Rodrigo Bejarano
SmartBike México

International Mobility Standards Reach Mexico

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 13:00

Public bike-sharing solutions in many large cities around the world have provided commuters with an alternative to ownership, saving cyclists maintenance and providing the flexibility of switching transport within the same day. SmartBike México manages the public bike-sharing service in Mexico City. These bikes are parked at specific spots around the city, creating an alternative network of public transportation, and are available for use when needed.

“The system we created for Mexico City was based on what Clear Channel had implemented in Barcelona. Both cities share several things in common: both have mountains, a valley, public transportation is similar and in certain manners, the movement of the population was similar,” says Rodrigo Bejarano, SmartBike México’s Director.

The company’s bike-sharing service started 20 years ago in Rennes, France, and is now present in 15 cities worldwide. Mexico represents 30 percent of their global operations with 6,400 bicycles, although Bejarano believes this number could rise to as much as 20,000. He explains that when SmartBike first implemented the service in the capital city’s historical center, his team was worried about security but in reality, the bicycles were well-received. “Public transport is efficient in this city, including the metro and the Metrobús, but they are static, linear. They go from point A to point B without deviating from their specified route. Private vehicles congest roads ridiculously, and other alternative motor transports such as microbuses are also limited,” he says.

If more people use bikes, fewer people will travel in private cars, thus liberating road space for freer-flowing traffic. It also means better air quality and the levels of pollution are less likely to hit 150 IMECA points, the limit at which the “NoDrive Day” contingency is implemented in the city.

Besides avoiding traffic, taking bikes to work and back can help improve overall fitness, sorely needed in one of the world’s most overweight and obese nations. As one of the main reasons cited for not exercising is lack of time, cycling to work could be an excellent option. Bejarano explains that when comparing travel time between two points in microbus, metro, private cars and cycling, bikes mostly come first or second only occasionally to the metro.

In addition to being more efficient and environmentally friendly, the renting system for the cycles is computerized and so generates Big Data that the company shares with the city. Bejarano says the company shares more data than even the metro, which in 2015 transported over 1.6 billion passengers, according to the metro’s website. “We generate information on users, trends, routes taken, most-used stations and how all these points are connected,” he says. He adds Buenavista as an example, a metro station to which a million people arrive by the suburban train in the morning and leave from in the evening. “We have 15 stations in that zone alone. Users take bikes from that area and leave them generally between the Diana Fountain on Reforma and the Angel roundabout. This information is extremely valuable.” It can be used by the city to improve urban planning, determining which zones need more frequent upkeep or may need special cycle infrastructure.

Bejarano is already prepared for the future and is ready to adapt the cycle system to it. “The application of new technology to bicycles is much easier than in larger complex systems. The current system of scanning a membership card will become a thing of the past.” The possibility of using phones to scan a QR code, or a proximity system that detects when a user approaches a station, could speed up the process

SmartBike México has not yet finished expanding in the city. “We usually grow 12 percent annually. In the four months following the gasolinazo, from January to April 2017, registrations grew by 7 percent and usage has grown,” says Bejarano, detailing the company’s expansion plans. “We think we will be able to reach zones we do not yet operate in although this decision is entirely up to Mexico City’s government. We could expand to the southeast of the city, Coyoacan, Nuevo Polanco, within the central zone, Florida, Del Valle, all of which present great growth opportunities,” he says, adding that even without expanding the areas in which SmartBike is present, it could potentially install an extra 5,000 bikes.