Cycling Visionaries Awards – Project Details

Bike on the House

Bike on the House

Cities want to dramatically promote commuting by bicycle but the path is not clear. A lower cost supplement or alternative to bike share programs would be for municipalities to simply give out free commuter bicycles of one simple design and colour. Recipients would have specified responsibilities, with a locator in each bicycle. Corporate advertisement could easily pay for the entire venture.

To dramatically increase bicycle commuting, the most efficient market driven approach is for cities to give out free bicycles to residents. Cities would design, spec and source a large number of inexpensive commuter bicycles and let residents apply. Residents could chose from among specified times and places around the city, bring identification, and be given a fully assembled bicycle and lock. They would be prepared to ride away with it. Each bicycle would have a GPS locator.

The difficulty of buying a bicycle is a significant barrier for many commuters. First is the cost, particularly in big cities. The alternative is to buy a used bicycle which has high transaction costs and encourages bicycle theft, since bicycle theft is proven to be based on resale. Also, many who simply want to commute are uncertain about which bicycle to buy and are intimidated by bicycle stores that try to up-sell. Although the bicycle retail business may have initial concerns, the dramatic increase in ridership will likely mean only a small drop in sales or more likely, an increase. Many will prefer different or more expensive models than those distributed by the city, once they are used to commuting.

The administration is simple. There would be no means testing and the goal would simply be to get as many commuters using bicycles as possible. But the advantages in time and money saved would be particularly dramatic for the poor. Cities with congested public transportation would find relief, particularly as many commuters would choose to mix a single public transport line with a short bicycle commute rather than transferring public transport lines.

Those who receive the bicycle would sign on for specific responsibilities: they would obey traffic regulations, take care of the bicycle and ensure that it is in good working order and that it stays indoors or is is moved at least once in each fortnight. They would agree that if they move out of the city or do not want the bicycle anymore, they will give it to another person who will take over responsibility or will give it back for refurbishment and redistribution. Because of the locator within the frame, monitoring would not be difficult. Those who do not carry out the commitments would simply loose their free bicycle. They are still welcome to buy their own.

A large order of simple identical bicycles would be inexpensive for a city governments and the entire venture could be paid for by corporate sponsorship, which would have a large and obvious corporate social responsibility aspect. The entire project internally and in parallel would bring with it many semiskilled jobs. The main reason for abandoned commuter bicycles is flat tires or simple mechanical problems. But with identical bicycles, businesses would arise that could make repairs anywhere by text message during a work day or in the evenings, significantly lowering abandonment. Because the bicycles' components would be identical, these parallel mobile repair businesses could spring up.

This project was categorized under Advocacy and Social Projects but could just as easily have gone under Urban Planning and Urban Design because city governments could decide were to target distribution. These could be in low income areas where public transport costs comprise a large portion of household expenses, or areas where parking is particularly difficult. The locators would give a significant amount of information about commuting and bicycle parking patterns of great use to city planners. And finally, because no city has yet tried this (as far as we know) there is significant first mover advantage in terms of branding.

Ownership has advantages. The best public private partnerships mix public and private ownership. It is this type of inexpensive networked but very visible cooperation between residents, commuters, and voters on the one hand and city authorities on the other that has the ability to truly transform how people move throughout a city.

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Mark Mullen
Tbillisi, Georgia

Category: Advocacy and Social Projects

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