Unautomated Bikesharing in Providencia, Santiago de Chile

I'm currently spending a year in residence at the Design Lab at the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in Santiago Chile. During the past two weeks, I came across a particularly interesting implementation of a bikesharing program in the Providencia community of Santiago.

Unlike its North American and European counterparts, Providencia's bikesharing program is largely unautomated. The bikes don't lock to the station, but are instead monitored by an attendant. This attendant also manages the rental process, using a handheld electronic device. To rent a bike, users approach the agent who enters the user's Chilean ID number into device, and pairs it with a physical number that is painted on each of the bikes. Upon return, users drop the bike off and report their ID number and bike number to the agent at another station, who marks it as returned in the system. The agents are present until about 8:30 or 9pm at night, at which point trucks come around, the bikes are removed, and locked up in a storage facility for the night. Registration can only be done in person at each of the stations and is relatively inexpensive, at 2000 CLP (about USD $4) per month or 15,000 CLP (about $32 USD) annually.

While the process seems cumbersome and expensive, it is likely a reflection of the fact that human capital and labor are typically less expensive in Chile than physical products and commodities. Thus it may be more cost-effective for the Providencia local government to man each station with an agent as opposed to investing in electronic bikesharing kiosks and automated rental infrastructure, which also require regular maintenance.

More information on the program, which has been running since 2008, can be seen at http://www.providencia.cl/servicios/ciclovias-y-bicicletas-publicas (Spanish)