Oonee’s Plan to End Bike Theft: Free Storage Pods
A Brooklyn-based startup called Oonee hopes to tackle one of New York’s seemingly intractable problems: bicycle theft. Company founder Shabazz Stuart started the business after his third bike was stolen. Oonee’s solution goes far beyond designing a better bike lock, and to date it’s the most holistic solution we’ve ever seen – as well as the most ambitious.
Oonee designed and built modular bike racks which they call pods; these can store 20 bikes and can be enlarged or enlarged as needed. Cyclists register to become members of Oonee and have access to pods via their smartphone or a key card. Inside (non-Mini units) are assisted bicycle lifts and a security camera; users provide their own locks. Places are available on a first come, first served basis.
Surprisingly, membership is free. Cyclists pay nothing to lock their bikes. Stuart did his homework carefully and concluded that planting a pod on valuable New York real estate was going to require buy-in from several parties, and cleverly figured out how to entice them while providing free service to the ‘final user. Oonee signs contracts with advertisers to emblazon pods with advertisements, then shares the revenue with whoever owns the piece of sidewalk a pod sits on, whether it’s an owner or the city. Oonee’s revenue reduction is used to pay off the pods and hopefully make a profit. Advertisers have a new location to sell their merchandise and cyclists receive a valuable service free of charge. The only losers are the bike thieves.
Additionally, Stuart wants traditionally underserved neighborhoods, and not just working-class neighborhoods, to serve as pod locations as well. Advertising revenue from pods in the most popular locations will be used to support pods in areas that may not be able to find advertisers at all.
The pods are designed with greenery on the rooftops, in an effort to offset the appearance of a billboard with a slice of nature. A bench attached to the outside of the structure provides seating for the public.
This is ambitious because it all seems so unlikely: how will they prevent users from being robbed or assaulted inside pods, like stealing on the fly? Will pods overlap with another lingering problem in New York City, roaming, as with the city’s unfortunate experience with independent public bathrooms? What’s stopping a thief from signing up for access to a pod and then running off with all the bikes?
Those issues aside, the company is currently operating a test pod in Brooklyn and one across the river in Jersey City’s bustling Journal Square neighborhood, with other projects planned:
In downtown Manhattan, Grand Central Terminal has announced that it will be installing a pod on its old outside taxiway:
The Grand Central pod is a smaller Oonee Mini pod, which has a capacity of six bikes.
Grand Central opting for the smaller pod indicates the biggest challenge Oonee faces: How can they ever fit in enough to make a real difference in a city as big as New York? I don’t know, because it’s never been done before, which is because no one could have imagined that something like this could even take off. But Stuart had the vision and has already overcome many obstacles just to make and install the current modules. As he said Bloomberg, several investors passed on Stuart’s pitch before he reached the startup accelerator Urban-X.
Stuart says “hundreds, if not thousands” of pods would be needed to meet demand. “It’s a radical vision. It’s an ambitious vision. I don’t deny it. But these are the ideas that are worth implementing, in my opinion.”
You can read more about Oonee’s plans here.