The Duke bike program closed Friday when the 65 bikes were sold off by 1 p.m. The program, though flawed, did not deserve a full shutdown, and students and their Duke Student Government representatives should work to keep bikes on campus.
The Duke bike program deserved more attention than it received. Initially, the program operated through the Outpost, and the bikes were housed beneath the West Union building. Due to renovations, the bikes were moved to the Arts Annex. The bikes essentially moved from one awkward location to another that was less convenient. Storage, personnel and maintenance costs all led to additional financial stress on the program. Furthermore, UCAE cited a lack of organization and decreased student demand as final factors for the shut down.
Although we cannot deny that some issues existed, there is certainly value in having bikes on campus. For one, increasing bike usage on campus could be a large step towards meeting Duke’s goal of climate neutrality by 2024. Second, biking could bridge the distance between Duke and Durham and increase the flow of people, ideas and culture between the two places. Third, biking is a healthier form of transportation. Bikes on campus surely hold enough value that UCAE should have worked with the program to find solutions.
Because the program has already been disbanded, however, students and DSG must look for new solutions. We offer three general solutions here.
The first solution would be to outsource the bike program. It is odd that while New York City, Chicago and Washington D.C. are all instituting bike sharing programs, Duke is going to disband its program. Perhaps Duke can mimic the partnerships these cities have formed with outside groups and partner with a Durham bike shop. This Durham-Duke partnership would likely reduce storage, personnel or maintenance overhead costs. Hopefully, making the bikes more accessible would also increase student bike use.
The second solution would be to employ a membership system, whereby students purchase memberships to the Duke bike program for a semester or the academic year. Although interest may decline in the face of payment, the benefit would be that any damage to the bike and any other costs associated with the bike could theoretically be subsidized by the upfront payment. Furthermore, if students rented all the bikes early in the year, storage, personnel and maintenance costs would decline.
A final solution is a deposit system. In this system, students would pay a deposit every time they rented a bike. They would receive their initial deposit if the bike was in good condition upon return. This would provide an incentive for the user to take good care of the bike. Hopefully, maintenance costs and thus some personnel costs would decrease. Because of bike turnaround, instituting the deposit system would require the program to deal with storage costs.
Any answer to this problem will require mass marketing to students, more training for any employees and easy accessibility for all. The eventual solution will need to be innovative, cost-effective and user-friendly.