A Smarter Model for Bicycle Sharing

A Smarter Model for Bicycle Sharing: A New York-based start-up is leveraging mobile phones and GPS technology to create a system that does away with expensive docking stations and proprietary bicycles.

Prototype of the SoBi bicycle sharing system

This is your first of three free stories this month. Become a free or sustaining member to read unlimited articles, webinars and ebooks.

Become A Member

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.

Like what you’re reading? Get a browser notification whenever we post a new story. You’re signed-up for browser notifications of new stories. No longer want to be notified? Unsubscribe.

Tags: new york cityinfrastructurebike-shareappsinternet accessmappingopen cities

Next City App Never Miss A StoryDownload our app ×

You've reached your monthly limit of three free stories.

This is not a paywall. Become a free or sustaining member to continue reading.

  • Read unlimited stories each month
  • Our email newsletter
  • Webinars and ebooks in one click
  • Our Solutions of the Year magazine
  • Support solutions journalism and preserve access to all readers who work to liberate cities

Join 954 other sustainers such as:

  • Anonymous at $5/Month
  • ROHIT at $5/Month
  • ROHIT at $5/Month

Already a member? Log in here. U.S. donations are tax-deductible minus the value of thank-you gifts. Questions? Learn more about our membership options.

or pay by credit card:

All members are automatically signed-up to our email newsletter. You can unsubscribe with one-click at any time.

  • Solutions of the year 2022

    Donate $20 or $5/Month

    2022-2023 Solutions of the Year magazine

  • Brave New Home

    Donate $40 or $10/Month

    Brave New Home by Diana Lind