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Spin believes its approach to bike sharing will help solve the last-mile transit issue in our cities.
AUSTIN, Texas — Bikeshare systems have become a staple of major and midsize cities. More than 40 cities in the United States, ranging in size from Fargo to New York City, have bikeshare programs, and cities generally credit them with increasing the mobility of their citizens.
These systems typically are point-to-point affairs: you go to a kiosk, unlock a bike, and take it to another kiosk elsewhere in the city. A new company, Spin, is looking to disrupt that model, starting in Austin with an announcement coinciding with SXSW.
Founded by alumni of Disqus, Lyft, and Y Combinator, Spin believes it can make bikeshare even more efficient and convenient—and perhaps cheaper—by allowing its users to pick up and drop a bike wherever it’s legal to do so. Derrick Ko, founder of Spin, calls it “on-demand, station-less bikeshare.”
Ko explained, “Our mission is to make cities about people again. We want to solve the last-mile transportation problem, and station-less bikeshare is our first stab at it.”
The model Spin seems closest to Car2Go: it allows you to find a bike on a local map via their app, drive it where you need to go and leave it in any legal parking space allowed through agreement with the local city. According to TechCrunch, Spin hopes to roll out 100,000 bikes across the country in 2017 alone.
Kiosk-less bike systems are all the rage in China—both in the positive and negative sense of the word. As Quartz recently reported, “venture capital firms have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into rival companies, all competing to become China’s ‘Uber for bikes.’” The competition and efficiency has drastically reduced the price of the service, but also in sightings of random bikes left in odd places like the middle of highways, as well as bike piles “in dumpsters, ditches, rivers, and even trees.”
In the case of Spin, Ko has said the founding team will be “on the ground [in Austin] to personally manage, maintain and encourage responsible use of our bikes around the city.”
Many cities, such as Washington, D.C., were careful to negotiate the placement of bikeshare kiosks in a manner that ensures equity of service across neighborhoods, ensuring there isn’t a bias of service based on socio-economic strata. That could be out the window, or at least much harder to manage, with Spin’s system.
Austin also has its own point-to-point kiosk system, B-cycle, which provided over 200,000 rides in 2016, and is adding capacity to the system to keep up with demand.
Spin’s bikes look much like those in New York and other major cities, a hulking step-through bike built more for steady abuse than speed. That said, unlike the Motivate CitiBikes in New York, Spin’s vehicles have six gears instead of three.
According to Ko’s interview with TechCrunch, Spin plans to “work with government authorities as it scales up, rather than simply dropping bikes on a city and seeing how it goes.”
Mitch Herckis is Senior Program Director for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.