Ever since Paris launched its Velib bicycle sharing network in 2007, cities around the world have been eager to jump on the bike sharing bandwagon. Yet while interest in the idea seems limitless, few cities have actually managed to successfully take the leap. With high start-up costs for Velib type networks – which involve proprietary bicycle designs and require installation of physical docking stations – many cities have been reluctant to invest. However, a new venture called the Social Bicycle System (SoBi) is hoping that its more open approach to bicycle sharing can help to reduce these costs significantly.
Founder Ryan Rzepecki, a former bicycle planner at the New York City Department of Transportation, started working on SoBi in October 2008, armed with the idea that a more efficient and affordable alternative to the European bike share model could be developed. With little experience in product development and manufacturing, Ryan nonetheless assembled a team of collaborators that has produced a prototype for the system – which consists of a secure lockbox that can be added to any bicycle (and secured to any standard lock), along with enabling software leveraging standard GPS technology and mobile phones. The cost of the system per bicycle is expected to be $500 – in contrast with more that $4000 for Velib type proprietary systems.
The system is being tested in New York this fall, and SoBi is hoping to launch the system with a few initial large-scale partners. However, what’s perhaps most exciting is that given its lower cost and open model – SoBi could eventually be adopted by individuals and smaller organizations to create organic bike sharing networks that could conceivably stretch around the world. If anyone with a mobile phone can easily find and use a bicycle when they need it, SoBi (and any other systems like it) could well be poised to help bicycle sharing live up to its full potential.