College bike sharing takes off

US universities offer bike sharing to students

For many college students the daily commute to campus involves walking or driving, but many schools are looking to increase bike use. The biggest factor cited as to why students don’t often bring bikes to campus is that when they aren’t being ridden they take up space in a dorm or apartment, or are left in the elements and at risk of theft.

A few US universities are offering bike sharing programs to encourage riding, not only as an alternative to driving on campus, but also to offer a way for students and faculty to stay in shape. More than 100 schools across the country from: Washington State University, which now has bike sharing stations on campus, to Duke University in North Carolina. These programs allow students to check out bikes from a large inventory, and are already becoming popular. Many other schools have noticed the programs popularity and are looking to add bike sharing to their amenities in the near future.

Upstate New York’s Ithaca College’s Bomber Bike Initiative began as a project for an Environmental Science and Technology class and has since developed into a full-blown program to promote bike usage while supplying coverage bike storage across the campus.

While not a formal student organization, and still very much in the planning stages, Lauren Goldberg tells BikeRadar, “we’re looking at a bike sharing program for anyone in the Ithaca area.”

And while the Ithaca program is still small compared to the $140,000 automated system that WSU is offering, Goldberg continues to pedal forward. She has also looked closely at what neighboring university Cornell was doing with its own Big Red Bikes sharing program, and recently attended a conference hosted by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, where bike sharing was heavily discussed.

The still in the works program would provide a number of bikes that could be used by students, while also providing shelters that could be offer safe short term storage for commuters and students. For the sharing program there would be a small annual fee, and the bikes would be available for much of the school year. “We want to make our program available from August to Thanksgiving,” said Goldberg. “Then the bikes will be put away for the winter, where it will give us time to maintain them.”

Weather remains an issue for many bike sharing programs, other schools are still rolling forward with their pilot programs, and this also includes some high-tech options. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville recently launched two bike-sharing stations, each offers 10 bikes in total, seven of which are electric bikes. “I’ve seen and read about their various successes and some of the challenges,” Christopher Cherry, assistant professor at the university, told BikeRadar. “I think that these systems hold a lot of promise, but I think that e-bikes can add even more value.”

Cherry says that he is still evaluating the system’s impacts now, and as it is small, he says the measurable impact is also minor, but hopes that as it is scaled-up that it could compound potential reductions in traffic on campus. “We plan to investigate health impacts too, due to increased physical activity,” added Cherry. “It really depends on what mode of transportation the bike or e-bike is displacing.”

The University of Tennessee program’s founders hope to conduct a robust pilot test this academic year and evaluate

the future of our system afterwards. “I hope the system can expand, but that will follow a good analysis of the business case and the technical evaluation,” said Cherry. “Even if our system doesn't expand, I hope the technology and concepts can be shared and adopted elsewhere.”

The programs that start on campus are also turning into fully-fledged businesses too. While not exactly Facebook level success stories yet, Atlanta’s viaCycle is just an example of how these programs can grow. The company, which includes several former Georgia Tech Students, offers a bike-sharing program geared towards students, faculty and staff. “We’ve done a lot of research on what was out there,” said Kyle Azevedo of viaCycle. “We were working on the program for about two years, and we saw what was out there worked well for large cities, with fixed infrastructure, with the kiosks. But for small entities like universities and small towns there just isn’t the money.”

So far the viaCycle program offers 35 bikes with a few other cycles in reserve, but Azevedo says it very much a business that is growing, in no small part because of the demand from students. “What we are trying to do is use technology democratize sharing,” he said. “You don’t have to own a bike to have one at your fingertips all the time.”

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