Metro/Jennifer Gauthier/ Derrick Moennick of SandVault with a helmet dispensing prototype for a bike sharing station.

Forget lugging a helmet around in case you fancy an impromptu ride when, or if, Vancouver gets a bike share system.

The city – set to decide later this spring whether to launch a bike share system with preferred vendor Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share – paid $50,000 to Richmond-based SandVault Group Global Solutions Corp. to develop a prototype of a bike helmet distribution machine.

In just 41 days after the city awarded SandVault the contract in November, it built a noggin-protecting prototype that it showed off to Metro on Thursday.

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SandVault’s helmet dispensing machine. (Metro/Jennifer Gauthier)

Using the solar powered machine was as easy as swiping a card, selecting a size and style on a keypad and removing a helmet from a dispenser that’s integrated with a bike system.

“If you want to wear a helmet, there’s a helmet right there,” business development manager Derrick Moennick said. “It should be as easy as possible.”

The helmets are equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags so when users drop them off they are “quarantined” and not rented out until they are cleaned and checked for safety. Maintenance crews would sanitize the helmets as part of the system’s operating cost, which the city has previously pegged at about $1.9 million annually.

In Melbourne, the city’s helmet law led to lukewarm adoption of its bike share system, as helmets there must be purchased at retail locations or from vending machines. Alta told Metro in June it was working on an integrated system to avoid the mistakes made in Australia.

While Vancouver awarded the prototype contract to SandVault, it is still exploring various options and suppliers for helmet distribution, according to director of transportation Jerry Dobrovolny.

SandVault, which operates the world’s only non-subsidized bike share at tourist hotspot Miami Beach, applied to operate Vancouver’s bike share system but lost to Alta.

The company also built systems in Long Beach, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Golden, B.C. and will soon launch one in Sao Paulo. Its technology is still operational after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the N.Y. operations.

“It’s important for government to support local industries that employ people and produce exports,” company owner Richard Murray said.

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