By Michael DeLeo, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Recently, the Cidade Maravilhosa reintroduced its new-and-improved SAMBA (Alternative Mobility Solution Through Bike Renting) bicycle rental system. The program is composed of approximately sixty stations containing 600 bikes that are mainly distributed throughout Ipanema, Leblon, Lagoa, Botanical Garden, Gavia, Botafogo, Urca, Flamengo and Centro.
Each of these bikes can be rented for the day for R$5, or the month for R$10, by anyone with a credit card and a cell phone with a R$300 deposit. The Bike Rio SAMBA social program is an innovative solution to Rio’s roadway traffic, while simultaneously promoting the exercise habits and healthy lifestyles of the public.
The opportunity to rent one of the orange bikes for the day to travel to work and back home for less than the round trip cost of taking the metro is appealing to many locals.
Marcela Guarez, an attorney from Rio, says, “It is genius. I can now avoid waiting for the bus or the train and head straight to work. In the meantime, I can also get a bit of exercise.”
The system works easily, using a cell phone to request one of the available bikes at any station by calling the phone number provided upon registration and then entering the security code.
Bike trips up to sixty minutes are free (after the initial daily or monthly fee), but require at least a fifteen minute interval in between before beginning again. If anyone uses a bike for more than an hour, they are billed R$5 for each additional hour. When finished with the bike riders can return it to any of the sixty stations around Rio.
Organizers were inspired by other countries such as Argentina, Holland and France utilizing similar bicycle systems. The rent-a-bike bike system was first implemented in Rio several years ago under the name PedalaRio (Pedal Rio).
The PedalaRio system struggled with a lack of bicycles, a small number of stations and high prices (R$10 per day, or R$15 for three days.) SAMBA experienced it own initial setbacks as well, but after partnering with the utility company Serttel and being sponsored by Banco Itau, the system was re-released in October with great accolades from the public.
John Vaerrera, an intern for the Brazilian government, says, “I tried using Pedal Rio when it first arrived but the cost wasn’t worth it. I ended up paying much more than my previous transportation and sometimes I couldn’t find a station to return the bike. The new system looks much better and I’m eager to use it.”
The old PedalaRio program began and ended with nineteen stations and 150 bikes, while the new system is much larger and more sophisticated, even operating via wireless connectivity, and is solar powered.
The SAMBA system appears successful thus far, but the project is still in its infancy. The total cost to put it all together was reportedly R$5 million, and the city is hoping for significant participation from the public. For more information visit the Bike Rio website.
In related biking in Rio news, the city government announced at the end of last year the campaign, “Rio Capital da Bicicleta.” Among other goals, there are plans to double the existing network of bike paths, currently the largest in Brazil and second largest in Latin America at 150 kilometers (93 miles), by 2012.