There are bikes virtually everywhere on campus; locked to trees and hand rails, left with flat tires and cast off as rusty, looted pieces on bike racks. With the possible addition of bike-rental stations around campus for student use, the university hopes to give students access to free bikes and reduce the number of abandoned bicycles that Facilities has to clean up.
Director of Facilities Services Rich Rind said no official decisions have been made yet about the bike share program. The bike rentals would be different from ones in most major cities because of the addition of GPS tracking devices to the bikes, he said.
This would save the university a significant amount of money previously spent on infrastructure costs, since the rental stations are expensive, he said. This is important, given the school would not be able to make money from rental fees, as the current plan provides bikes for students free of charge.
“The idea is not for students to pay,” Rind said. “The actual amount of time has not been determined yet, but we were envisioning three to four hours of free use, so only if you didn’t return it to where you got it from within that time frame, then there would be a charge.”
Students would be able to create their accounts via smartphone application using their school email addresses to rent the bikes. After making an account, students would use the application to rent and return bikes, and the GPS tracker on the bikes would be able to tell if the bike was returned to the area where it was originally acquired.
“The system would be set up so that you don’t have to return it to the exact same rack you took it from, but it needs to be the same general area so that the system would know you returned it,” Rind said. “The fee is just there to convince people to return them, we don’t have to pass any of the costs to the users.”
Since the university would not make any revenue from the bike rentals, it is seeking possible sponsors to help pay for the bikes, in case it moves forward with the plan. Rind said the bikes could serve as moving advertisements for the vendors, and the university thinks that the original nature of the program will draw in sponsors.
“We have identified some vendors that want to get involved,” Rind said. “The idea of being the trendsetter is appealing.”
This possible project is also part of an attempt to cut down on the number of abandoned bikes on campus. The university knows that many students go without bikes, or buy cheap bikes and leave them on campus over breaks and in bad weather. Rind said it is a lot of work for Facilities to remove the abandoned bikes, while bike sharing would be cheaper and easier for parents and students.
The bike sharing stations would be located around popular areas of campus, like North Campus and East Campus, where there is a lot of residential student traffic and possibly demand for the bikes.
Sophomore Kyle Plusch said he no longer keeps his personal bike on campus, but he can see himself using a free bike share system for days when he wants to take a bike to class.
“I’m on North Campus, so there are some times if I only have 10 minutes to get to class, I don’t really want to run,” Plusch said. “When I had my bike here, I didn’t use it that much, but there are some times that I definitely needed it.”
The bike share system would provide students like Plusch with access to a bike without maintenance concerns, but the upkeep of these bikes still remains a question. Howard Brown, store manager of Bike Line on Main Street, thinks that the bike share program could work as long as the bikes were cared for properly, and that could even increase the store’s business if the university contracted Bike Line store to keep the bikes in working condition.
“My biggest question would be the maintenance,” Brown said. “I think it would be worth trying from what I’ve read throughout the industry, there are lots of different campuses and cities that are doing it.”