Finally ‘User Friendly’ BikeShare

Background Reading



Because the Portland Bikeshare is set to use ‘smart bike‘ it will go the last stretch to hopefully make BikeShare more user-friendly. Whether you want to admit it or not the BikeShare systems in places like Chicago and NYC have a built-in method of extracting more money from a user than they might suspect.

Sure you have an iPhone app that allows you see where stations are so that you can ‘check back in‘ during the allotted time period. But frankly that feels more like an onus than anything else. And if you are not a native English reader and you miss that ‘check-in thingy‘ you can rack in lots of overages.

Just imagine if normal car rentals worked that way. Every 350 miles you were required to drive up to a station that is in the system for your rental service and step out of the car, enter the station and let the worker(s) on duty that you planned to keep the car another 350 miles or that you wanted to check it in.

They would have to look you up and then scan the car for dings and dents before handing you a receipt indicating that you had indeed turned it in. Whew!

A ‘SmartBike‘ Is Just What The Doctor Ordered

Now assuming that the system is truly functional, this new intelligent bike should be a real hoot to use. Among the things we have noticed about the Divvy system that are really aggravating are these:

  • Some stations are always, but always empty. Despite the app showing bikes in place the stations in the Medical District along Taylor Street are a joke.
  • What is even worse however is that when you reach some stations it appears that there is one bike remaining to be checked out. But that bike is weirdly ‘hung up‘ on some sort of malfunctioning ‘release catch‘. So the doctors and nurses trying to use it have to get on the phone and please with the Divvy operators to tell them what to do.
  • Sometimes the app has not been kept as up-to-date regarding the locations of stations as one might hope. This is a bummer if you thought you were going to park near you office or the office of a client only to have to schlep around looking for a ‘real station‘ rather than the virtual one on your phone.

So my hat goes off to Portland.

BikeShare Is ‘The Canary In The Mine Shaft’

One of the things that people who are avid cyclists seem to forget is that they are a very, very small minority of the human race. Nothing wrong with that, but it does make a difference where ‘getting converts‘ is concerned.

Have you ever had folks from certain religious groups show up at your doorstep wanted to spend a quality hour with you? Yeah, me too. It is sometimes painful to have to say no because you really do have somewhere to be. But at other times you take a look at the faces of the teenaged children that the parent is schlepping along on this missionary effort and you feel glad that you can spare them the ordeal of having to listen to their parent or older sibling trying to sell yet one more poor slob on the ‘keys to heaven‘.

Bicyclists are a lot like religious zealots. They are out to save everyone else but have no clue as to what people think about ‘their offering‘. Ever been to a party where some person is busy regaling people with stories about their worst blizzard ride to work?

The polite folks in the audience listen with a kind of quizzical half smile wondering what exactly is the point of this story while the rude folks simply make excuses to ‘hit the head‘ or ‘get a refill‘. And the worst thing that cyclists always seem to do is ‘send mixed messages‘. How does a story about ‘epic suffering in blizzard conditions‘ or a ‘ride through what you are terming a sketchy neighborhood‘ qualify as an invitation to become a full-time bicycle commuter?

Honestly the PR guy hired by the Urban Cycling Community is the worst ever. People do not want to hear about suffering and escaping personal danger in rough neighborhoods. What they want to hear about is ‘not basic transportation‘. That phrase has absolutely no meaning to a person who is not a committed member of the Urban Cycling Movement.

Bicycles are toys‘. I know, you hate that term. But has reached the level of ‘indisputable truth‘ in our culture in the same way same way that these notions have:

  • Blondes are dumb
  • Fat people are jolly
  • Blacks have rhythm and always eat watermelon
  • Cats are dismissive of their owners and dogs dote on them
  • Politicians are stupid
  • Religion is boring and inconsistent
  • Right-wing political groups are scary

I could go on. But frankly you know that I am telling you the truth. Nobody leaves a shiny new sports car to rust by the rust away by an inverted U-stand. But bicycles are routinely dumped. This is in fact a problem even in Amsterdam.

BikeShare Gives Ordinary People The Chance To ‘Use’ A Bicycle

What you are looking for is the ‘teachable moment‘. Allow a person who is looking to get to the other side of town to use a bike for that purpose (especially when a cab is hard to hail) and you have demonstrated to them that a bike can be ‘basic transportation‘.

Make it a painless experience where their pocketbook is not cleared of its contents with overages and you suddenly have a person who is aware of your services and likes them. And if that person is getting off the commuter train in the Loop area and heading over to Michigan Avenue and is saved precious minutes then all the better. This is a person who might think seriously about an annual pass.

What is important in all these interactions is that there are no strings attached. Using the bike is just that. You are not declaring a life-long commitment to bicycling. You don’t have to let your armpit hair grow, or get any sleeve ink or a nose ring. You just have to ride the bike to some place across town for an appointment to get to work, that is all.

You may even have occasion to use the bike at luncheon to grab a hotdog at a great little place a mile or two away. You can be back before the boss starts looking for you. That is how a bicycle in actual use integrates in peoples lives.

They do not have to be ‘making a statement‘. There is nothing for them to sign that says this coming August they have to ride around with their junk hanging out to protest the improper use of oil, or the slaughtering of non-free-range chickens or the fact that people who should have lost a few pounds and did not and are now riding around looking like poster children for a diet commercial can do so with pride.

Half of what passes as de rigueur amongst cyclist is a lot of clap trap that frankly has very little if anything to do with the ‘use‘ of a bicycle. It seems that in addition to be treated like a toy, bicycles are being burdened with the angst-ridden concerns of people who frankly need therapists more than soap boxes. And the bicycle is neither a nose ring nor a soap box.

So hopefully the Portland experiment in BikeShare will pass with flying colors.