Bike sharing is taking off the world over. According to one count, at least 500 cities and towns now have some sort of scheme. But, in fact, the trend doesn't stop there. As well as public projects, there are also increasing numbers of private ones, delivered by universities, real estate owners, and others. These initiatives have the potential to meet demand where governments can't; it's bike sharing for everyone else.
Zagster, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is working with about a dozen organizations to offer rides, using various membership models. For example, it has signed up with Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures, in Detroit, to put in 48 "Breezer" bikes in eight locations. About 9,200 employees are able to use them for free. All they need to do is join Zagster online, and then text in for an access code.
Zagster, which started as a consulting company for public share schemes, also has relationships with Yale University, and property management companies, like Forest City, which operates buildings for M.I.T. Yale put in 50 bikes this spring. Students only need to pay a $20 annual fee—which they get back if they complete a cycling safety class.
Tim Ericson, Zagster's CEO, says these organizations have several reasons for offering bikes. "Apartment complexes see this as a low-cost high-value amenity. Universities have transportation problems and are looking for ways to get people out of cars, and reduce their carbon emissions. Companies like Quicken Loans are looking to find innovative new perks."
Ericson says Quicken and Rock Ventures (which is the larger holding company) have an extra motivation in Detroit: helping to reinvigorate downtown commerce. Providing bikes means employees are more likely to explore the city during lunch-hour, or when commuting, and therefore to spend locally. "What we find is that people get on these bikes and go to lunch. If you're in Detroit and you want to go over to Greektown, it would take too long to walk, but hopping on a bike, it's much quicker."
Half of Zagster's partners are offering bikes for free at the moment; half are charging, keeping revenue for themselves. Zagster charges a monthly fee per bike, which covers racks, maintenance and technology. Ericson says the cost is about a tenth of a typical public scheme bike, which can be anything up to $10,000 a pop.
Ericson sees the service as expanding the reach of public systems, which have natural limits. "It makes it applicable to communities outside big metropolitan areas. Citi Bike, and Hubway here in Boston, are doing well inside large cities. But, given their model, it's difficult to go to other types of communities."
With $1 million in venture funding last year, Ericson sees a lot of opportunity to expand to further colleges and companies. "If you look at Zipcar, they started at a few universities, and within two years, they were in over 100. We're looking for similar growth across the United States."