Since its founding in fall 2015, the Share-a-Bull rental bike system has seen issues such as misuse of the bikes and lack of funding for repairs. However, a change in organizers for the program is working to rectify that.
The system has been run by Campus Recreation through a grant funded by the Green Energy Fee, however when that money ran low and imposing fees caused a decrease in ridership, the move was made for Coast Bikes to take over operations.
“They operate the whole system,” Francis Morgan, assistant director of Campus Rec, said. “They do all the maintenance, all the rebalancing. They collect fees and they do customer service.”
The program was originally free for students, staff and faculty. They were only charged for damaging or misusing the bike while it was checked out. Under the free system, however, bikes were seeing misuse in the form of too many riders, being ridden downstairs or left in the middle of the road.
While it originally had 100 bikes in circulation, at times 30 or more would be in the shop waiting for repairs, which was causing the program to run short on funds.
Starting in January, the formerly free programmed offered as a way for students, staff and faculty to get around campus started costing $15 a month or 10 cents a minute with a pay-as-you-go option. The charge caused a drop in usage. In Nov. 2016, there were over 295 riders, which dropped to 112 when the charges started.
At the program’s prime, each bike was ridden an average of 12 times per day.
However, Campus Rec found that Coast Bikes — which organizes bike share programs in downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg already — would be able to take better care of the bikes with a lower fee for members. The company took over at the end of June.
“We at Campus Recreation, that have been the stewards of the bikes in the system, we’re not transportation experts and so we’re outsourcing to experts in transportation and bike sharing and all that,” Morgan said. “They helped us with getting the bikes started in the first place and so we approached them saying ‘we’ve run out of grant money, we can’t do it for free anymore. This is what it costs us to run the program,’ and they said ‘well, we’d offer it for less.’”
Under Coast Bikes, a membership costs $7 a month, which includes 60 minutes of riding per day and allows Share-a-Bull members to use the bikes in Tampa and St. Pete without additional charges. Most of the rides on campus last between five and 10 minutes.
According to Morgan, the only thing Campus Rec handles with the bikes now is any advertising on campus as the liaison, and he receives monthly updates about the program. The bikes are still owned by Campus Rec, but Coast Bikes covers regular maintenance and any repairs.
Eric Tull, Florida Regional Director for Coast Bikes, would not disclose the costs of these. He said Coast Bikes has a staff of two regularly checking the bikes with every bike getting looked at about every 72 hours for general maintenance, such as checking the tires for air and a light cleaning.
Additionally, he said every bike goes to the company’s local shop once a month to get a more thorough tune-up and cleaning.
“Our goal is to ensure that any time a student touches a bike, it’s going to work and it’s going to be clean,” Tull said. “Because I know that was a problem in the past and that left a bad taste in students’ mouths. Understandably so.”
In October, the bikes saw a total of 1,789 trips, according to the report, with each bike averaging 0.81 trips. While this isn’t where the program was before or where Tull would like it to be, it was a 41 percent increase over September, and he said he’s remaining hopeful that the program will continue to grow.
“We are working on formulating a way to not only increase the number of bikes but also to increase the accessibility,” Tull said. “We kind of came into this with the goal of being able to get people to off-campus housing and beyond, potentially even to workplaces. I think we’re just getting our feet wet with the operations of the Share-a-Bull bike system and then over the next probable 12 months we’re hoping to see a lot of changes.”