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Abandoned bikes collected at A&M

From The Eagle

By Holly Huffman

Published: Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Though most Aggies have gone home for the summer -- or at least for the two weeks before summer school starts -- hundreds of students appear to have left a tangible reminder on the A&M campus.

Bicycles.

Crews with Texas A&M's Transportation Services spent this week hiking across campus, picking up abandoned bikes.

Workers started Monday and had collected roughly 1,100 bicycles -- including a racing bike valued at $1,200 -- by Wednesday afternoon, Parking Services Manager Dell Hamilton said. He estimated that as many as 1,400 could be collected by Friday afternoon, when the campus sweep is expected to be complete.

"I don't know if their cars get full from all the stuff they have purchased through the semester or what," Hamilton said, speculating on why so many students ditch their bikes before heading home. "Even the people that come get their bike usually say they just didn't think anything about it."

Transportation Services has been collecting the bikes at the end of the spring semester for at least the past decade, Hamilton said, noting that the number of bikes left on campus tends to fluctuate. This year, crews will have spent roughly 400 hours collecting the bikes by the time the job is complete, Hamilton said.

Last year, he said, no more than about 50 bikes were claimed. Most owners who do come back to claim their bikes do so this week. A second, smaller wave hits in the fall as students return to campus, he said.

Unclaimed bikes are put up for auction after being held for 120 days, as required by university rules. They are auctioned through the Web site http://lonestaronline.com, and the money goes to the university's general fund.

Students who do try to claim their bikes are encouraged to make an appointment via Transportation Services' Web site. They are asked to provide as much information -- make, model, color or any other identifying feature -- about their bike as possible.

"That's a tough one," Hamilton said when asked how the university ensures that students lay claim to the proper bicycles. "We really try to make sure the right person gets the right bike. There is no guarantee, but we do the best we can with what we have to work with."

Hamilton encouraged students to engrave their driver's license numbers on their bikes so they can be easily identified as their own. Such a measure also helps students find bikes that have been stolen from campus, he said.

Just last week, Hamilton said, university police caught three separate groups stealing bikes from campus, including one group that had filled the bed of a truck with stolen bicycles.

"Those are just the ones they caught," Hamilton said as he noted that bike theft was common on campus.

University Police Chief Elmer Schneider could not be reached early Thursday.

Ideally, Hamilton said, the university would register all bikes on campus and provide permits to bike owners -- an idea that has been kicked around for years. Though it wouldn't cost much to issue permits, there isn't enough money in the budget for employees to administer and enforce such a program, he said.

Such a program would have to be part of a university-wide initiative, he said.

Transportation Services also is trying to find funding that would allow the department to install more bike racks and make the campus more bike-friendly. During the school year, the racks near many campus hot spots often are overloaded, leaving some bicyclists to chain their transportation to trees and signs or even leave then unsecured in grassy areas.

Hamilton pointed to the bike racks at the east end of the West Campus Parking Garage near the underground pedestrian walkway that leads to main campus. The racks have a capacity for about 100 bikes, but there often are at least 400 bikes surrounding the racks during an average school week, he said.

Putting new racks in that location is a priority because the additional bikes could cause a safety hazard if there was an accident in the garage and people needed to be evacuated quickly through the tunnel.

"I think there has been an increase -- not scientifically, but perceptually," Hamilton said of the growing number of students biking to campus. "I really think there is. I couldn't give you a hard percentage, but just looking at [now] versus five years ago, the number of bikes around the racks has increased."