Alison Cohen of Alta Bike Share firmly believes that biking can change people and change cities. Her company already has begun to prove this with outposts in Washington D.C., Boston, and Melbourne, Australia, and 2012 launches set for New York City and Chicago.
“My personality is one that wants to be on the steep part of the learning curve where you can spend a lot of time and energy and have a huge impact.”
With her fourth and fifth outposts soon to launch, Alta Bicycle Share founder Alison Cohen’s revolutionary vision to transform public transportation is well underway. Even with shrinking city budgets, Alison sees bike sharing as a way to change the system for a fraction of the cost of other transportation initiatives, never mind that it also provides health benefits to the rider, improves air quality, and reduces traffic congestion.
If bicycles are the indicator species of a healthy community, bike sharing may provide the fertile ground in which biking can flourish. As an avid cyclist herself (she famously made a daily 17-mile commute to a former job), Alison relishes how “riding a bike anywhere is simply a different experience. You really get a feel for the city itself and how it changes geographically.”
Alison first encountered bike sharing while on her honeymoon in Paris, where the city was experimenting with the idea to mixed results. She developed her model in conversation with her wife, after meeting a fellow MIT alum who offered bikes as a perk for his office tenants. Unlike the advertiser-sponsored bike share programs popular in Europe, Alison wanted to approach her business model from a “bike company’s perspective” — offering a truly functional system of bikes that were meticulously cared for and not simply a billboard for brands.
She deeply improved the existing, flawed technologies for bike rental and security, founding Alta Bicycle Share in 2010 after leaving behind varied previous careers as a professional tennis player, a Goldman Sachs investment banking analyst, and an environmental consultant. An initial test run in Melbourne, Australia proved her concept successful enough to install a stateside program with Capital Bikes, where Washington D.C. commuters signed up by the thousands within the first few months of launch. With gas prices on the rise and time for exercise at a premium, bike-sharing may herald in a new era of healthier and more affordable commuting.