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Share-A-Bull bikes to improve cross-campus commuting

SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

The Campus Recreation Center will soon have another service to provide to students, but this time, no one will have to trek across campus to reach the building.

In collaboration with the USF Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) and Social Bicycles, the Rec Center will soon unveil Share-A-Bull, a bike rental program that will eliminate the need for students to flock to the Outdoor Recreation office every day. 

The program, originally pioneered by Yu Zhang, a professor in the College of Engineering, consists of 100 bikes placed around campus. 

“(Zhang) wanted to do some research around alternative transportation around campus,” said Francis Morgan, assistant director of Outdoor Recreation.

Zhang submitted a proposal for the bike-sharing program to the Student Green Energy Fund in collaboration with the Rec Center.

“We have infrastructure, we have vehicles, we have people who know how to fix bikes, to operate the system,” Morgan said. 

The program will be available to students to unlock and ride for free for up to two hours each day. Each bike will be equipped with a computer that requires a passcode from the corresponding mobile app to unlock. 

When someone registers for an account, they will be required to put in a form of payment, but only as a means of paying fees incurred by misuse of the bikes.

And the program isn’t only for students, as Morgan said faculty and staff can also use the program.

Morgan has worked together with Zhang and CUTR in developing the program, and he said using the bikes is very simple.

“People are going to download the app, and once they’re registered … they’ll just sign in with their single sign-on, just like they do with anything else on campus,” he said. “When they go in, if they want a Share-a-Bull bike … once they sign in, they’ll have a six-digit account number with Social Bicycles, it’ll be on the top of their screen on the mobile app.”

Once in the app, students, faculty and staff can reserve a bike anywhere around campus. However, once they reserve the bike, their time starts running, and they have 10 minutes to find and unlock it.

“(The user) can log in from the app or the website,” said Crystal Bissada, communications and marketing specialist at the Rec Center. “You reserve it, go online. You’ll get a code on your phone and you enter it into the keypad on the back of the bike. That will release the bike. Then, take it wherever you want, then return it.”

When the program launches later in the fall, students interested in using the bikes will have to download the Social Bicycles app for their smartphones. Within the app, a map of USF and the surrounding area shows where available bikes are at any given time.

Additionally, students can find out where hubs are around campus, and where there may be a bike locked outside of a hub, which is a popular destination around campus where the bikes should be locked in order to maintain steady usage of each.

It is very important for students to remember to lock up the bikes in hubs, as locking up at a public bike rack will run up a $5 charge on the student’s Social Bicycles account. The app is free to download and an account is free to create, but fees of varying prices will be charged to the account for a number of infractions.

After the daily two free hours of riding time, $5 will be charged per hour, up to $25 each day. Additionally, $5 will be charged to one’s account for locking a bike and logging out of the computer outside of a hub location. 

Most significantly, a $50 charge will be processed for locking a bike and logging out of the computer outside of the system area, which spans the campus and several nearby locations, including University Mall.

“They’re invisible lines on the map, (and) they’ll be on the map,” Bissada said. “Essentially, if you’re on campus, Cooper will be a hub, the Library will be a hub (and) Campus Rec will be a hub.”

USF is not alone in the bike-sharing project. Santander Bank sponsors a bike share program in London, and Vancouver has a similar system. 

The program, which is set to launch this fall, is going to have a pre-launch event today at Bull Market. Those who attend will be encouraged to download the app and learn more about the program. There will be free food and a raffle for gas cards, as well as free T-shirts. 

Though the program is new, Morgan is hopeful for its future. 

“We’re hoping that, the way campus runs, we’ll have to do very little moving bikes around in the middle of the night so they’re where they need to be in the morning,” he said. 

If all goes according to the plan, USF will add 200 more bikes over the next few years, which Morgan said will be a suitable number to meet the needs of the USF Tampa campus. He, Bissada and their team are eager for the bikes to arrive on campus.

“It’s been two years in the making, so it will be nice to have it on campus,” Morgan said.