Rental bike velo-lution! Jul. 17, 2006. 03:31 PM JENNIFER WELLS STAFF WRITER
O oh la la.It's Sunday morning. The sun banks higher. The breeze is sultry. You inhale the swooning perfume of the linden blossoms.
You think: a crisp, new book would be nice. And then a latte. So you swipe your bike card through the kiosk nearby, dislodging one of these fine steeds, with their cherry red wheel guards and handy, dandy bike baskets on the front. You scoot down to Nicholas Hoare, stashing your bike at the kiosk on Front St. You pick up a copy of Londonstani , running your hand across its smooth cover. You return to the bike kiosk, swipe again, and head up to College St. For the latte. You engage with the city and your surroundings. As you head toward Latte Land you pass the sweetest boutique. You dismount. You shop! What a lark! You settle, at last, at the caf, having spent not a single centime on your city travels. Fantasy? Not in Lyons, where French street furniture company JCDecaux has had such success in the scant year since installing its Cyclocity bicycle-hire system, which Lyons has dubbed Vlo'V , that it is pedalling quickly to double the number of bikes to 4,000 within the next 12 months. Vlo'V is seeing rentals of up to 25,000 a day. The average rental time: 16 minutes. Consider this: the first 30 minutes are free. An additional hour is one euro. So you can imagine how city dwellers are using the bikes as a complement to the existing public transportation system. The vast majority of users are residents of Lyons. Thirty-four per cent are school and university students. You might expect that. But another 34 per cent of riders are professionals, senior and middle managers and technicians. In April, Decaux announced that, come September, it will have installed a Cyclocity bike fleet in Brussels. Brussels is starting small, just 250 bikes. Decaux hopes this initial contract will spur expanded development of environmentally friendly transportation systems. Translation: more bikes. The Decaux bikes are already at work, or should we say at play, in Vienna, where the first hour of rental is free, free, free. The company recoups its capital cost there by placing advertisements on the wheel guards. When the bikes go spinning by, so do such recognizable names as Nokia. Paris. Ah, Paris. The city of light is looking for a similar service and has issued a request for proposal to woo potential bidders. Paris is going bigger than Brussels: it wants 200 self-service stations sporting a total of 3,000 bikes. Decaux, naturally, wants the business. So too does Cemusa, a street furniture company headquartered in Spain. Both have bid. Paris is expected to make its decision within months. Who else is there? Well, Clear Channel, the world heavyweight in outdoor advertising, has been running its SmartBike program for a decade. You rent your bike with a SmartCard, which is embedded with a microchip. Clear Channel says the technology helps ensure that each bike docking station is well stocked throughout the day. The company operates two SmartBike programs in France (Rennes and Bordeaux), three in Norway and one in Singapore. You imagine there are problems. As in: don't the bikes get stolen? It is true that bike-sharing systems have failed in the past because of such dastardliness. In Vienna and Lyons you must register to become a member of the bike-sharing system. In Lyons you must make a 150-euro deposit to obtain a membership. The system appears to be working. Can Toronto see its future in this? In a way, it already has. In 2001, the Community Bicycle Network launched its BikeShare program. You may have seen one of their adorably bright yellow bikes zooming about. The service is small: 17 hubs in the downtown core with 100 active bikes, which, you may be happy to hear, do not sport any advertising. Is that the beginning of something great? The city has now embarked on a revitalization of the streetscape through a co-ordinated street-furniture project. Benches. Shelters. Loos. Bicycles have been included on the menu of potential new street furniture pieces. The city has separately proclaimed its commitment to cycling. No, really, it has. We're not kidding. The street furniture process has the potential to advance the cause. We're thinking along the lines of a new motto. How about: Free Wheeling? It does have a certain ring.