Welcome back, bikesStudent Government recently passed a budgetary statute of $5,000 to partially fund a new campus-wide bike-sharing program. Zagster, the company currently in contract discussions with Duke, will provide bikes, regular maintenance and the ability to reserve a bike via text message or Duke card to students who enroll for a $20 annual fee.
Adding a bike-sharing program to Duke’s campus is commendable. Not only is biking a good source of physical activity and an enjoyable way to travel between campuses, but it is also already popular among students. Racks across campus are regularly full, and a study conducted last fall indicated that 68 percent of students who currently drive between campuses would consider switching to bikes if a bike-sharing program were implemented. Increasing access to high quality, easily rentable bikes will likely induce even more students to participate. Indeed, Duke’s sustainability goals are an additional beneficiary of the program. Bringing bike sharing to Duke is a no-brainer.
Zagster seems to be a good fit for Duke. The previous program, Duke Bikes, had several flaws, and many found it inconvenient and inaccessible. The proposed bike sharing contract with Zagster should solve both of those issues. As it is currently conceived, the plan calls for docking stations serving the East, West and Devil’s Bistro bus stops, which should facilitate campus mobility and reduce our heavy dependence on buses and personal vehicles. Students frustrated at having just missed a bus could hop on an unreserved bike and arrive at their destination within minutes. Furthermore, the regular maintenance provided by Zagster would ensure that the bikes remain in good shape. In general, the program promises to offer an efficient and safe alternative to commuting by foot between campuses.
Increased bike usage does not come without significant safety concerns, however. The current bike path on Campus Drive is poorly marked, discontinuous and simply dangerous. Regular buses barreling by at close proximity to bikers are a substantial deterrent for many prospective riders. Duke must consider its ability to accommodate regular bike traffic, especially given how popular the program is projected to be.
Students should also consider whether or not DSG ought to use public student funds to subsidize the installment of a for-profit bike service on campus. Although every student helps to fund the program through his or her tuition, inevitably, not every student will use the bike program. Zagster has a proven business model that has been successfully implemented at several universities. It is unclear why a $5,000 down payment is necessary, especially when these costs could conceivably be passed on to renters in the form of a slightly increased membership fee.
The University and DSG should clarify the nature of the down payment and disclose the total amount the University is investing in the bike program. Transparency with use of student funds is imperative, especially when they are put toward for-profit programs that will not necessarily serve all students.
Despite some concerns, the return of bike sharing to campus is an exciting prospect and, in our view, well worth the upfront cost. Zagster’s convenience, affordability and potential for growth make it attractive to students. We hope it will cement bike sharing’s place at Duke.