How bike sharing works

Bike-share programs in a handful of Michigan cities each have their own rules, but most share a few common traits

Bikes are available for rental by the hour, day or week. Bike-sharing participants generally get a discount by purchasing an annual membership, costing anywhere from $60 to $90.

Members are issued a key tag to use at a bike kiosk (the term for the racks where the bikes are kept), which looks something like an automated parking machine in a garage or on a lot. The key tag lets members unlock a bicycle from a nearby rack, and ride off. When they’re finished, they drop the bike off at another rack. A computerized system keeps track of the time and charges.

Bike-sharing bikes are sturdy models built for riding on city streets, usually with three speeds, wide tires and a basket. They are not as nimble or fast as road bikes.

People who don’t purchase memberships use their credit cards at the kiosk to obtain a bike. Usually, the first 30 minutes are free, then the riders pay by the hour. Ride off permanently with a bike, and you can wind up with a $2,000 charge on your credit card.

Micheline Maynard is a journalist, author and educator based in Ann Arbor. She is a former Detroit bureau chief and senior business correspondent for The New York Times.

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