Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Georgia Tech's bike-share program launches

Posted By on Wed, Nov 16, 2011 at 11:13 AM

ViaCycle bikes are built for comfort, with easy-mounting frames and wide saddles
  • George Weidman
  • ViaCycle's big beefy bikes are built for comfort, with low-riding frames and wide saddles
Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson yesterday recalled the time several young people visited his office to pitch him on a bike-share program at the prestigious university.

"A team of about five people and a bicycle showed up in my office," said Georgia Tech President G.P. "Bud" Peterson. "They talked about this idea they had: to create a company that would change the way we think about bike sharing."

That company — which includes several former Tech students — became ViaCycle, which on Tuesday officially kicked off its new high-tech bike-share program that will allow Georgia Tech students, faculty, and staff to purchase short-term bike rentals by using their cell phones. It's the latest in a long list of improvements Atlanta's making to serve cyclists

Councilmembers Keisha Lance Bottoms and (the always-bicycling) Aaron Watson were there to congratulate the viaCycle team and pitch their vision of a more connected and carless Atlanta transportation network.

"The bike sharing program represents a huge step for alternative transportation in Atlanta," Bottoms said. "It will undoubtedly help Atlanta in our quest to become a top 10 sustainable city, a goal that Mayor Reed set more than a year ago."

Said Watson: "I hope the city of Atlanta will catch up following this innovation and have a bike share program around the entire city."

The launch reception included a live demo during which Siddharth Doshi, viaCycle's chief technology officer, unlocked one of the bicycles with his cell phone. He called up the service's rental line and inputted the bike's tag number and his account PIN, which remotely disabled the cable lock mounted on top of the bike's rear wheel. A plastic installation on each bike houses the cellular modem, GPS, and all the mechanical doodads needed to remotely unlock the bicycle. It doubles as a storage rack, too. Nifty.

For now, viaCycle bikes are only available to George Tech students and faculty and can only be rented from five drop-off points on campus. Expanding to other parts of the city is one of the founders' goals — but one they plan to achieve slowly and cautiously.

"We have been talking to the city and the Beltline," said Doshi. "And we would really like to expand into the city and not just stay in Georgia Tech. The idea is once this program is up and running and we work out all the technical kinks, to [then] go out and replicate this on other campuses and in other cities, including Atlanta."

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