Texas A&M officials laud new bike-share program's early success

Riders log nearly 20,000 miles during free introductory period; 'mischievous activity' leaves some bikes far from racks

The Eagle

By Steve Kuhlmann

Published: March 19, 2018

ofo bikes on campus
Ofo’s bike-share program launched at Texas A&M late last month with 500 of the yellow bikes on campus. Leading up to the fall semester, the university and Ofo plan to place nearly 4,000 ready-to-use bikes on the College Station campus. (photo by Dave McDermand)

Texas A&M's bike-share program logged nearly 20,000 miles and 25,000 trips in its first two weeks on campus, officials with the university's Transportation Services said.

The bikes were free to ride through March 13 as part of a special promotion.

The success has not been without its challenges, as some users have failed to leave bikes in bike racks as requested, with some bikes even placed in trees.

Sustainable Transportation Manager Ron Steedly said while "mischievous activity" has long been a staple of college culture, Transportation Services does not "condone this type of activity that could jeopardize keeping the program in place."

"At times we will see mis-parked bikes or even a bike placed in a tree," Steedly said. "If there is a bike-share bike out of place, we ask members of the Aggie community to be good stewards of the campus and to return the bike to a bike rack, keeping the campus looking nice."

He said the program has received compliments both on campus as well as in the community, and off-campus residences like Park West and Northpoint Crossing have expressed interest in becoming part of the program's authorized parking area.

Overall, he is excited to see biking become a more available transportation method for members of the A&M community who may not have had it as an option.

"Customers have responded very positively to having Ofo bikes available for their use," Steedly said. "Since customers can park Ofo bikes in any on-campus rack, they are readily available to customers where they need them most. We attribute this high number of trips to this wide availability of the bikes."

The Beijing-based company's bike-share program launched at A&M late last month with 500 of the yellow bikes on campus. Leading up to the fall semester, the university and Ofo plan to place nearly 4,000 ready-to-use bikes on the College Station campus. While the bikes can be used to transport users wherever they need to go, Steedly said they are supposed to be left within the geo-fenced authorized area currently limited to the A&M campus.

Users can locate available bikes, pay for the service and lock and unlock bikes using the Ofo app. Pricing is separated into three options: The bikes can be reserved for 50 cents per hour, $9.95 per month or $34.95 per semester.

Ofo Head of Universities Austin Marshburn said while the response to the program on campus has been "tremendous," there is still much to be done to help members of the community understand how the system works and the benefits of dockless bike sharing, including "enhancing the local transportation ecosystem and decreasing pollution and traffic congestion."

"As with any new technology, there will be a learning curve, so we actively collaborate with university officials to ensure the right program for the university's needs," Marshburn said.

When the bikes are left in inappropriate locations, Marshburn said, local staff can help move them to a more proper place. Other duties include redistributing the bikes to better serve demand and ensuring public right-of-way is protected.

"We work hard to educate the Aggie community about the best place to park bikes on campus," he said. "Ofo has a dedicated, professionally trained operations team that serves Texas A&M and ensures Ofo bikes are parked in accordance with university policies and regulations."

Steedly said the greatest challenge he sees for the program is helping the campus community transition away from private bike ownership. He said he hopes the low cost of use and broad availability of the bikes will help encourage the transition over the next few months and into the fall semester as more Ofo bikes are added to the campus and abandoned private bikes are removed.

As Ofo and A&M Transportation Services gather more usage data on the program, Steedly said bike parking is allowed to be "more flexible in the short term" in respect to the geo-fenced area around campus where the bikes can be left. He said once more data on where users are taking the bikes is collected, they plan to "engage areas where demand is present to see if the private property owners want to be in the service area to better serve their residents (or) customers."

As with on campus, Steedly said the key to the program's viability is ensuring there is "adequate bike parking infrastructure to support dockless bike share."

The dockless bike-share company has a presence in more than 20 countries, according to Ofo's website. The company's 2017 report noted the bike share was established in 20 U.S. cities last year including Dallas, Seattle, Washington, D.C., the Denver area and the Los Angeles area, and that U.S. users rode nearly 275,000 miles from August to the end of December.

Marshburn said as the program becomes more normalized in the A&M community, he expects to see some of the unusual behavior wear off and for students to "start to treat dockless bike share as they would any other transit system."

Steedly said he has been proud of the response Aggies have had to the program and looks forward to improvements in the future.

"Collectively, we can and will change campus for the better by serving one another and by being good stewards of the program," he said.

To learn more about the bike-share program, visit transport.tamu.edu/alternative.

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