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Razors Edge

An Interesting Solution

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...to the distribution problem that bike share programs encounter.  DC uses the expensive "with box trucks and boots on the ground" method.

New York's Citi Bike, one of the largest bike-share programs in the world, relies on a volunteer army to help redistribute some 12,000 bicycles among 750 stations each day, ensuring that users can grab a ride when they need one. Most of these volunteers do a few out-of-the-way deliveries a month. Then there's Joe Miller, whose superhuman efforts seem to defy any plausible explanation.

The Angels are Citi Bike users who earn points—which entitle them to various rewards—for taking a bike from a particularly crowded docking station or leaving a bike at a particularly depleted one. The most satisfyingly holistic, points-producing move is to combine the two: take a bike from a dock that’s full and drop it off at one that doesn’t have enough.

In industry parlance, the Angels are helping “rebalance,” restoring equilibrium to a network constantly thrown out of whack by its users. So vital is this task to the success of any bike-share system—even those that don’t use docks—that rebalancing tends to be done, expensively, with box trucks and boots on the ground. In an ideal world, the system would self-rebalance; riders would get bikes where they need to be as a matter of course. The Angels are trying to take us to that nirvana via an alternate route, and their success may help determine the fate of the still burgeoning bike-share industry.

Tom

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