If a group of Georgia Tech graduates has their way, a bike-sharing program developed on campus will someday be available throughout Atlanta, providing commuters with a low-cost and flexible transportation alternative.
Founded in March 2010 by Kyle Azevedo, Siddharth Doshi, Koji Intlekofer and Yuriy Romaniw, viaCycle aims to make bikes available for communal use without the pricey infrastructure that has plagued similar programs in other cities. Since the launch of a six-month pilot program at Georgia Tech in November, the ATDC member company has quadrupled its fleet to include 40 bicycles and racked up more than 450 users.
“We’ve been thrilled with the amount of people signing up,” said Azevedo, the company CEO. “The bikes normally get used a couple times a day, but we expect that to pick up as the weather improves. We obviously want this pilot program to succeed so we can turn it into a long-term, sustainable business.”
It works like this: the bicycles contain a mounted electronic lock system and GPS connection that allows registered Georgia Tech students, faculty and staff to reserve a bike. Unlike many other bike sharing programs that require specialized bike racks or kiosks for payment, viaCycle users can lock or unlock a bike simply by proving their user information through a text message or phone call. The technology allows administrators to limit the usage area and provides detailed trip tracking. ViaCycle worked with Georgia Tech Parking and Transportation Services and the City of Atlanta’s Office of Sustainability to launch the pilot program.
The startup began as a research project back in 2008, when viaCycle founders applied for – and lost – a $100,000 Ford Foundation grant. A year later, they revamped their bike sharing proposal and submitted another Ford application, this time for a $50,000 grant. They won that prize.
“We sat down and designed a bike sharing system from the ground up that really improved on the drawbacks that were out there, in terms of the costly infrastructure,” said Azevedo.
So far, the five-member viaCycle team has operated solely off of winnings from grants and business competitions. But as they turn their attention to the future, Azevedo said they will begin looking for investor financing and continue utilizing ATDC resources and networking opportunities. They are currently discussing bike sharing programs with Atlantic Station and Midtown Alliance.
“In the past few years, we’ve seen this model of collaborative consumption take off in the business world,” said Azevedo. “Atlanta actually has a very strong and passionate cycling community, so I think bike sharing could be really successful here.”