When Portland launched its bike-share system last week, it became the biggest American city to go live with a “smart bike” model. The system allows users to drop off bikes anywhere within the service area, as opposed to the more prevalent “smart dock” model, where users pick up and return bikes only at fixed stations.
Portland’s new bike-share system has stations, but you can lock your bike up anywhere in the service area. Photo: Bike Portland
James Sinclair at Stop and Move considers some of the advantages and disadvantages of each system:
In a smart dock system, everything is handled by the dock and an attached kiosk. On a smart bike system, the bicycle itself carries all the technology. That means you can lock your bicycle to anything. You use a pin code to remove the built in lock and when you’re done, you reattach the lock to the bicycle (and another fixed object of course). Built in GPS ensures the company knows where the bike is.
So why pick one system over another? If most cities have used smart docks, why did Portland go with smart bikes?
The biggest factor involves cost and ease of deployment. A smart bike system actually requires zero infrastructure. You can release the bicycles and let users dock wherever they want — existing racks, fences etc. Docking areas can be created virtually, and displayed with signs or stickers…
One of the major problems with a smart dock system is arriving at a station where every dock is full. That scenario can simply never happen with a smart bike system, since you can lock up to a pole or fence.
But systems like Portland’s have drawbacks too, he says: