2008-06-27 07:58:56 GMT 2008-06-27 15:58:56 (Beijing Time) SINA.com
SmartBikes are parked outside the Reeves Center in Washington, DC, the US on June 26, 2008, as Clear Channel Outdoor in conjunction with the District Department of Transportation will be starting the first self-service public bike rental program. (AFP Photo)
WASHINGTON - With oil prices sky-high, bikes for hire have finally rolled into the United States looking for riders in the US capital, as they have with success in Paris, Lyon and Barcelona.
In the next few months, the US federal capital, Washington DC, will be the first city in the United States to have a two-wheeled transport solution unveiled under its nose.
A rival of Jean-Claude Decaux, whose Velib are popular on Paris streets, Clear Channel Outdoor is bringing the biking scheme stateside. The US company also hopes to branch out into other US cities soon such as Minneapolis, Albuquerque and Portland, Oregon.
The city government here gave the green light for Smartbike, starting on a small scale: with about 100 bikes and 10 parking locations where the red loaner bicycles can be picked up and dropped off.
It works like this: for an annual fee of 40 dollars paid for online the bike can be taken out for no additional cost for up to three hours.
There is no deposit necessary but the biker-to-be leaves a credit card number on file and gives his date of birth. Those under 18 cannot ride. Smartbikes should be on DC streets later this month, the company said.
With Americans aghast at the high cost of gasoline, many are trying to rethink their heavy use of cars and Smartbikes could be arriving at an ideal time.
"We don't have any numbers for the final scope, but we believe it's going to be very successful," said German-born Martina Schmidt, who leads Clear Channel Outdoor's Smartbike division.
Many cities around Europe have embraced the concept of the loaner bike but it is new to the United States.
"I think (historically), people in the US are more linked with their car," said Schmidt.
Bicycles as an everyday transport solution are very under-used in the United States. According to the Earth Policy Institute bike trips now represent just 0.9 percent of all trips and commutes Americans make.
The US Census Bureau notes that about 623,000 people in a country of more than 300 million use their bike to commute to work. But it is a third more than in 2002 when 465,000 people commuted by bike.
In Europe, Clear Channel started out in Rennes in 1998 with 250 bikes and also has loaner systems running in Perpignan, Dijon and Caen.
The company has more than tripled its fleet of bikes in Barcelona, which in one year's time soared from 1,500 to 6,000. It also just signed a deal with Milan to put in place 1,200 loaner bikes there.
City cycling really caught on in Paris with the introduction in 2007 of the highly successful bicycle rental scheme Velib.
In 2005, the French capital reported that 63 percent more people using bicycles than in 1997, but the numbers have soared since then.