College Bike Share Programs Gearing Up for New School Year

College Bike Share Programs Gearing Up for New School Year

As summer rolls to a close, colleges and university groups are polishing up or launching new bike share programs to address concerns about the environment, traffic congestion, fuel and parking costs and wellness.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), based in Lexington, Ky., lists 61 free and low-cost rental bike programs at U.S. colleges and universities. The majority are free programs. At least nine started in the past year and at least three more are scheduled to start in the coming weeks.

"We have certainly been seeing an uptick," said Julian Dautremont-Smith, associate director for the organization.

Upcoming programs include a popular bike giveaway initiative at Ripon College in Wisconsin, where free mountain bikes with locks and helmets were offered to freshmen who pledge not to bring a car to campus. More than half the class of 300 have taken the school up on the offer.

At the University of California at Berkeley, the Green Bike Share Project is on track to begin a campuswide program with a fleet of 20 bikes later this month, said co-founder Justin Wiley, a senior majoring in Conservation and Resource Studies with a focus on Sustainable Development.

Under the pilot program devised by Wiley and co-founder Marcelo Garzo, a $15 membership fee per semester enables a student to check out a Green Bike for up to 24 hours at time, Monday through Friday.  Gear on loan with each bike includes a lock, a light, a map, safety tools and directions on how to use them. The program will also offer deeply discounted helmets for sale to Green Bike borrowers who need them, according to Wiley.

Wiley said he and Garzo, who is majoring in comparative ethnic studies, plan to expand the program with more bikes and a broader schedule next year. Their plan for the nonprofit program won this year's $10,000 first place prize for a project to improve student life in the Big Ideas @ Berkeley competition. The contest encourages student teams to create programs that will shape the campus' next generation of research, education and service.

Wiley said he and Garzo brainstormed several ideas and "bike sharing made the most sense."

"It was the simplest answer to very crucial sustainability issues we face today," he said, "not just environmental sustainability but also social sustainability — that includes issues of rising diabetes and obesity."

Dautremont-Smith of AASHE said similar reasons are often offered when schools tell his group of their plans to start bike share programs. Many involve support from or partnerships with businesses and organizations.

Important considerations when setting up such a program include making the bikes as accessible as possible, which often means adding more pick up and drop off sites as the project becomes more established, and creating a system for the bikes to be tuned up when they are returned, Dautremont-Smith said.

"The biggest thing would be to think about ways of ensuring that people return the bikes" in good condition to sites designated by program managers, he said.  And while bike share rentals may be free or low cost, users should expect to see a fee or deposit — usually also low — to participate in the program.

The Red Bike program at California State University, Fresno — now about 7 years old — has roughly 100 new and used bicycles available to students, staff and faculty. "There's a deposit," said Stephanie Hubbard, a junior who works with the program, "but you get most of that back if you return the bike in the condition you're supposed to."

The deposit for a semester of new bike rental is $55, as much as $50 of which is returned to the renter if the bike is returned according to stipulated conditions, she said.  It's a $20 deposit for a semester to rent a used bike, of which $15 is returned if the bike comes back as stipulated.