D.C. launches smart bike program

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Following the example set by several European cities, Washington D.C. has launched a Smart Bike program with an American twist. The program, operated by JCDecaux, which operates a similar program in Paris with a fleet of 10,000 bikes, is a combined effort of the city's Department of Transportation and Clear Channel, which controls the ad business of Washington's mass transit shelters.

Riders pay a $40 annual membership fee to gain the right to use one of the 120 bikes stored at 10 locations around town convenient to bus and train stations. They are issued a card that will open the lock securing the Smart Bike in its storage rack. Members may keep the bikes for up to three hours, at which time they must be returned to a Smart Bike location. Riders may then immediately borrow another bike, though. The rental doesn't include either helmet or lock, however, and riders are liable for the cost of lost or stolen bikes at $550. Ouch!

The bikes are configured for city riding, with fenders, luggage rack, lights, and a skirts-friendly frame. Washington is known for its network of bike paths, so such a system might be a more efficient way to get around than trying to find parking hither and yon while running one's errands.

JCDecaux's European fleets offer even more sophisticated touches, such as Bluetooth connectivity to the rider's cell phone, providing real-time suggested route info and bike return locations. Look for such systems to appear in more U.S. high-density communities if the D.C. experience works out.

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