Boston OKs bike-share system with a tech twist

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Boston's roads may be just paved-over cow paths, but come next year, they'll be host to a lot more bicycles.

Canada's Public Bike System Company has been selected to bring a bike rental city to the Hub, with – ahem – roll-out expected by Spring 2010. In May, PBSC launched a successful program, called Bixi, in Montreal. Boston's as-yet-unnamed version will include 2,500 bikes spread over 290 stations at the start, and will be the first citywide bike sharing program in the US. As interest increases, Boston could expand its network to 5,000 bikes in surrounding cities.

Access to Montreal's Bixi is $78 for an annual pass, and the first half-hour of each rental is free. After that, it's $1.50 for the second 30 minutes, $3 for the third, and $6 (!?) for subsequent half-hour increments. A day pass for the system (think tourists) costs $5, with the same hourly charges. No word yet on if the Boston system will employ the same pricing structure, but if it does, use it for, say, a ride from the Boston Common to the Christian Science Center, not from the North End to Fenway.

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Backing the network of bikes will be a website not unlike Zipcar's. Users can go online to see – in real-time – how many bikes each station has, and if there's an open spot. Google Maps provides the interface.

The system's bicycle docks sport tech touches of their own. Each self-supported docking station is Wi-Fi equipped, and the whole thing runs on solar power. (Not as innovative as the bike-powered concept we told you about last month, but still impressive.) Bixi's bikes also include built-in LED head- and tail-lights for safety, and come with embedded RFID tags to help in managing the fleet.

The system has been met with a positive response by most, but bike sharing isn't without its problems. Treehugger reports that a Paris program suffers from massive theft and vandalism issues. And there are reports from Montreal that a common problem with Bixi is full – or empty racks. What about weather? In Montreal, Bixi stations are in place from April to November. Count on Boston's to take on a similar hibernation pattern.

In addition to Boston, PBSC has plans to launch in London next year.

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