Bikeshare is gaining in popularity throughout cities in the United States. But one of the drawbacks is that you have to pick up bikes at one station and drop them off at another. This means that cities need to build many stations all around the city to ensure that it’s a practical option. But one company is looking to change that later this year.
Social Bicycles (SoBi), as SmartPlanet’s Channtal Fleischfresser explained, have a built-in GPS that allows users to locate, reserve, and unlock a bike with a smartphone app. When you’re done? Just ride up to a nearby bike rack and return the bike with your phone. Like other bikeshare systems, though, there are bike stations, or hubs. If you return the bike outside the hub you are charged a fee. If someone then uses a bike that’s outside a hub and returns it to a hub their account is credited. And to make sure that all the bike aren’t ridden outside the city, if someone returns a bike outside the larger system zone they are charged a higher fee.
The company, which plans to launch later this fall in Buffalo, N.Y., Sun Valley, Idaho, and San Francisco, announced today that AT&T will be the system’s exclusive mobile internet provider.
“Social Bikes is the first public bike share system that relies completely on a mobile network to track, locate and unlock bikes,” said Ryan Rzepecki, CEO, Social Bikes. “The SoBi system is the only technology that provides a solution for the entire spectrum of bike share. It’s affordable enough for small-scale deployments and robust enough to serve larger municipal deployments. We’re excited about the benefits AT&T network will add to the system.”
What’s great about this system is how scalable it is. Cities can add bikes as they can afford them without the need to invest in more expensive, fixed infrastructure. On the other hand, while the technology makes it easier to track and locate bike, it does exclude 50 percent of U.S. consumer who are not smartphone owners.
The company is looking to expand into additional markets in early 2013.
Photo: Social Bicycles