A Smaller City Tries A New Bike Sharing Approach

By Micheline Maynard

The United States has seen an explosion of interest in bike sharing. The nation’s bike sharing fleet doubled last year, will double again this year and is expected to be four times bigger in 2015 than it was in 2012, according to the Earth Policy Institute.

Lansing, Michigan is embracing bike sharing.

Lansing, Michigan is embracing bike sharing.

But as bike sharing expands, communities are trying some different approaches. In some places, local governments are taking the lead. In others, universities are involved. And a few private corporations are funding bike sharing meant just for their employees.

I recently took a look at the growing interest in bike sharing in Michigan for Bridge Magazine. Now, bikes are probably not what you think of first when you think of a state so tied to the auto industry. But as with the rest of the country, bike sharing is increasingly a topic of conversation.

One of the most intriguing ideas I discovered is in Lansing, Mich., the state capitol. It’s definitely a grass roots movement, with some help from Ingham County officials.

In October, the area launched what is officially the state’s first municipally sponsored bike sharing system, Capital Community Bike Share.

As I wrote for Bridge, the system has only $30,000 of its initial $40,000 budget in hand. So the organizers couldn’t afford to emulate major city programs, said Eric Shertzing, director of the Ingham County Land Bank and organizer of the project.

Even down the road, the system doesn’t expect to have more than $150,000. “We’re doing this on little better than a shoestring,” Shertzing said. So, the Lansing system made some significant changes. Rather than hire one of the established companies, Capital Community partnered with an Ann Arbor startup, A2B Bike Share.

Instead of using kiosks, where credit-card transactions take place and bikes are unlocked, Capital Community is using a “smart bike, dumb rack” approach. It loaded A2B’s technology onto each bike, making them the riding equivalent of an Android phone. (The new Grid bike-sharing system in Phoenix, set to open this spring, is trying a similar approach.)

Capital Community is also using lighter, cheaper bikes than the bulky ones in New York and Chicago, which can cost $6,000 each. The streamlined model, essentially a mountain bike, costs $2,000.

Even that lower price has been a stretch for some of the system’s backers, Shertzing said, who question why the bike-sharing hardware costs so much more than a bike they might purchase for personal use. (The answer: Shared bikes are designed to be ridden more frequently than personal ones, by riders who might not always treat them gently)

“When you think about the potential for Michigan, you want to do things economically,” he said. Shertzing sees even bigger promise for the Lansing system. He’d like it to be a template for smaller-community bike sharing, and possibly spur production of Michigan-built bikes.

“I’m super excited at the idea that domestic manufacturing can work out,” Shertzing says. “There’s such a spirit in Michigan to hold onto that manufacturing. It would…be one of those game changers in how people would react to bike sharing, and how to move this along.”

Read my full story at Bridge Magazine and take a look at other bike features there, too.

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