Shared, for a price

The Share-A-Bull bike program has seen misuse and daily wear from the beginning of its time at USF, which has now resulted in the pay-as-you-ride system. ORACLE PHOTO/ JACKIE BENITEZ

The start of the new semester brought about changes to Share-A-Bull in the form of increased fees.

As of Jan. 10, a new “pay-as-you-go” plan was implemented and the program started a monthly payment plan system designed to help cover the cost of repairing the bikes.  

The Share-A-Bull bike program started in fall 2015 and grew to include 7,200 members, but the $500,000 grant from the Student Green Energy Fund, paid for by student fees, that the program ran off of didn’t stretch as far as it needed to.

“We depleted most of our resources — our next task is to find funding,” Francis Morgan, assistant director of outdoor recreation, said.

While the program started out free for students, about a year ago those who used the bikes for over two hours a day were charged $5 an hour. With the new system, every user is given five minutes of free riding time daily and charged 10 cents a minute thereafter. Riders also have the option to pay $15 a month for unlimited ride time.

Previous members of Share-A-Bull might be a little discouraged to use the bikes because of the new price system. Concern over the complementary “first five free minutes” of allotted time is questioned to be an insufficient amount.

“Because USF is a big campus, I feel the ‘first free five minutes’ policy is not enough — 20 minutes would be enough to suffice someone from getting from opposite sides of campus,” said Victoria Carlos, a sophomore majoring in computer science. 

Some students debate whether or not to continue utilizing the program. 

“Sometimes you get stuck at a red light and those five minutes are used. Now I just see them around campus unused. I used the bike a lot last year, now I’d just rather walk,” said Wiebke Schmidt, a junior majoring in mass communications.

The program received pressure from bike share consultants to raise the prices from the new system and to decrease the number of users to a maximum of 600 members. Morgan denied raising prices to have the bikes operate successfully for continued availability for the people who are paying for the service. 

“If riding a bike is a part of a transportation plan, it is encouraged to purchase the monthly plan,” Morgan said. “If the user rides two hours a week, the pay-as-you-go will be more expensive than the monthly plan — it ends up being $25 as opposed to $15.”

All the data of each ride a user takes is saved through the computer on the bike and the app Social Bicycles.

The program is currently in $40,000 of debt and the pay-as-you-ride system is expected to help alleviate this. Since the beginning of the semester, the program has raised $500, according to Morgan.

Constant wear and tear led to the need for repairs and served as a drain on the project’s budget. Each bike costs $1,500 to manufacture to be theft and tamper proof.

“We originally we thought users were really rough on the bikes,” Morgan said. “We were having repairs in our system that no other system was having internationally.”

After just four months of operation, the repair shop was getting an excessive amount of requests for new bike chains.

Less than 10 percent of the people who utilize the bikes damage them, according to Morgan.

Reports of misuse include: riding the bikes down stairwells, more than one person on a bike and one instance of a bike being recovered from the roof of a building.

“At the beginning, each bike was getting up to 20 rides per day. The next best bike sharing system in the world was getting 1.2 rides per bike per day,” Morgan said. “In those first initial four months we put more miles on our bikes than other systems worldwide did in two years.”

The manufacturing company guaranteed lifetime warranty on the bikes and was confident in their durability. However, USF’s bike system exceeded normal mileage. Bikes needing new parts have been out of circulation, with parts only just coming in. These bikes are returning to circulation as repairs are made.

Six months after having multiple bike chain issues with the Share-A-Bull bikes, other systems worldwide came forward with the same problems.

“80 percent of our damages was because our system had more miles on the bikes than others,” said Morgan.

Currently, 88 bikes are distributed across campus and increasing with turnaround repairs.  

This year’s budget for USF maintenance is $109,000. This can range from changing batteries, fixing a flat tire, and drive shaft repair.

Due to a heavily shaded campus, the solar panels on the bikes are not strong enough to fully recharge the computer’s battery. The computer on the bike signals a GPS location every five seconds while being used. When it is not in use, it emits a signal once every hour. Overuse of the bike depletes the battery at a faster rate for location accuracy.

A week and a half into this semester there are 112 active members, 100 are pay-as-you-go and 12 subscribed to a monthly membership.

The day of the week determines how many users are expected to ride the bikes, according to Morgan. As of this week, 60 registered members of the 112 utilize the bikes daily.

Last semester on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016, there were over 295 different riders using 45 available bikes to make 482 rides.

Rentable bikes offered at Campus Recreation cost $5 a day and $85 a semester, but need to be returned during business hours. The flexibility of Share-A-Bull allows members to utilize the bikes at their discretion to best fit their schedules, according to Morgan. 

New renovations and installations will be built to create more Share-A-Bull “hubs” distributed across campus. 200 bike racks are expected to be placed next to various Bull Runner stops. The hubs will aid in location accuracy to make it easier for students and maintenance workers to find them.

Sofia Saavera, sophomore majoring in psychology, works at the Bike Repair Shop at the Outdoor Recreation Center, having repaired over 100 bikes with minor to intensive damage. Depending on severity of the repair, replacing bike batteries takes minutes while a bike chain repair can take up to an hour. 

Morgan never expected the program to remain free indefinitely.

“It was always projected for a revenue source after the grant money was used, for funds to be allocated from monthly members to pay-as-you-go users,” said Morgan.