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技术

自行车分享系统背后的高科技

David Whitford 2011年05月20日

与朋友共享一辆自行车,除了相互信任,还需要一把U形锁。与整座波士顿城共享600辆自行车,得靠高科技和大笔投资。爱莉森•科恩的阿尔塔自行车分享公司已做好准备,担当此重任。

    爱莉森•科恩曾每天骑行17英里上下班。现在,她坦承:“那确实是种疯狂的通勤方式。”但是,正是这段经历,让她对自己眼下从事的工作充满了信心。她现在是阿尔塔自行车分享(Alta Bicycle Share)公司的总裁。该公司是家发展迅速的城市自行车分享项目运营商,总部位于美国俄勒冈州波特兰。

    在自行车分享项目中,这种无碳交通工具停在遍及全城的租赁点,会员只需支付少量年费,即可租用任意一辆。这一运动始自哥本哈根,2005年又传到了巴黎,现在大有在美国攻城拔寨之势。2010年,丹佛、明尼阿波利斯、华盛顿特区等均推出了大型自行车分享项目。今夏,如同在华盛顿特区一样,阿尔塔公司即将在波士顿推出Hubway项目,预计初步投放600辆自行车,设立61处租赁点。

    《财富》:我喜欢这个构想。但是,巴黎的自行车分享项目不是困难重重吗?

    科恩:基本上是这样,有人会想方设法强行将自行车从车槽中弄出去。巴黎的偷窃和蓄意破坏等问题,是在美国建立和推广自行车分享项目的一大阻碍。但是,我相信,巴黎遇到的问题与他们采取的技术有直接关系。

    《财富》:你们的技术又有何不同呢?

    科恩:我们深知,重中之重莫过于建立实体安全系统。任何时候,哪怕仅仅嗅到有人想违规的蛛丝马迹,你都得采取近乎军事响应的防范措施,以保证所有车辆安然无恙。因为一旦有人将之拍下来放到YouTube上,那就……(笑声)

    我们的自行车和停车点均由蒙特利尔公共自行车系统(Public Bike System of Montreal)建造。我们也深知,在任何地方,一旦自行车被安放到停车点,人们所做的头一件事,当然往往是乳臭未干的孩子所为,就是偷盗自行车。他们会使尽浑身解数,上下左右,来回折腾那些自行车,直至将之弄出去完事。在蒙特利尔有幅图片,内容是:被一根绳子连在一起的一辆福特F-150和一辆自行车,但是福特卡车却无论如何无法将自行车拖出车槽。部署了安全性如此之高的系统,无论是偷盗还是蓄意破坏行为,均可降至最低。在美国,我们唯一遭遇过的真正偷窃行为,是有些人用偷来的信用卡租车,然后便逃之夭夭。

    《财富》:很有趣。我是说,这听起来有点郁闷,但仍然非常有趣。巴黎自行车分享系统还有一件值得引起注意的事,那便是其支付方式。我说得对吗?

    科恩:很对。多年来,Clear Channel等大型户外广告公司一直提供公共汽车站的候车棚等户外街道设施,并用之换取用于销售的户外广告牌空间。后来,他们开始在广告合同中增加一些小型装备。最终,他们开始进军自行车分享系统。

    如果一座城市设立了自行车分享系统,该城的户外广告营业收入往往会减少,但它也无需拿出巨额预付资金。因此,很多城市都对此模式着迷。但是,如果让广告公司来运营自行车分享系统,广告主自然会如愿以偿,签署广告合同,但他们却缺乏恰当的激励措施,以有效地管理自行车分享系统。

    我相信,美国城市确实视此为激励措施制定不当。于是,我们的机会来了。一方面,蒙特利尔自行车分享系统拥有成熟的技术;另一方面,我们与各城市直接签订合同。这些城市不仅对其希望销售的任何赞助商身份或者广告位进行直接控制,而且还能决定自行车的颜色。由于我们与这些城市签署的是直接政府合同,因此对他们而言,我们的整个运营过程必须做到完全透明。因而,部署自行车分享系统的城市就将这一影响深远且能改变社会的系统,握在手心里了。

    《财富》:但是,多数城市眼下手头不是都很紧吗?当市长们一心决定缩减预算时,你们又如何向之兜售这个项目呢?

    科恩:我们并不兜售。只是当城市出台需求方案说明书(requests for proposal, RFP)时,我们会参加竞标。目前,用于自行车分享项目的直接城市资金少之又少。多数公共资金属于用于支持资本采购的联邦资金。我们预计,未来3~4年内,自行车分享系统有可能成为可切实自行持续运转的公共交通系统。此外,与其他资本投资相比,这笔投资微乎其微。建设四分之一英里的地铁即需要投入数十亿美元。相形之下,只需不足1,000万美元,就能建成一套可以改变整座城市的自行车分享系统。

    《财富》:未来几年内,哪些地区会部署自行车分享系统?

    科恩:在波士顿地区,我们会在波士顿、剑桥、萨默维尔以及布鲁克赖恩等地建立一个完全无缝的地区系统。2012年,自行车分享系统部署将呈现爆炸式增长。纽约已经出台了需求方案说明书,要求在2012年建成一个覆盖1万辆自行车的系统。温哥华也很可能在2012年建成覆盖4,000辆自行车的网络。此外,还有西雅图、旧金山以及旧金山湾区。而且,芝加哥即将上任的交通局长本人即是个自行车分享系统的铁杆支持者。如果该市很快上马该系统,我一点儿也不会感到惊讶。

    《财富》:所有这些都是北方城市,都拥有大量的自由主义者。你并没提及凤凰城,也没提洛杉矶,更没提休斯顿、达拉斯、迈阿密以及亚特兰大。

    科恩:你刚提到的这些城市全都有兴趣。眼下,有关自行车分享系统的对话简直无处不在。我刚才提及的城市,要么已经发布了需求方案说明书,要么已经公开表示,希望在此方面有所作为。洛杉矶谈论此事已经有些时日了。在凤凰城,已经有几个可供选择的方案。我想夏洛特最终也会加入进来。我真的认为,在那些无序扩张、人们普遍以车代步的城市,围绕市民将如何使用自行车分享系统一事,有待研讨的问题之多,要远远超过人口密集的海滨城市。

    《财富》:在城市里骑行时,你感到安全吗?

    科恩:挺安全的。我的意思是说,我一向认为城市骑行有点像猫跳滑雪(mogul skiing)。(大笑)不错,它确实是个挑战,你需要高度集中精力才行;而且,永远都要沿着正确的路线骑行,这点至关重要。但是,你知道,我曾每天骑行17英里上下班达4年之久,而且我参与城市骑行运动已有多年。这些年中,我曾有两次撞到了其他人或物上,但既没受伤,亦无大碍。因此,我才会极力倡导城市骑行,而且我个人认为这种方式足够安全。自行车分享系统之所以了不起的一个原因是,骑车的人越多,总体而言,对于骑行者来说街道也越安全,因为开车的人会更小心骑行者。

    译者:大海

    Alison Cohen used to ride her bike 17 miles to work every day, a "ridiculous commute," she now admits, but one which gives her solid cred in her current job: president of Alta Bicycle Share, a fast-growing operator of urban bike-share programs, based in Portland, Oregon.

    Bike sharing, in which members pay a modest annual fee for rental access to carbon-free rides parked all over town, began in Copenhagen, made its way to Paris in 2005, and is about to achieve critical mass in the U.S. Denver, Minneapolis and DC all launched big new programs in 2010; Boston -- like D.C., an Alta project -- will roll out Hubway this summer, starting with 600 bicycles and 61 stations.

    Fortune: I love this idea. But haven't they had a lot of problems with bike sharing in Paris?

    Cohen: Basically, someone figured out how to force the bikes out of the docks. Paris's theft and vandalism issues were a huge obstacle in getting bike sharing to the US. But I would posit that the problems they've had there are specific to the technology.

    Fortune: How is your technology different?

    Cohen: We understand that the highest priority has to be a physically secure system. And anytime there's even the scent of a breach, you have to take on an almost military response to secure it. Because once it goes on YouTube, then -- [Laughter]

    Our bikes and stations are built by Public Bike System of Montreal. We know the moment that we put these stations down anywhere the first thing people do -- mostly it's teenagers -- is try to steal the bikes. They'll jerk them up and down and side to side. In Montreal they have a picture of a Ford F-150 with a rope connected to a bike, but the truck couldn't get the bike out of the dock. With a system that's secure like that, theft and vandalism are very minimal. The only real theft we've seen in the U.S. has been people using a stolen credit card to take a bike and not return it.

    Fortune: Interesting. I mean, kind of depressing, but interesting. The other thing that's noteworthy about the Paris system is the way it was paid for, right?

    Cohen: Yes. Large outdoor advertising companies, such as Clear Channel, have for years been providing outdoor street furniture like bus shelters and stuff in exchange for billboard space that they can sell. They started adding little accoutrements to the advertising contracts and eventually they started throwing in bike-sharing systems.

    Typically the city might see less revenue from outdoor advertising if it's also getting a bike-share system but the city doesn't have to come up with the up-front capital. So cities are really intrigued by this model. But then you have an advertising company running the bike-share system. The advertisers have what they want -- the advertising contract -- yet they don't have the proper incentives to manage the bike-share system.

    I think U.S. cities really saw this as a misalignment of incentives. So that's where we came in. Public Bike System created a better technology. And we have direct contracts with the cities. They keep control of any sponsorship or advertising they want to sell. They control the color of the bikes. And we have to be totally transparent with them because they're direct government contracts. That gives the cities a lot more control over this really high-impact, community-changing system.

    Fortune: But aren't most cities basically broke these days? How do you pitch a program like yours when mayors are preoccupied with cutting budgets?

    Cohen: We don't pitch, we respond to requests for proposals. There are very few direct city funds that are being used for bike sharing. Most of the public funding is federal money to support capital purchases. And our projections are that within about three to four years, these may be public transit systems that are actually self-sustaining. What's more, compared to other capital investments, it's tiny. A quarter-mile of subway can cost billions. With bike sharing you can get a city-changing system for less than $10 million.

    Fortune: Where will bike-sharing be in the next few years?

    Cohen: In the Boston area, it will be a completely seamless regional system with Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline. And 2012 is just going to be an explosion. New York has a request for proposal out for a 10,000-bike system launching in 2012. Vancouver, 4,000 bikes, likely 2012. Seattle. San Francisco. The Bay Area. And the incoming director of transportation for Chicago is a huge bike-share fanatic; it wouldn't surprise me if they try and do something very quickly.

    Fortune: Those are all northern cities with liberal populations. I don't see Phoenix there. I don't see L.A. I don't see Houston, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta.

    Cohen: Every one of those cities that you just mentioned are interested. There are a million conversations happening in the background. The cities that I listed have either issued RFPs or said publicly that they want to do something. L.A. has been talking about it for a while. In Phoenix, there have been several different demonstrations there. Charlotte I think will eventually be there. I do think there are a lot more questions around how people will use bike-share systems in the more sprawled, car-centered cities, than in the denser coastal cities.

    Fortune: Do you feel safe riding your bike in the city?

    Cohen: I do. I mean, I've always viewed urban biking a sort of like skiing moguls. [Laughs] It's a challenge, and you have to be highly attentive, and finding the right route has always been the most important thing. But you know, in my four years of doing that ridiculous 17-mile commute, and many other years of urban biking, I've had two dooring incidents which have not resulted in any injuries, and no serious accidents. So I'm a huge advocate, and I personally feel safe. One of the reasons that bike share is so great is that you get more people biking, and it generally makes the streets safer for cyclists because automobile drivers are more aware of bikers.

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