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I had the opportunity to use Ecobici while in Mexico City for the Walk 21 conference. The system of over 1,000 bicycles has a waiting list for membership and no options for short term memberships, so it caters primarily to residents, not visitors. Thanks to the folks at CTS EMBARQ, conference goers were able to borrow passes for a day to use the system.

From everything I’ve heard and the large numbers of red bikes I saw riding around the city, the system is successful. It has about 9,000 daily riders and the membership was capped at 30,000 members before the recent expansions, with a waiting list of several thousands. The focus of this post is not the ridership or success of the system, but a review of the riding and usability of the system. Since Ecobici is operated by Clear Channel, many of the system characteristics are similar to other Clear Channel systems, such as Washington, D.C.’s old SmartBike system.

Before you question my sanity for riding in a city where drivers don’t even need to pass an exam to obtain a license, know that I had guidance from another conference goer from the U.S. who was living in Mexico, and comfortable enough cycling there to ride his folding bicycle from his hotel to the conference each day. (And hey, I ride in South Florida. People question my sanity all the time for doing that.) Roy Dudley, who works with advocacy group Pro Ciclismo Xalapa, offered to show me around the city by bicycle, so I took him up on that. We walked down to the nearest Ecobici station, where I got to experience checking out a bicycle.

Ecobici Station

Checking Out

To check out, you tap your annual membership card at the kiosk, which is supposed to tell you which bicycle to pull off the rack. The first time I checked out a bike an operating system error message covered up the message telling me which bicycle to take. At first I thought my tap had not registered, but a second tap  told me that I already had a bicycle checked out, so I was left to hunt for the waiting bicycle and hope no one else beat me to it. A tiny green light that is nearly impossible to see in broad daylight indicates that the bike is ready to check out. I went down the line from the kiosk, looking for a small blinking green light on the rack. When I found it, I quickly pulled the bicycle off the rack. Good thing I had a partner to grab the bicycle, though, as I was standing on the wrong side of the rack. The system is just a rail and the bikes latch into it, much like the Decobike system in Miami Beach. The Ecobici kiosk just to the right outside the picture above faces the opposite side of the rail from where the bikes are, which is not the most user friendly set up. After my friend held onto the bicycle, I clambered over the rail in my dress pants to get to the bicycle. I ended up doing this same maneuver twice because this was not the only station with this design flaw.

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Transit Miami attended this year’s Walk 21 conference, combined with EMBARQ’s International Walking and Livable Communities Conference, in Mexico City. This is the first of several posts sharing what we learned in the conference and experienced in the city, and any applications they might have for Miami.

During Tuesday’s keynote session, Jim Walker, President of Walk 21, shared London’s success story of preparing for a multimodal London Olympics. London set about accommodating people’s trips to and from the Olympics, not simply accommodating traffic. This approach incorporated transit, bike, pedestrian, and auto modes-but merely as choices in the main goal of getting to their destination. Rather than splitting planning efforts into approaches for one mode at a time, London’s planners and advocacy groups focused efforts on trips to be taken by Olympic athletes, workers, and spectators in addition to citizens of London going about their daily business. Through this process they effectively created an atmosphere where everyone felt comfortable using transit. “Games lanes” were created to reassure those who felt that the automobile was the only method that would get athletes and VIPs  to their games on time, but it was reported in several sources that some athletes did feel comfortable using transit. It seems that London came close to their goal of no additional car trips due to the Olympics by accommodating so many on public transit, on foot, or on the bike.

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