Subsidized cycling

The nation’s first bike-sharing program begins this month in Washington, D.C.

Paris and Barcelona have been doing it for about a year, and now, for $40 a year, members of Smartbike DC can check out a bike for three hours at a time by swiping their membership cards.

Cities like Amsterdam and Portland, Ore., have tried low-tech bike-sharing—only to find many of the bikes stolen, lost or destroyed. The SmartBike system gives demerits to members who turn their bikes in late. If a bike is not returned, the last user is charged a $200 replacement fee.

Such a bike-sharing program could be expensive—in Europe’s case, an estimated $4,500 per bike would be needed if there were no sponsors to help, according to the New York Times. For this program to be economical for the city and its cyclists, Washington, D.C., has made a deal with Clear Channel Outdoor, giving the company exclusive advertising rights to the city’s bus shelters. In return, the city keeps any profits generated by the program. Chicago, Portland, Ore., and San Francisco are considering similar proposals from advertisers for bike-sharing programs.