'Green' Bike Sharing Program in Miami Hopes to Ease Gridlock

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Residents of Miami Beach, Fla., have access to a new set of  wheels to cruise the beaches: DecoBike bicycle sharing program is aimed at cutting down on pollution and easing gridlock, while pumping up people's health.

Shanice Taylor says she hates the hassle of driving through thick South Beach traffic during high season, hunting for a place to park so she can make it to her modeling job on time, and then doing it all over again an hour later for the next photo shoot.

That’s why she loves the DecoBike.

“Going green is what everyone on South Beach is now about,” Taylor says. “So instead of driving your Lamborghinis that suck up gas, why don’t you grab your DecoBike and save the environment while doing it, right?”

Miami Beach's local government donated the space throughout the compact island for 100 bike kiosks, which hold 1,000 bikes ready for rental. Riders can pay a monthly $15 fee for the program which allows you to rent the bikes as many times as you like, detaching it from one kiosk, pedaling to where you want to go and then plugging it back in to another kiosk. When you’re done shopping, you just go to any nearby kiosk you’d like, detach another bike, and so on. One-day passes costs $14 and three days passes are $30 for unlimited 30 minute trips.  Each additional 30 minutes is billed at $4.

After successful bike-sharing programs in Barcelona, Spain; Paris, and Montreal, the concept is now up and running -- or pedaling -- in Miami Beach. Organizers aim to replace short, carbon-emitting trips in the car with short, no carbon-emitting rides on a DecoBike.

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation's Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey estimates that 82 percent of trips five miles or less are made with a personal car. According to the Clean Air Council, short trips are proportionally more polluting than long distance trips because 60 percent of a vehicle's pollution is released in the first few minutes of the operation of a vehicle, before pollution control devices can work effectively.

“It’s about convenience. It’s saving people time, and time is money,” says Colby Reese, vice president of DecoBike. “There’s no more looking for hard-to-find and expensive parking spaces here on Miami Beach, and parking is always challenging.”

There have been 40,000 rides in the program’s first month. On average, each bike is used five times a day, far exceeding even his optimistic expectations, Reese said.

In Montreal, after that city’s bike renting/sharing program was hyped as a great, green solution to carbon-emitting mufflers, McGill University researchers conducted an analysis and found that about 85 percent of bike riders would have walked or taken the bus anyway, casting some skepticism on the “green hype.”

But Reese believes the DecoBike experience will be quite different in densely packed South Beach--which is a mile wide and a few miles long—where tourists and locals often rely on the city’s easy-to-spot fleet of yellow taxicabs.

“One DecoBike station can serve about 300 people a day, instead of a parking space,” he adds.

The high ridership and apparent success so far of the DecoBike program is already spurring interest from other cities, like San Francisco, San Diego and south of the border in Latin America.

And, of course, in sunny Miami Beach, where hot bodies are hot commodities, riding a bike is good exercise, after all.