Bicycle Sharing: As Easy As Checking Out a Library Book

By Kevin Sonoff, Bicycle Friendly Campus Initiatives Intern

Bicycle sharing is an important part of IUB’s continued growth as a bicycle-friendly university and need not be an overly complicated endeavor. There are many ways to offer bicycle-sharing services on a university campus, each with its own complexities and challenges. Three key factors to consider when creating a bicycle-sharing program include the following: simplicity in use, simplicity in management, and low cost (both startup and ongoing).

For a bicycle-sharing program to be successful, it must be easy to use – no questions asked. Successful programs must choose between management complexity and cost. High-cost programs tend to be automated in design and require fewer man hours to keep the program operating. Low-cost programs are typically low tech and require more physical oversight and attention to maintain service availability and functionality. In the absence of a very large donation or grant, many universities choose to go the low-cost, high-oversight route, which has created some of the most simple and successful sharing programs currently in existence.

The beauty of bicycle sharing is that the best programs are often the simplest. Some of the nation’s most successful university bicycle-sharing programs are laughably simple in design and execution. After all, does it really make sense to spend upwards of half a million dollars on forty bikes and three checkout kiosks when you can spend $75,000 on a fleet of 80 conventional bicycles that are manually distributed? One key advantage that universities have over large municipalities when it comes to bicycle sharing is the direct accountability of program participants. Universities can easily track down individual students by their campus ID card and number, making it very simple to keep a fleet of rented bicycles secure and in proper working order. Most, if not all, universities already use this same technology in libraries, recreation centers, and student unions to check out and sell a wide variety of supplies, equipment, and other products. With this technology already in place, why not extend it to bicycles?

The bicycle-sharing programs in place at Northern Arizona University and Portland State University demonstrate two of the most simple, practical, and cost-effective approaches to bicycle sharing on a university campus. Both programs treat bicycles like library books and use student financial information and accounts to hold students accountable for borrowed equipment. These programs are simple to set up and easy to finance and maintain. I believe the most feasible and successful program for IUB is going to be a combination of these two program models with a few additional options available to faculty and staff.

Bicycle sharing at IUB is a logical next step in the University’s development as a bicycle-friendly institution. Creating a bicycle-sharing program is a fun and exciting way to generate new interest in bicycle commuting among student, faculty, and staff populations here in Bloomington. By successfully implementing a simple bicycle-sharing program, IUB bicycle advocates can begin to build a solid business case for why investment in a larger program would be valuable to the University. Developing a strong base of program participants will speak volumes toward the potential of a large-scale program.

Launching a simple, library-like sharing program will help the University achieve its desired silver or gold-level designation from the League of American Bicyclists. Further, it will help the City of Bloomington achieve is goal of reaching platinum. By taking this first step, IUB is proving to its competitors and prospective students, faculty, and staff that it is committed to providing sustainable transportation options on campus. It is demonstrating its commitment to reducing the University’s carbon footprint and increasing the health and well-being of our entire campus community.

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