The nation's capital is the first U.S. city to launch a high-tech bike-sharing system, similar to popular programs in Paris, Barcelona and other European cities.
For $40 a year, subscribers to SmartBike DC can use a fleet of 100 red three-speed bikes, kept in 10 electronically controlled self-service racks downtown.
“People are familiar with car-sharing – Zipcar and Flexcar. Now we have bike-sharing,” Mayor Adrian Fenty said at the kickoff Wednesday.
SmartBike targets residents, not tourists, said Jim Sebastian, bicycle and pedestrian program manager for the District Department of Transportation. Many racks are near Metro stops, allowing workers to take the subway downtown, then use the bikes. An online map shows the location of racks, number of bikes available and the number of open return slots.
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SmartBike is part of a 20-year contract between the city and Clear Channel Outdoor, an advertising company that renovated bus shelters and maintains SmartBike in exchange for ad space. SmartBike revenues go to the city.
SmartBike members receive a “smart card” to swipe over a sensor to unlock a bike. Rentals are limited to three hours, but riders can take out a second bike as soon as the first is returned. On the program's first day, all 20 bikes taken out were returned on time.