Take two for Rio de Janeiro's bicycle rental program

RIO DE JANEIRO -- "Bike Rio" is the second incarnation of a bicycle hire program for the Brazilian city after the first failed to take off. Will it convince Cariocas to pedal?

RIO DE JANEIRO -- As the 2016 Summer Olympic Games nears, Rio de Janeiro is taking steps to become more sustainable. One of the most prominent involves two-wheeled transport.

One of the city’s latest efforts, a program to stimulate Cariocas to use bicycles as a primary mode of transport, was relaunched a month ago. "Bike Rio" is the new version of "Pedala Rio," a biking rental program that ended in 2010, which survived for just over a year.

This time, City Hall says its efforts are going to stick around. The new program models its structure on those in Amsterdam and Paris, and the rate to rent a bicycle is now half of what it used to be. Organizers also say the security system that failed in the previous try is improved. There are also many more bikes and stations than the program's previous incarnation.

In partnership with Itaú Bank and Serttel -- the latter which developed the new system -- the “laranjinhas” ("oranges," referring to the color of the bikes), can be seen on the streets and at the 35 stations around the city. More stations are planned; the promise was 60 in total, with 600 bicycles available by the end of the year.

To use the bikes, riders must register online. A monthly pass costs 10 reais (approximately US$5.57) and a one hour ride costs five reais. Customers can check bicycle availability online, as well as find open station spots to drop the bicycle off when they are finished with it. (There is a 60-minute time limit on rides.)

"I've been using it mostly to go to the gym, and I thought it was really organized," engineer Daniel Oberling said when SmartPlanet dropped by. "[However] it is impossible for me to go to work with it because I work far from home and there's no station there."

Oberling lives in Leblon, in the South Zone of Rio, and works in the Federal University of Rio, in Ilha do Fundão, a neighborhood in the North Zone of town. In 2008, the city planned to expand the system rapidly from Downtown and the South Zone -- the most wealthy part of town -- to the North Zone and West Zone, where people use more public transportation. Now, the organizers have reconsidered, placing the stations first only in Downtown Rio and the South Zone, in an attempt to spur adoption before further investment.

Public transportation -- bus, subway or regional rail -- is the primary mode of transport in metropolitan areas of Brazil. Sixty-six percent of Brazilians living in urban centers use it. In Rio, the bus is the transport mode of choice; private car use is just 13 percent, the lowest of any major city in the country.

The new Bike Rio system seeks to convince Cariocas that bicycles can be used to go to work -- but it growing pains remain. Journalist Eduardo Torres told SmartPlanet that there is a station right in front of his house and one in front of his office, but he doesn’t use it yet.

"I have thought of going to work by bike, but the problem is that I always walk by the station and it’s always full of bikes," he said. "If I get one at home, where am I going to park it? I don’t want to be fined."

If there is no free spot available at a station, you're forced to find one at another station close by. But if a rider exceeds the 60-minute limit on his or her rental, a 5 reais penalty is levied for each hour thereafter.

Which is why Rio's first bicycle hire program failed. Customers often failed to return the bikes, or stole them outright: 56 of the 100 bicycles made available were stolen in the first 15 days.

A month into the program, Bike Rio has experienced no bike thefts.

Photo: Mobilicidade

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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