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Bike share program faces challenges

The Share-a-Bull bikes program has seen unexpected success with an average of 20 rides per bike during the week.

What started out as a discussion about sustainable transportation in an engineering class, later turned into a campus-wide project to make traveling around campus easier and more enjoyable. However, the 100 bikes currently on campus as part of the Share-a-Bull bike program have faced some bumps in the road.

“Because of the way people have used the bikes, we have 30 bikes in repair and we’ve gone through about $4,000 in parts already,” Francis Morgan, assistant director of outdoor recreation, said.

Morgan said he receives reports of people riding two to a bike, racing bikes, riding them down stairwells, taking them off campus and not locking them to racks — all of which can cause damage to the bikes and require repairs or put the bikes at risk.

When associate professor of civil engineering Yu Zhang first submitted the proposal to the Student Green Energy Fund it failed. The proposal was denied twice before being approved in 2014.

“The first one I submitted was in 2010,” She said. “At that time, I think the charter of the Student Green Energy fund focused on energy saving proposal. Our project here would help improve the mobility … But it’s not very direct.”

Originally, Zhang proposed a free-floating bike share program that would not have included any kiosks, which she believed would have restricted use of the bikes due to the high price of producing the kiosks. 

“Our goal is to have more turnaround and to have more students using the bicycles,” She said. “We have short trips, students really use them from one building to another building. We have more bicycle racks around campus, which makes them easy to check out and easy to return.”

She said the cost of repairs was something they couldn’t easily predict since it varies so much from one program to another. However, when the plan was approved, it received a two-year operating budget that would help insure the bikes functioned properly.

At the moment, Morgan said that they have a small team that goes out every morning from about 6 to 8 in order to check the bikes. 

“If they can’t fix it in a minute or two, then they transport it back to the shop so that somebody who has more time and more daylight can spend the time to fix it,” Morgan said. “We have five bikes that are damaged so badly that we’re waiting for parts from a manufacturer.”

Five bikes are sitting in the repair shop waiting for the parts to fix their computers, which were severely damaged. Morgan said those might be the result of attempted thefts.

“That’s the kind of thing where somebody … tried to get a bike to open by banging on the computer,” he said. “One was obvious that somebody was trying to steal it. They went through a lot of pain to try to get the bike to unlock. They’re not easy to steal.”

Morgan is currently taking measures to encouraging proper use of the bikes that would lead to needing fewer repairs. One such measure will be a campaign to raise awareness of how treatment can affect the bikes.

There are also already considerations about what to do when repair money runs out. Morgan said they’ll know a semester beforehand but if his hope for sponsors doesn’t work out, students and staff would have to start paying to use the bikes.

“How it would probably go is students pay $10 a semester and staff and faculty pay $15 semester or something like that. That would be their membership for the semester,” Morgan said. 

He still considers the program a success, as there have been almost seven times more users than originally planned and more joining every day.

“Some of the things we’re happy about (are) by the end of the day, we’ll have 3,400 active users. Marketing-wise, we wanted to have 500 (users) by the end of the semester,” Morgan said. “In my mind that was a goal that was reachable but I’d like to have 4,000 users. We’re reaching that. We get about 40 new users every day.”

During the week, he said each bike is ridden about 20 times, and on weekends, each gets about 10 rides.

Due to the large amount of support from students and faculty, the program hopes to expand to include 200 bikes by the end of the Spring semester. Zhang also said she would like more racks on the edges of campus and a rebalancing of bike distribution.

“There’s some people who ride two minute trips twenty times a day, and they’re parking the bikes well, they’re locking them to racks,” Morgan said. “We’re really happy with the people who are using the system well and appropriately.”

— Additional reporting by Grace Hoyte.