Sunday, October 26, 2008

University Bike-sharing's Time has Come

Thirteen years after the first 3rd generation (high tech) university bike-sharing program, Bikeabout, was launched at Portsmouth University in Portsmouth, UK, North America will see its very own automated system with the launch of St. Xavier University’s program within the next few days. The Green Bike Program will allow students, faculty, and staff at the Chicago university to use their ID cards or obtain an access code to the lock via text message.

The bike-sharing system they will be using is called Veloway and is from the French transportation company, Veolia. The cost to use one of the 65 bikes will be free for the first 15 minutes and then be 60 cents for each additional 15 minutes. As The Examiner reports, “[St. Xavier University’s] interest in the bike program is part of a larger commitment to a carbon-neutral campus environment, called the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.”

The cost of the Green Bike program is not cheap, however, compared to alternatives, it is a great deal for the university. The Examiner reports “the initial costs [total] $250,000 and $3,000 for monthly costs”, for a first year total approaching $290,000. Future year costs likely will include only the monthly costs unless the size of the bike-sharing fleet expands, requiring more bikes and stations. A report by George Mason University of Fairfax, Virginia, my alma mater, states the cost of constructing each parking space at the University is $7,000 with an annual maintenance cost of $1,000 (see the report in the Research section of the Blog). Therefore, university facility managers could exchange the construction of 41 new parking spaces for a bike-sharing program the size of St. Xavier’s.

Universities are in many ways an ideal location for bike-sharing. With a young demographic and individuals who are generally more active, car-free, and willing to bike, bike-sharing will likely take-off. As the Bikeabout report (see Research section of The Bike-sharing Blog) states, a survey of Bikeabout users from Portsmouth University’s program “discovered that 33% of Bikeabout users were people who did not have a bicycle and most of them had not used a bicycle for several years. The scheme was thus re-introducing people back to bicycles.” A U.S. travel survey shows that the number one reason people don’t bike is not that they don’t feel safe cycling or the weather is poor, but rather they don’t have a bike. Bike-sharing fixes this as it makes bikes easily accessible, thus encouraging bike use.

Of Bikeabout trips, “[a]lmost one fifth of the journeys were previously made using a car. For these people the attraction of the scheme was a willingness to travel in a more 'environmentally friendly' manner, or to do more exercise. However, the largest (41.5%) modal substitution to Bikeabout bicycles was from walking, probably because the scheme offered significant time savings. The scheme also generated a number of new journeys; by improving personal mobility a number of new trips have now become possible within a reasonable period of time.”

“15.5% of journeys were previously made by public transport. The bicycles offer a door-to-door alternative that the bus cannot provide. The relative time flexibility of the bicycle compared to mass-transit was also evident in the number of transfers (13%) from the University’s mini-bus service.”

As a New York Times article this past week shows, bike-sharing is catching on at American universities. Whether universities are using 1st generation (no tech) systems, 2nd generation coin-deposit systems, or 3rd generation (high tech) systems like St. Xavier, bike-sharing’s time has come for campuses.

photo credit: Veolia

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