My Other Bike is a Public Transportation System by Greg Beato at Reason.com:
A bike delivers a strong sense of autonomy, too—stronger even than a car in many ways. It doesn’t, for example, require a license, registration, insurance. You aren’t beholden to routes or schedules. You go where you want, when you want. Unless the bike you’re riding is part of a bike-sharing program. Then your usage is more proscribed. Take, for example, SmartBike D.C., America’s first high-tech bike-sharing program. Launched in August, and, like Velib, funded by an advertising company (Clear Channel Outdoor in this case) in return for the right to advertise on the city’s bus shelters, the program currently consists of 120 bikes and ten docking stations, all of which are clustered within a relatively small radius downtown.
For a $40 annual fee, users get a smart card that allows them to unlock a bike from its docking station and start contributing to America’s energy independence.
Sounds like a great free-market solution. Right? Greg doesn’t think it’s so great:
it’s like you own the bike, except you don’t. You’re not permitted to let someone else ride it. You’re not permitted to put too much stuff in the front basket. (The baskets are for “light goods” only.) You aren’t supposed to ride it in “inclement and dangerous weather.” You have to return it to very specific places at very specific times. If something on your bike breaks while you’re riding it, you aren’t supposed to take it to the nearest bike shop or attempt to make the repair yourself. Instead, you have to call SmartBike’s customer service line and wait for a repair person to respond to your request for help. At least when a bus breaks down, you can abandon ship and take destiny in your own hands.
For me, this would still be good if there were stations nearby, because I just don’t have room to store a bike or two. There’s a large basement in our building, but for some reason the landlord doesn’t want to use any of it for storage. I think combining this service with a gym membership (for the showers) is a great way to commute. But there just has to be a critical mass of stations for it to become viable…