In 1992, Mexico City was dubbed “the most polluted city on the planet” by the United Nations. Ever since, city officials have been struggling to lose that tag. One of their most innovative (and successful) ideas is a bicycle-sharing program called EcoBici. Not only is EcoBici, launched in February 2010, the largest bikeshare system in Latin America; it is the ninth largest bike-sharing program in the world.
EcoBici was developed by the federal Ministry of the Environment to promote alternative modes of urban transportation. Over the past three years, the program, which cost $6.25 million to implement, has reduced the use of motorized vehicles in the city’s congested urban core. Especially noteworthy: 13 percent of EcoBici users report they have stopped using cars to get around the city. But the bike-sharing program hasn’t just gotten cars off the street. Fifteen percent of EcoBici riders said they felt healthier, and 7 percent claimed to have lost weight—a noteworthy result in a country where nearly 33 percent of the population is overweight.
EcoBici’s popularity can be measured by followers on social networks, such as Facebook, where the program boasts over 90,000 users who have made over 9.2 million trips to date. Riders who participate in the program can choose from 275 different locations and use the bike for up to 45 minutes per trip. Subscribers have the option of purchasing an annual subscription for 400 pesos($32) or a daily fare for 90 pesos ($7).
If the health benefits aren’t enough to entice drivers away from their cars, the program also provides unique perks. Frequent users of the system are enrolled in a rewards program that enables them to earn points toward free movie tickets, complimentary cups of coffee and books on the environment.
While EcoBici offers a healthy alternative to driving, joyriders beware: if the bike isn’t returned within 24 hours, a penalty of 5,482 pesos ($416) is applied.