The city is entering talks with a Montreal-based company to create what would be the nation's largest urban bike-sharing system.
Boston officials are hoping to reach a decision with the Public Bike System Co. in the next 60 days to install a network of 2,500 bikes and 290 stations across the city by next summer, with the option of expanding to a 5,000-bike system encompassing the neighboring communities Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville.
Under the system, a rider would be able to rent a bike from one location with the swipe of a credit card, pedal to his or her destination and then drop off the bike at another location.
Those already experienced in negotiating Boston's narrow, twisting streets on two wheels say they'll welcome the company.
"We're excited about it," said David Watson, executive director of MassBike, a statewide bicycling advocacy group. "It creates an opportunity for people who don't think of themselves as bicyclists to shift some of their trips from cars to bicycles."
The system would be modeled after Montreal's bike-sharing program, BIXI, a subscription-based service with 3,000 bikes and 300 stations.
Paris, France, is also an early adopter of bike sharing but its fleet has been targeted by thieves, undermining the entire program.
Annual or daily fees
Under the Montreal system, riders pay for subscriptions ranging from $78 per year to $5 per day. A subscription gives the rider the right to an unlimited number of trips. To encourage shorter trips, the first 30 minutes of each trip are free, with usage fees kicking in for longer trips.
Public Bike chairman Roger Plamondon said Montreal loaned the company $15 million to launch that city's program, but he said the company would cover the cost of setting up the system in Boston.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, an avid cyclist, called the city "a perfect venue" for the program, noting it recently added miles of bike lanes and hundreds of bike racks and launched a stolen-bike alert system using online social media networks.
Leaders in Cambridge, Brookline and Somerville say they're hoping to add the service to their communities to give it a broader, metropolitan-Boston reach.
"So many Somerville residents already commute to work by bike, so why not make it even easier for folks to make those small, midday trips by bike as well?" Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said.
If approved, Boston's system would be far larger than the nation's only existing urban bike-sharing program, in Washington, D.C., which has about 100 bicycles and 12 stations.
Portland, Seattle also eye
Officials in Portland, Ore., are weighing whether to create a paid bike-sharing program after an experiment with a free system in the 1990s collapsed because of vandalism and theft.
Officials in the Seattle, Wash., area are also exploring the idea.
Even as Boston gears up for the possible influx of thousands of new bike riders, Massachusetts is taking steps to smooth the sometimes testy relations between motorists and cyclists who vie for space on the roads.
A new law that went into effect in July creates a $100 fine for drivers who open their doors into the paths of bicycles and prohibits drivers from making sharp right turns cutting off cyclists. It also allows police to treat bicyclists like motorists when writing tickets for running red lights and other moving violations.