Trust New Yorkers to do things differently.
When it comes to reducing auto congestion and increasing bicycle riding, New York has eschewed the expensive infrastructure that one finds in Paris, Chicago, and other cities now experimenting with rent-a-bike programs.
Rather than having a long row of rental bicycles lined up at, as in Paris with 1,500 stations, New Yorkers will be able to pick up and drop off their rented bicycle at any bike rack in the city, whether in a residential or business area.
It's all wireless, built around a smartphone app. The software and hardware were designed by SoBi, as in "social bicycle." You can register online or with your mobile phone, find an available bike, request it, and unlock it, all using your phone.
When you're finished with your errands or get where you're going, lock the bike to the nearest bike rack, and voila, the billing ends when the lock is engaged. But wait, there's more! If you are just stopping to pick up something, you can lock the bike and put it on hold -- no one else can take it -- for 10 minutes. And the locking/tracking device creates a rack above the back wheel that is the right size for a carry-out order.
Because it's aimed at a greener, healthier world, the SoBi app will also tell you how many calories you've burned and how much greenhouse gas you've kept out of the air.
SoBi founder Ryan Rzepecki got his Masters in Urban Planning at Hunter College. He just may be a social entrepreneur, I think, although his website doesn't mention social enterprise or corporate responsibility.
Innovation, sustainability, solving a pressing social problem, using sound business techniques: sounds like social enterprise to me.
If his system works as planned in its pilot this Fall, his company will encourage bike riding in lieu of car trips and reduce the amount of exhaust spewed into the air. That's very helpful to the planet and to the pedestrians of New York City.
SoBi will also make a lot of money.
Which doesn't disqualify him from the roles of social entrepreneurs. If the SoBi system makes cycling more accessible (don't have to carry a bicycle down the subway steps or store it your living room) and reduces car trips, it's helped the planet. In Paris and Barcelona, shared bicycle systems grew astronomically in their first few years, with Paris clocking about 25 million rentals a year, according to Ecolocalizer.com.
That makes the carbon footprint of Paris much smaller and its need for oil much less.
The New York City government has been opening the door for an entrepreneur such as Rzepecki. Streets throughout the city, notably Broadway, have lost car lanes to bicycles and pedestrians. Bike racks have been installed when requested by neighborhoods, even on the side streets of the Upper West Side.
Soon it may be possible to run your errands without trudging home with 40 pounds hanging off your arms or take a ride around along the Hudson without having to trip over your bicycle between excursions.
Congestion pricing never got off the ground. Maybe "personal public transit" as one person dubbed it, will.
Geri Stengel is president of Ventureneer.com, an online peer learning service for small business, especially those making a social impact such as nonprofits and social enterprise, and Stengel Solutions, strategic planning, marketing and marketing research firm. An adjunct professor at The New School, she honed her online experience at companies like Dow Jones and Physicians’ Online. Geri co-founded the Women’s Leadership Exchange. Geri is a past Vice Chair of Governance Matters, a nonprofit organization that counsels New York-based nonprofits on issues of stronger governance and a past board member of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)-NYC.