ARCHIVES: This is legacy content from before Sustainable Cities Collective was relaunched as Smart Cities Dive in early 2017. Some information, such as publication dates or images, may not have migrated over. For the latest in smart city news, check out the new Smart Cities Dive site or sign up for our daily newsletter.

Austin's New Bike-Share System Solves An Old Dilemma

In theory, bike-sharing is a great idea. It's a great way to cut down on pollution, get some exercise and reach your destination without worrying about traffic. The trouble with many bike-sharing systems, however, is in the restriction of bike stations to specific locations, which are far from your actual destination. Spin, recently launched on March 10 in Austin, Texas, has finally solved this dilemma: Stash your shared bike anywhere you like. 

Experts at Spin spent a year studying the Bay Area Bike Share system and found that the number of uses was startlingly slow, at an average of 1.7 times per bike, on a typical day. Seattle and Boston had a usage rate that pushed twice a day. The reason for the low rates was the difficulty with getting the bike to the appropriate station, often far from the user's travel needs. 

Spin solves this problem by eliminating stations altogether and allowing users to park their shared bike at any nearby bike rack. Theoretically, this makes bikes more accessible to those who need them, within a few walkable blocks. 

Are Stationless Systems Sustainable?

Is it really as easy as picking up your bike at a train station and locking it up outside your office at the nearest rack? Is it sustainable? Yes and yes.

Consider the fact that the model of stations is expensive for many cities. For the Bay Area Bike Share program, the cost is about $5,000 per bike, with hourly and daily pass options for users. Instead of charging the city, Spin's consumers pick up the tab directly, for the price of roughly $1 per half hour ride. They get the added bonus of depositing the bike at a conveniently located bike rack of their choice.

This frees up crucial financial resources cities could use to develop bike lanes and invest in racks to encourage greener travel, taking the pressure off of crowded public transit systems. Fuel-efficient cars and alternative fuel choices usually affect change at slower pace, if at all, and their impact is often minimal on the demand for oil. However, this system presents a fast and efficient way forward in offering more options for environmentally friendly travel. 

Wasted Time and Money on Inefficient Transportation Methods

Many commuters use a combination of transportation methods to run errands and get to work, including cars, trains, buses and taxis. They must battle schedules and race against the clock to get to their destinations, but some legs of the journey have transportation needs that aren't met. 

If you're in a big city like San Francisco, you shouldn't have to waste time and money to get from the train station in a cab to the financial district, with 30 minutes spent on a one-mile ride that could've been walked in less time. 

These are the transportation dilemmas people face every day. In many smaller cities, the buses may come once on the hour, if that. While apps like Uber and Lyft help pick up the taxi slack, there are still worrisome surge costs and time demands. 

The stress of being caught in a traffic jam only increases health risk factors of depression and major diseases, not to mention societal pressures and environmental damage. Stationless bike systems like Spin are an efficient part of the solution to growing concerns over traffic congestion on the roads. Many cities also divert funds to build up the tourist industry by introducing the use of street cars, which while charming are not beneficial to solving existing transportation issues.

Cities are slow to introduce bike sharing on a larger scale because they're afraid the usage won't work out in relation to the cost. It's hard to make everyone happy, but Spin presents an easier solution with cheaper access.

Spin wants to work with cities to gain the correct permits and improve transportation access for all commuters. This will help cities to invest more in bike infrastructure without wasting valuable financial resources for a system that risks not paying itself off. 

This is a major step forward in offering more public transportation systems that make sense to the consumer, while reducing congestion on the roads and improving the environment. Spin is currently developing plans to offer its stationless system to other cities in 2017. Hopefully, more cities will follow Austin's lead and embrace this trend.