This Smart Bike-Sharing Startup Is Looking To Blaze A New Path

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This is the final post of an eight-part “Best New Small Businesses” series highlighting Atlanta’s growing entrepreneurial scene. This series is sponsored by PNC Bank. More in the series »

viaCycleviaCycle was originally hatched by five engineers during post-graduate studies at Georgia Tech University.

The startup viaCycle is a different type of bike-sharing model. It’s a “Smart Bike-Sharing” company looking to blaze a path through Atlanta and eventually the rest of the country.

What makes viaCycle different from programs like Citi Bike in New York City?

The bikes will be GPS-enabled, meaning users can lock and unlock bicycles through a phone call, text, or mobile app.

The company also won’t have to build docking stations because the bikes don’t need one — the app will show users the nearest area to pick up and drop off their rentals. This means the bikes can be locked to any standard bike rack, which also cut costs by one-third when compared to other similar kiosk-based sharing systems.

Siddharth Doshi, the CTO of viaCycle, tells Business Insider that the initial idea for viaCycle came from the fact that “we wanted to implement bike-sharing at Georgia Tech, and all the existing systems were too difficult and expensive to implement.”

At the time in 2011, the bike-sharing trend had just taken off in Europe and Doshi and his CEO Kyle Azevedo wanted to create something similar in Atlanta. “When we first launched, most people didn’t know what bike-sharing was … Now people are familiar with docking stations, and most decision makers are aware of ‘smart-bike’ systems as well.”

Since its inception, the company has grown from 10 bikes on the campus of Georgia Tech to over 100. 

viaCycle

How it works
Existing mostly as a vendor to large-scale institutions, viaCycle provides everything required of a shared bicycle fleet.

Through hardware, it’s able to track bicycle location and ridership.

Once users have their bikes (the app will reveal the nearest location), they can unlock them by sending a text and including the bike’s number. Payment is also automatic through the app, so there will be no need to carry a credit card during rental.

The pricing structure is determined by the institutions viaCycle works with. At Georgia Tech for example, rentals are free for the first 30 minutes with a standard membership. After that, for anywhere from 6-24 hours it costs $20. 

The future of bike sharing in Atlanta and how viaCycle hopes to fit in

Atlanta is the latest city trying to catch up with bike-sharing programs spreading across the nation

The Southern city hopes that by 2016 it will have a vast network of bicycle facilities available, with 570 bicycles at 57 stations throughout the metropolitan area.

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“What I envision is folks getting to jump on a bikeshare bike and travel through major dedicated facilties to get to all the major shopping centres, theatres, parks,” says Joshua Mello, the city’s Assistant Director of Transportation. 

Atlanta has already allocated more than $2 million to upgrade existing bicycle lanes and build Atlanta’s first bicycle boulevard and neighbourhood greenway.

The proposed plan will include 120 miles of bicycle facilities and 60 miles of bicycle lanes connecting bikers from the west side (Pine City) to Inwood Park, in addition to the Midtown area.

Atlanta is considering both fixed programs (those with a kiosk) and flexible systems (bicycles with an inherent locking mechanism like viaCycle’s). Mello says there are tradeoffs to both. Fixed station systems allow anyone visiting to walk up to a station and use a bike at any moment without having to be registered.

But Doshi believes that flexible programs will be more common in the near future because of its cost-effective technology.

“The proven model so far has been with docking stations,” Doshi says. “Smart-bike systems still haven’t been implemented at city-wide scales yet which means cities will likely go with the traditional solution, but that is changing slowly.”

If viaCycle catches on though, smart-bike systems could take hold quicker than some might think. 

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