Two Purdue University alumni recently launched a dockless bike sharing program called VeoRide in West Lafayette allowing users to pick up and drop off bikes wherever and whenever they want. Through a mobile application on a user’s phone they can locate a nearby bike and unlock it using a QR code. Once the ride is over and they lock the bike using a simple lever, the application charges them for the time they used it.
This is an exciting new mobility option for the Purdue community and is on the cutting edge of a trend that will impact colleges and universities across the country in coming years.
We Love David Bowie, But “Station to Station” Is On the Wane
Station-to-station bike sharing models have seen tremendous growth in cities and on college campuses since their introduction in the United States in 2010.
In the last year, however, the introduction of “bike-sharing 2.0” has caused disruption in this emerging market. Rather than pedaling from station to station, the dockless model means users can leave bikes locked anywhere they choose. While riders may be asked to leave them near existing racks, the lack of a traditional bike lock means they literally don’t need to be tied to existing cycling infrastructure.
Inevitably this dockless approach leads to some bikes being left in poorly chosen locations impeding pedestrians and traffic and annoying residents and business owners (or campus administrators). As the continued success in Seattle (the first U.S. city to issue dockless bike sharing permits to two companies) shows, this model is very popular with riders but does require cities and universities to understand how to regulate it and how to control its impact on our built environment.
“Bike share is growing at an astounding clip across the U.S., with over 88 million trips made on a bike share bike in the U.S. since 2010. In 2016 alone, riders took over 28 million trips, on par with the annual ridership of the entire Amtrak system, and higher than the number of people visiting Walt Disney World each year.” –National Association of City Transportation Officials
Competition in the bike sharing space is fierce and backed by increasing venture capital, prompting comparisons to the rapid growth of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft less than a decade ago. One of the two operators in Seattle, LimeBike just closed an additional funding round of $50 million and has plans to launch in 30 new cities as soon as possible. The Washington Post recently wrote an article comparing all four dockless bike share companies operating in DC including LimeBike and Spin, both of whom also compete for riders in Dallas.
College Campuses: Important Testing Grounds for Dockless Bikeshare
Many colleges and universities are looking to make their campuses more bike and pedestrian friendly and transition away from being dominated by automobiles and parking. By making priority for space more oriented toward cycling and walking, they see value in promoting active transportation initiatives as a means of improving students’ quality of life and college experience. Walking and cycling are cost effective, energy-efficient, low carbon, healthy, and pollution-free modes of transportation.
Modern campus plans focused on the health and well being of student populations call for building additional biking infrastructure and bike sharing systems have become a key part of this strategy. Their popularity in a variety of campus settings makes a compelling case for wide spread adoption.
College administrators and campus planners need to be prepared for the decisions they will soon make on how to implement dockless bike share systems and the restrictions placed on them to balance the benefits and disruption they bring.
As schools work with operators looking to add dockless bikes to their campus a couple of important considerations need to be addressed:
- The first is the number of bikes allowed in the system. While each operator will need to match the size of the campus and the number of students, there will be tension balancing the density required to make it appealing to riders with an oversaturation of randomly placed neon bikes becoming a dominant and unwanted aesthetic on campus.
- It is also important to clarify the responsibilities of system balancing. In a system with stations, this refers to transferring bikes from one station to another to accommodate demand and make sure there are no empty stations. In a dockless system this should include a plan to relocate bikes that have been left outside of designated areas in addition to rebalancing their distribution.
From the first steps of the planning process and studying feasibility (demand and financial), to system design and developing the organizational structure, choosing an operator and executing a contract that includes clear management guidelines, university campus transportation planners need to have clear objectives for bike sharing on campus. Consulting with experts and peers about best practices and implementation challenges allows universities to make educated decisions about rapidly emerging mobility options like dockless bike sharing – making their campuses more attractive to the next generation of students.