UofA, city look to create bike-sharing program

The intersection of Dickson Street and the bike trail is a prime location for a bike-share station because of the high volume of bicycle and vehicle traffic, Eifling said. (Photo by Richard Pellegrino)

The intersection of Dickson Street and the bike trail is a prime location for a bike-share station because of the high volume of bicycle and vehicle traffic, Eifling said. (Photo by Richard Pellegrino)

 

By Richard Pellegrino                                                                                                                    

The Razorback Reporter

A joint bike-sharing program could replace Razorbikes and include stations on campus and throughout the city, officials proposed at the UA sustainability council.

“We are in the development and planning stages of, hopefully, launching a bike share system that will serve the city of Fayetteville residents and visitors, as well as the university campus students,” said Dane Eifling, bicycle programs coordinator for Fayetteville.

The program would differ from bike-sharing systems on campuses such as the University of Virginia and Ohio State University because it would collaborate with the city. Instead of adopting the bike-sharing program already used in Columbus, Ohio, officials at Ohio State opted for Zagster, a Massachusetts-based company. Officials decided that Zagster offered a more cost-effective model and more flexibility, according to an article published in The Columbus Dispatch in March.

Bike sharing is typically considered a big-city concept, but because of the advanced trail system that connects northwest Arkansas to the 40.4 miles for Fayetteville and the UofA, the area is a good fit for the program, Eifling said.

North Dakota State University partnered with Fargo this year to start a bike-sharing program that included about 100 bikes and 11 stations. Four stations were on the NDSU campus, and because of collaboration with the city, the program in Fargo has become an important model for planners of the system in Fayetteville, Eifling said.

“I think the university needs to be involved,” said Gary Smith, director of Transit and Parking. “We need to be involved in the decisions about which system we use and how it will work for the students because I think the students will be a large portion of the users for the system.”

A map of the potential bike stations around the city derived from work and residential population densities. City officials will try to place stations at some of the most congested areas, said Dane Eifling, the Fayetteville bikes programs coordinator. (Map by Richard Pelllegrino)

A map of the potential bike stations around the city derived from work and residential population densities. City officials will try to place stations at some of the most congested areas, said Dane Eifling, the Fayetteville bikes programs coordinator. (Map by Richard Pelllegrino)

Eifling has reached out to university officials and is working with real estate and commercial developers who are interested in including bike sharing in future development, he said.

“The students can provide the user base that we really need,” Eifling said. “The city can provide a lot of the infrastructure.”

The program is not developed enough to decide who will pay the majority of costs, but maintenance and operating costs most likely will be in the $100,000 to $200,000 range, Eifling said.

“The plans that we’ve looked at so far typically consist of a 100-bike launch,” Eifling said. “Stations are a little bit more flexible. There are a lot of technologies that are allowing stationless technology where the technology is on the bike.”

Part of the process is deciding which type of system to use. Some use high-tech docking systems to prevent theft; others favor technology that is kept on the bike. The rate of theft also is kept down by the bikes, which are “very difficult to dismantle and have almost no resale value on the secondary market, either for parts or to sell,” Eifling said.

No matter what type of system is used, the most effective theft and vandalism protection comes from riders who must give their credit card information, Eifling said.

“Even systems in very large cities don’t really have a problem with theft,” Eifling said.

Eifling would like to see about five stations on the UA campus and five more stations scattered throughout the city at high-congestion areas when the program begins.

Convenience also must be considered when deciding where to place stations. Strategically located racks could allow users to “park and ride,” Eifling said.

Users would most likely be able to sign up for day-long to year-long memberships, which would make the system convenient for tourists and residents, Eifling said.

Most of the money needed to install the stations could be received from transportation grants, and if the city decides to go with a model that favors low-tech stations, those initial costs could be very small, Eifling said.

Although the source of funding has not yet been identified, money from Associated Student Government could be a “very real possibility,” said Alex Ryals, ASG director of Transit and Parking.

“It hasn’t gotten far enough that anybody’s ready to write a check yet,” Smith said.

Transit and Parking and ASG already sponsor Razorbikes, a community bicycle program that allows students to use university bikes on or around campus for no charge.

Razorbikes includes more than 100 bikes, and if the new bike sharing program is implemented, the nearly $1,500 dedicated to Razorbikes maintenance would be used to operate the new program, Smith said.

“I think the goal would be to generate enough from the system to have the system pay for itself, not necessarily make any money off of it,” Smith said.

Razorbikes is underused, and the university is launching a social media campaign to increase use, Ryals said.

The fact that the free bike-sharing program is not well used, even if not well publicized, is not a good sign for a system that would require students to pay money, Ryals said.

“I think if the bike sharing program got big enough and people see value in it, then they would begin to possibly pay for it,” Ryals said.

Students would be attracted to a new bike-sharing program, but creating a program that runs smoothly takes a lot of work and a lot of time, Eifling said.

“At this point, between now and when we have bikes on the ground, it could be a matter of months, or it could be a matter of a year or more,” Eifling said. “It’s tough to say.”