's seat and it would release from the rack. You could then ride for as long as you wanted or needed to. Then, when you were finished, you put the bike back on the rack, and out pops your Euro. Essentially, you're paying for the rental of the bike, and the company which sponsors the bike is getting loads of free moving advertising. As a tourist in their fair city, I thought that the Viennese were brilliant! It was a win-win situation. Armed with a map of the city, I wasn't totally reliant on the subway, or trolleys, or taxis to get around. It was a total win-win situation-- I could get around, and they get their name plastered everywhere that I go.

In DC, that's not what we're going to have. Instead, the system is going to function more like a car-share called ZipCar. Now, Zipcar is a pretty cool idea since it gives you the chance to use a car for a few hours without going through the hassle of renting a car or dealing with the struggles of gas, insurance, car payments, or parking your own vehicle. It's all included in the annual fee and the hourly rate to use the car. The SmartBike will function exactly the same. You pay $40 annually, and you get a user card.You would then simply go to one of the bike racks, swipe your user card and the bike releases from the rack. It all sounds pretty cool to me at first, but then I see that you can only have the bike for 3 hours. After 3 hours, if you don't return the bike, you get a black mark on your 'permenant record.' If you do that too many times, you'll be banned from the program. Keep the bike for 24 hours and they'll charge you $550 for replacement of the bike.

I went to the website to check it out, and to see where they're planning on keeping the racks. Sure enough, they're not located in any parts of the city where I'll be frequenting. There will be racks in the Farragut/Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Logan Circle, and around the Mall up to Chinatown. What good does that do some one who is not in those areas? There are
10 racks throughout this area, but I'm wondering if they will ever make the racks accessible to people who don't live next to a Metro station. How about placing some bike racks at the revitalizing areas of the city, namely the Waterfront, Near the Nationals Ballpark, or in the other quadrants of the city. Apparently only the FULLY gentrified sections of Downtown are acceptable because they're probably thinking that people in the areas that I just mentioned probably can't afford the $40 annual fee, don't have a credit card to subscribe, or don't deserve to have access to these bikes. Maybe they'll steal them!

I don't like this at all. Why is it that we can't have it like the Europeans? Are we as American city dwellers so untrustworthy that we can't have an honor system anymore? The way that I saw a bike share operated in Vienna was awesome really, and it would certainly give us something to do with all of those useless and wasted golden, Sacagawea dollar coins.

1 comment:

David Klecha said...

When my sister moved back from DC last month (before moving on to Wisconsin a week later), one of her friends got a minivan from ZipCar and kept it for... hmmm... two days I think for the loading, the trip up to Marysville, and then back to DC. Worked out great for them. Fantastic idea.