For the second year in a row, Tern Bicycles provided 150 free bikes to South by Southwest music and interactive conference attendees, which is said to be one of the biggest conference share bike programs in the US. And, for the second time in a row, all 150 bikes were checked out almost instantly – at least for the interactive portion of SXSW. It seems that the music crowd is a little less likely to get around by bicycle, or have a valid credit card to use for the refundable $250 deposit.
The program itself is quite user-friendly. Tern offered conference-badged attendees five models to choose from, and provided a lock, lights and an optional helmet to go along with the folding bikes. Attendees were also provided a card with an emergency service number for service from one of five on-hand mechanics at the temporary “SX Cycles” shop. Though it was rarely needed, a mechanic would ride a Tern Joe Cargo bike with a replacement Tern to the stranded attendee, and swap out bikes to get the attendee back to the conference almost instantly, verses having them wait while repairs were made to the existing bike.
Bikes were available for single-day use for free from 10am to 2am each day of the conference, which worked out to be an ideal window for most attendees. And almost every bike was returned on time during the conference, if anything to avoid the $100 a day late fee if the 2am deadline wasn’t met. Did the Tern guys actually charge $100 to those who were a little late? The official story is yes, but Austin currency can vary in the wee hours of a SXSW morning, and sometimes a case of beer ranks pretty high on the exchange rate.
The bike share program for SXSW was initiated by Tern employees who live in Austin, and while the program is co-sponsored by NBC’s Revolution, Tern takes care of almost everything, including branding the bikes for said co-sponsor – not exactly a small feat this year, as a snowstorm delayed the delivery truck, forcing a non-stop, 58-hour effort to build all 150 bikes from out of their boxes.
Both SXSW and Tern consider the program a huge success, and Tern has been asked to return to the conference next year. “It’s all high fives and hugs, and all about ditching the cars and not crowding the streets as much,” said Tern product manager Andrew McCalla.