Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Georgia Tech, meet viaCycle, your new bike-sharing program

Posted By on Tue, Sep 27, 2011 at 9:01 AM

The European practice of short-term bike rental is set to arrive at Georgia Tech — most likely this fall — in the form of viaCycle.

Here's how it works: Georgia Tech students, faculty and staff can search for a viaCycle bike either on the Web or with their eyes. They then check the bike out to themselves with a text message or phone call. An electronic cable lock mounted on the bicycle, which is turned on and off through phone texts, secures the bike in place for new customers. It can also be locked and unlocked while a customer pedals around town running errands. GPS tracking allows customers to find and check out a bike where the last user locked it up. The viaCycle technology is also intended to curb theft.

Kyle Azevedo and Siddharth Doshi, the company's founders, whipped up the company and its technology in Georgia Tech's Sustainable Design and Manufacturing lab as a way to start bike sharing in Atlanta without the pricey infrastructure that's helped tank similar programs in other cities. So far, they've managed to chug along smoothly with just $50,000 in grant money.

ViaCycle's expected to launch its "beta testing" period on Tech's campus in the next few months. Doshi said last summer that a pre-paid payment structure would be ideal after the testing phase. Early adopters would enjoy the first few months free. Intown Bicycles will provide maintenance. According to the viaCycle blog, staffers last week were putting the final touches on the "beta bikes." (Some models are expected to be available during Tech's Bike Week, which lasts until Friday. Here's a list of the scheduled events.)

While many large-scale citywide bike share programs fizzled out in the 90s (never forget Portland's Yellow Bike Project), the concept has enjoyed a more successful resurgence in the past five years as more smaller-scale, fee-based models arrived. Georgia State University also offers free at-the-desk bike rentals through Touch the Earth.

We've heard whispers that viaCycle technology, if successful, could be expanded to include the rest of the city. We'll keep our ears open. Let us know if you hear more details.

This post has been altered to correct an error about viaCycle's technology at Emory. See comment below.

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