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New bike sharing programs come to Duke, Durham

Lime green and bright orange bikes have been popping up around campus and in Durham as part of the city’s new effort to provide an affordable form of transportation.

On Nov. 27, LimeBike and Spin launched their dock-less bike share program in Durham. The programs allow users to find, unlock and rent bikes with their smartphones. Rides cost one dollar for every every half-hour and are currently 50 percent off for students with a .edu email. 

Duke previously had a bike share program called Zagster that was discontinued due to underuse. Unlike Zagster—which had three docking stations on campus—the new bike share programs do not require the user to rent or drop off the bicycle at a permanent dock. Instead, they can be left anywhere, and bike locations can be identified on a map through the company’s smartphone app. 

“Students spend so much money on textbooks and tuition and things of that nature, we just believe that transportation should not be a massive cost to students. We can help alleviate that by providing affordable transportation and transportation that you don’t have to worry about time and scheduling,” said Kemba Neptune, a Spin communications team member.

Neptune said that Spin decided to come to Durham because one of their local city managers is from Durham, and his wife is getting her MBA at Duke. It is important for Spin to have a personal tie to the city or university they are partnering with, she added. 

Both Spin and LimeBike expressed interest in coming to Durham in July 2017, said Bryan Poole, a transportation planner for Durham. At the time, there were no bike share regulations in place. After reviewing the programs, both bike share companies were approved for the city with a permit.

A document shared by Neptune noted that ride sharing is highly inefficient for last-mile transit. Therefore, Spin’s goal is to provide affordable and equitable transportation options, particularly for last-mile transit, such as the travel between a bus stop and the final destination.

“I think it’s going to benefit the people that are doing a lot of those one to two mile trips,” Poole said. “That could be students that are going from East to West campus, or traveling from campus to downtown or from offices downtown back to Duke.”

Poole explained that bike share is another great mobility option because it has become more difficult to park downtown and Durham has experienced increases in traffic congestion. The bike share programs are also beneficial for visitors to Durham by allowing them better access to downtown. Additionally, they help the city to collect data on bike traffic flow to decide where to improve infrastructure, Poole said. 

With its GPS technology, Spin’s local team in Durham is able to redistribute the bikes to areas where the bikes are more commonly used. 

Currently, each program has 300 bikes in Durham. The permit allows both programs to increase the number of bikes by 200 per month, with a cap at 2,500 bikes. 

Carl DePinto, director of parking and transportation at Duke, wrote in an email that Duke is planning to have a little less than 50 bikes on campus split between West, East, Central/Swift campuses and the medical center. The transportation department will monitor the program over the next several months, he wrote.

The University is currently collaborating with Spin and LimeBike to create designated bicycle pick-up zones on East, Central and West Campus, as well as the medical center. On campus, DePinto encourages students to place the bikes at Duke's established racks.

Neptune said that Spin has had positive responses to their program from other college campuses that they have partnered with. She added that in some cases, ridership on campus for one day was greater than ridership for a week in a city.

First-year Josh Coopersmith said he commonly used the two bike share programs back home in Seattle.

“I used them for fun because I did not live somewhere where I could commute anywhere by bike, but I know a lot of people do use them for what they’re for,” Coopersmith said. “I have a lot of friends at the [University of Washington] who use them a lot to get to class.”

Coopersmith, who currently has a bike on campus to bike between East and West, added that he might not have bought a bike if he knew dock-less bike share was coming to campus. He explained that he could have saved money because the bike share programs are relatively cheap, and he now only bikes twice a week given the colder weather.

He explained that he would often bike to East Campus alone because his friends would take the bus. But, with the new bike share programs, he and his friends to bike together back to East Campus, which he said would be fun. He noted, though, that it can be difficult to bike with a group using bike shares because bikes might not be clustered together, and they might have to “hunt” for bikes. 

First-year Stephanie Zhang also frequently used dock-less bike share in her hometown of Shanghai, China. She said she used it at least once a week, usually to get from her house to the bus stop.

However, at Duke, she feels like the price is not worth renting the bike because places on East Campus are within walking distance, and there is a bus system. 

“No one is really going to ride for 30 minutes, so the dollars can add up really quickly…[If there were more bikes on campus], I think I would use it a decent amount, especially to go to Ninth Street,” Zhang said. “But that’s if cost wasn’t an issue. Factoring in cost, I feel like it’s a little too expensive to justify a five or 10 minute walk.”

She added that because she has seen so few bikes on campus, she is afraid that if she uses the bike share to ride somewhere, someone else will take the bike and she will be without transportation on her way back. 

Ceri Weber, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in cell biology, wrote in an email that she is looking forward to the bike share service on campus, and many graduate students would definitely consider using them to travel to and from their parking garage when the buses are late or not running.

However, she expressed concerns that there are no places to rent helmets and that the roads are not entirely bike-friendly.

“I don't think one can expect, or even ask, students to consider using a bike share should they miss the bus unless various safety measures are put into place,” Weber wrote. 


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