Bicycle Helmet Vending Machines Rolling Out At Hubway Stations in July

Boston will be the first city in the nation to offer helmets at the bike-share locations.

In just a few weeks, Boston will set another national standard when officials from the mayor’s office introduce bike helmet vending machines to a few Hubway locations, making the city the first in the country to offer the option at bike-sharing stations.

Nicole Freedman, director of Boston’s bicycling program, says there will be four solar-powered helmet vending machines stationed at some of the most popular Hubway rental spots starting in mid to late July.

Known as the ‘bike czar,” Freedman says they will test the machines for a few months before rolling out additional helmet-vending devices at other busy Hubway stations situated on the city streets. “We will run some tests on them and make sure they are working, then the company we gave the award to will make a couple of tweaks before doing a larger job for us,” says Freedman.

The city is working with HelmetHub, a company born out of MIT, which invented the dispensers. Each machine can hold 36 helmets and uses a touch screen system to help deploy the safety gear. Once a user is finished with a helmet rental they can return it to a designated kiosk, where it will be sent to the company’s headquarters to be cleaned and sanitized before being distributed to the next customer. Freedman says by October they will have 14 to 16 stations up, with at least one station per region of Boston, and where they can have the most impact on increasing helmet use. Rentals will be around $2, and riders will also have the option of purchasing a helmet.

HelmetHub was a concept that came from students at MIT and was first revealed during the Product Engineering Final Presentation in December 2011. Since then, the company has fine-tuned their product to get it ready for its street debut. “Our team is excited about the addition of a helmet rental system to the bike-sharing program in Boston.  We’re excited to have Boston as a customer, but we’re also eager to see how this will improve the user experience of bike-sharing,” according to a statement from HelmetHub. “We’re anticipating an increase in the number of bike-sharing users in addition to the percentage of users who use helmets.”

According to recent stats released by Mayor Tom Menino’s office, in conjunction with various city departments and first responders, accidents where Emergency Medical Service personnel responded to the scene, 52 percent of bicyclists involved in the crash didn’t have helmets on.

The data compiled by the city has led to Menino considering a rule that would require cyclists to strap on head-gear before getting on their bike. If that were to happen, stopping at a HelmetHub for a day ride would be a welcoming option. The city currently makes low cost helmets available at more than 32 retail locations, at farmers markets throughout the summer, and online for Hubway members. Menino has recommended that the city continue to expand its distribution of low cost and free helmets to the general public.