Reinventing the wheel of the public bike system

The best inventions in the world are the ones which almost tug at your heartstrings by seeming so blatantly obvious, they evoke feelings of borderline embarrassment for not coming to the conclusion first. Where’s that elusive million-dollar idea when you need it? A recent trip to Montreal exposed me to one such invention, the Bixi Bikeshare System. Which brings to mind three little words: but of course.

Bixi (bike + taxi) is a public bicycle system which allows urbanites to rent a bike from an automatically-run station for a nominal fee, use it for any length of time, and return it to a bixi station of choice (conveniently dispersed throughout a city). Says Bixi’s website, “This allows people to have all the benefits of a bicycle, without having to purchase one, store one or bring one into town.” Cheaper than a taxi, more fun than a bus, and quicker than walking, bikes are undoubtedly one of the best ways to tool around a city, and public bike systems make all the benefits of biking inexpensive and easy.

Bike sharing is not a new idea. Around since the 50’s and popularized in Europe in the 90’s, self-service bike rentals have received mixed results. Earlier this year, the BBC reported one bike share company who, after a wildly successful launch in Paris, found themselves facing a massive problem when the bikes continually were stolen and vandalized.

Bixi has learned from other company’s mistakes, responding to these concerns by enlisting the help of top designers to quite literally reinvent the wheel. The new bikes are almost futuristic-looking in their durable design, and have embedded tracking systems that allow all bikes to be accounted for at any given time on back-end control systems. So far, the results are good, and in Montreal, the systems have flourished. With this success, the rest of North America is finally catching on to the idea.

“Boston, New York, Miami Beach, Montreal, Toronto, Minneapolis, Portland, and Vancouver are just some of the cities that have expressed an interest in or are actually setting up public bike systems. Not to mention a host of college and university campuses,” Bixi gushes. Time Magazine named Bixi one of the Best 50 Inventions of 2008, and even music icon David Byrne recently took to his blog to detail his positive experience using the public bikes. Byrne muses, “There are chain guards so you don’t get grease all over your nice white pants or dress, and the gear switching mechanism is inside the axle, so no grease there either. . . . You don’t HAVE to dress like a messenger unless you want to.”

A logical solution to a multitude of problems, installing a simple bike share system should be an obvious addition to every city’s public transit web. With such endless benefits, it’s clearly time for someone to knock on city council’s door with a new request to green the city.

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