(U)I gotcha

The University of Idaho is still working toward having a bike share program on campus despite a previous deal earlier this year falling through.

Rebecca Couch, the director of the Parking and Transportation Services at UI, said both the university and city have been exploring the usage of bike share programs for several years. However, the search has narrowed down to the company “Gotcha Bike.” Couch said the city could see Gotcha Bikes as soon as spring of 2019. 

“Our hope is to have a bike share launch for the upcoming spring semester,” Couch said. “We’re talking about probably 50 bikes right now, to start.”

Couch said although nothing is concrete, many stakeholders including the Associated Students University of Idaho (ASUI) and Moscow City Council members are on board with the idea of a bike share program in the city.

“We’re still in the discussion phase,” Couch said “We’re still learning and getting all stakeholders onboard to accept that this is how we want to move forward. We definitely have ASUI students ready to go. Now, it’s just working with the city. We want this to be a city-wide program, not just a campus-wide program, and to have that we’d need full City Council approval.”

Couch said the university examined various alternative transportation companies including Spin Bike, Social Bicycles Inc and Lime (formerly known as LimeBike) as potential options. However, each company declined for different reasons.

UI was on the cusp of launching a similar bike share system via Spin Bike at the beginning of the academic year. However, the company pulled out, saying they were abandoning their pedal bike system for electric scooters.

Couch said an alternative source of transportation would be well-suited for a finite area such as UI’s core campus.

“So, most student’s who live off-campus live within one or two miles,” Couch said. “And, if this is a community program like we want it to be, they should be able to ride the bike from their apartment to campus very easily.”

Robert Mitchell, a Parking and Transportation specialist said the university has been a location destined for alternative modes of transportation since its construction.

“The Olmstead brothers, the sons of the gentleman who designed Central Park — they designed our campus as an urban park,” Mitchell said. “As an urban park, and as anybody who walks the campus will notice, there are very narrow lanes, they’re not even really streets — and the core of campus, by design, does not have vehicular access.”

Mitchell said although the university is in need of alternative transportation, the logistics of attaining e-scooters can be tricky.

“Bicycles are a little bit more approachable,” Mitchell said. “Most of us in our childhood rode bikes, they’re good for exercise — with scooters, there still needs to be a body of law that governs them. We need to define what is a scooter. Is it a motor vehicle? The trail systems we have prohibit motorized vehicles.”

Mitchell and Couch said the university originally looked at different programs because, unlike Spin Bike and Lime, where there is a zero-dollar contract and the program would make its profit exclusively from its users, Gotcha Bike requires a financial community investment.

Mitchell could not provide an estimated price for how much UI would contribute. However, he said the funding could potentially come a combination of student fees, university and city council funding.

“ASUI are going to be working to bring a proposal to the Student Fee Board to fund approximately a quarter of the estimated cost,” Mitchell said. “That would be student fee of, somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.00 to $1.25 per year. So, about 50 or 60 cents per semester which would allow students something like 30 free (riding) minutes for all UI affiliates per day.”

With one quarter of the investment potentially being funded by small student fees, Mitchell said UI leadership is determined to contribute another quarter of the funding. This would leave roughly 50 percent of the funding to come from community investors such as local businesses.

“It’s community-focused,” Mitchell said. “So, I think we definitely want to talk to some of the corporations that have made Moscow what it is today.”

Although a bike share program would be new to UI, Washington State University have had three separate incarnations of a bike share program in over a decade. WSU began using Gotcha Bikes at the beginning of the 2018 academic year.

Donald Schmit, the coordinator of Washington State University’s rental shop and Coug Bikes, said WSU has experienced success with Gotcha Bike since adopting the company into their bike share program at the start of June.

Prior to using Gotcha Bikes, WSU used Green Bike for the latter half of a decade before transitioning to a system with Gotcha this year, Schmit said.

“Green Bike had exceeded its lifespan,” Schmit said. “We were having difficulties keeping the bikes functional, and keeping the computer kiosk that you would check the bikes out functional. It was just past time to be replaced with something better.”

Schmit said he has been very pleased with the success Gotcha Bike has had in such a short time period.

“It’s been working exceptionally well,” Schmit said. “We’ve seen far greater ridership, and usage here. We’ve seen just about as much usage in the first six months with this system than we were seeing with Green Bikes in a year.”

Schmit attributed Gotcha Bikes success to the system’s easy usage, and availability.

“Because (Gotcha Bikes) is app-based it is much easier to see if the station closest to you has a bike, and available.” Schmit said. “You can also see if there is a bike even closer to you that has been left out of a station. I would say, across the board, (Gotcha) is so much easier to use.”

Couch said, if an initial deal is made, Gotcha offers more than just bicycles, and that there are further alternative transportation options that could be adapted in phases.

“So, (Gotcha Bike) are all about complete mobility,” Couch said. “Not just bikes, and not just scooters. They also have a ride share service which is attractive. We’ve talked about how bikes aren’t always going to be a need. What about when it’s raining, or it’s cold? People probably aren’t going to hop on that bike. So, we want to meet community needs all throughout the year.”

Andrew Ward can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @WardOfTheWords


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