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Denver Rolls Along on RFID-Powered Bikes
The city's bicycle-sharing program, Denver B-cycle, employs passive tags to automate the dispensing and usage of 500 bikes available at dozens of sites, as well as analyze routes taken by the participants.
May 17, 2010—In cities around the world, bike-sharing programs have cropped up in recent years as a means of providing commuters and tourists in urban corridors with a convenient, zero-emissions transportation alternative (see Bike Rental Program Peddles Smart Cards and Montreal RFID-enabled Bike Project Picks Up Speed for examples in Lyon, France, and Quebec, Canada, respectively). Last month, Denver became the latest city to embrace this trend, launching Denver B-cycle, the largest bike-sharing program in the United States, with 500 bikes available through more than 50 RFID-enabled bike stations (B-stations) throughout the city.
The B-stations, supplied by Kiosk Information Systems, include locking bicycle racks and a kiosk similar to an automated teller machine. The bikes, made by Wisconsin-based Trek, are secured via a rack's locking docks. A station might contain as few as five locking docks, or as many as 25. The quantity of docks at each station is determined by the amount of traffic that B-cycle expects the stations to receive throughout the day. Generally, it keeps an average of 1.5 locking docks per bike. Users can access a bicycle in one of two ways. Infrequent users can utilize a credit card to purchase a short-term, 24-hour membership at a bike station's kiosk. This allows an individual to select a bicycle and, once the transaction is complete, remove it from the rack, with a beep and a green light indicating the selected bike is unlocked and available for use.
Alternatively, those planning to use a B-cycle on a regular basis can purchase a 7-day, 30-day or annual membership online (not at a station kiosk). Those who purchase such memberships receive an RFID card, called a B-card, in the mail. They can then use that card to retrieve any available bike from a station, with the added bonus that they can skip the kiosk and go directly to the bicycle and unlock it.
"We think of the B-card as a FasTrak for bikes," says Andrew Davison, the chief marketing officer for B-cycle LLC, referring to the RFID-based electronic toll-collection system used in California. "Imagine a busy [station] with 25-plus bikes, and a line of people waiting at the kiosk." The card system, he says, makes the process of obtaining a bicycle considerably faster than using the kiosk.
B-cycle LLC is a national organization formed through a partnership between health insurance company Humana, Trek and ad firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky, to develop the technology and business systems used for Denver's program, run by a nonprofit organization known as Denver Bike Sharing. B-cycle LLC is also working with other cities and countries worldwide, to launch similar bike-sharing programs that may or may not carry the B-cycle name.
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