9 steps to a successful campus bike share

Are you considering bringing bike sharing to your university’s campus? Here are the 9 key things you need to consider as you plan a bike sharing program for your campus. A well run bike sharing program is more than another campus amenity - it’s an integral part of the campus’ transportation network. Considering the factors discussed in this post will empower you to overcome the complexities and challenges of establishing a successful bike share program for your campus.

If you have questions, get in touch. Our mission is to help students, faculty and administrators establish successful bike share programs on their campuses.

Zagster’s planning, launch and operations teams are experienced in managing on-demand campus transportation networks and we are happy to work with you in developing a plan for your bike sharing program.

The 9 steps to planning a successful campus bike share:

  1. Ensure bike sharing aligns with your university’s goals
  2. Design a great rider experience
  3. Determine what type of bike sharing system works best
  4. Evaluate the best location for bike stations
  5. Calculate the number of bikes your campus needs
  6. Create a strategy for your launch, marketing and educational activities
  7. Account for the 7 fundamentals of bike share operation, support & maintenance
  8. Give the university predictable costs & responsibilities
  9. Account for growth and expansion

Step 1: Ensure bike sharing aligns with your university’s goals

Bike sharing programs are a highly visible addition to a campus’ transportation system. In order to launch a successful bike sharing program, it’s critical that you identify stakeholders and clearly demonstrate that bike sharing aligns with the goals of the campus.

Some common campus goals that our partners have achieved with bike sharing programs include:

  • More efficient movement around campus
  • Decrease single occupancy vehicle use
  • Reduce strain on campus parking
  • Reduce campus traffic congestion
  • Improve the health of students & employees
  • Increase the perceived value  of the campus to prospective students & employees
  • Reduce the number of bikes in residence halls
  • Reduce personal bike theft and abandonment

Your campus may have different or additional goals to these. Also, your campus may prioritize these goals differently. It’s important to include all key stakeholders in your discussion about bringing a bike share program to your campus. These include:  Student Affairs and Campus Life, Facilities, Transportation, Residential Services, Business Services, Sustainability Organizations and Student Government.

Step 2: Design a great rider experience

A bike sharing program is only as good as the experience of its riders. Take time to think about and decide on what you want the rider experience to be:

  1. Checkout and Unlocking: Do riders need to talk to someone to checkout a bike? Or do they simply download an app and login with their campus ID?
  2. Level of Availability: Are bikes available 24/7 on-demand or does someone need to be on duty check them out?
  3. Checkout time: How long can a rider take a bike for?
  4. Trip format: Where can a rider take their bike? Does the trip have to end at the station where they first took the bike? Can they stop over and lock the bike up along the way?
  5. Cost to user: Do you provide the program for free? Do riders pay an annual membership, per ride or time based fee? It may be important to select a program that gives you flexibility to adjust the user pricing model as your system matures.
  6. Scope of Accessibility: What kind of bikes are available for riders? Can you offer a mix of bike styles for differently-abled riders or specific tasks (such as cargo-transportation)?

Step 3: Determine what type of bike sharing system works best

Based on the type of rider experience you want to design, you will need to decide between the different types of bike share programs:

  1. Ad-Hoc: Bikes are freely available around campus. No locking or management technology.
  2. Bike Library: Central storage locker. Riders must request a bike in person and are given permission to checkout and use. Also known as a bike corral.
  3. Kiosk/Tech on Station: Riders can rent bikes from an automated station. Riders can only return bikes to open station spots and stopovers trips may be limited based on system design.
  4. Tech on bike: Unlocking and rental technology on the bike. Riders can start and end trips at any rack location. Locking technology allows for stops during ride, in between check out and check in. Trips can be ended by locking the bike to the station, even if an ‘official’ spot is not available.

Step 4: Evaluate the best location for bike stations

Station placement is critical to maximize system visibility and ridership. Stations should be conveniently located, next to, but not in, major thoroughfares. Stations benefit from being easily visible and located near to appropriate trails or roads for biking. You should also consider how you place stations to encourage trips between central and more distant parts of campus, including parking lots, staff buildings and residence halls.

The placement of the bike share stations also depends on aspects such as concentration of students nearby, pedestrian and vehicular traffic passing by, and the availability of protection from weather. Finally, the bikes should be secure at this location and riders should be able to distinguish bicycles of the bike share from other personal bicycles on campus.

Some common station locations for successful campus bike share programs:

  • Central library
  • Dining & residence halls
  • Quad or campus core
  • Key academic buildings
  • Health center
  • Parking lots
  • Campus entry points (gates or roads)
  • Sports centers (including recreation centers and stadiums)

Off campus locations that some universities find add high value to their bike sharing programs:

  • Downtown destinations including restaurant and shopping areas
  • Local transportation centers like bus and train stations
  • Major city areas such as event centers and parks
  • Off-campus student housing properties

Additionally, the placement of stations is dependent on the number of bikes that you have in your bike share system. We recommend a 2:1 ratio of parking spots to bikes, meaning that when the system is perfectly balanced, stations are 50% full. This leaves plenty of room for riders to take and leave bikes and minimizes the number of times you need to rebalance your system.

Step 5: Calculate the number of bikes your campus needs

Accurately predicting the number of bikes you will need on your campus can seem like rocket science. You don’t want too few bikes and have students lose trust in the reliability of the system. You also don’t want too many, with unused bikes sitting alone at the stations.

An ideal number of bikes means that each station is anywhere between 30-50% full at any time, leaving enough bikes to checkout but always enough space for a rider to drop off a bike.

But how many bikes do you need? In general, we recommend looking at four factors when planning your system size:

  1. Total campus population that could use the bike share system, including students, faculty and staff.
  2. Percentage of population that would use the system on a regular basis.
  3. The average number of weekly trips taken by a regular rider.
  4. The average trip time taken by a regular rider.

In general, this means that we recommend campuses to start between 150-300 potential riders per bike in the system.

If you would like more guidance on estimating system size, we work with many campuses to help determine the exact number of bikes to start with. Contact us for further insight.

Step 6: Create a strategy for your launch, marketing and educational activities

The most critical moment of your bike share system is the launch. Strong user adoption and good education will set your program up for success and allow for a ‘snowball’ of user adoption on your campus.

If your launch leaves potential riders with a negative experience due to lack of education, awareness or abuse, the system can snowball in the opposite direction - leading to a cycle of low ridership and mistrust in the system.

Planning your launch day around a time of year when students, faculty and staff are on campus and not engaged with critical academic activities (i.e.: finals week) is essential to any promotional campaign’s success.

During the launch, it is important to host rider education sessions and have compelling educational materials to show riders the right way to use the new bike share system.

Rider promotion is paramount to the success of a campus bike share program. The criticality of a functional, well-designed and aesthetically pleasing station cannot be understated. Additionally, you should think about ways that you and your bike share provider can collaborate to get more people to try the new bike share system and spread the word around campus.

Step 7: Solve for the 7 fundamentals of bike share operation, support & maintenance

Designing, purchasing, installing and launching a bike share system is only the beginning. While these activities are necessary, campuses should be cognizant of the fact that the majority of time and expense related to having bike share will be spent on operations, support and maintenance.

There are 7 fundamental aspects to the long run operations, support and maintenance of a bike share system that you should resolve before you launch your program:

  1. Responsibility. Who is ultimately responsible for the system day to day? When something goes wrong, who gets the call?
  2. Liability. Where does liability fall for bike or property damage? Rider injury? The best bike share programs come with, or set aside, an insurance policy for liability coverage.
  3. Rider support. If a rider has a problem with or a question about the system, who can they talk to? Do you have a reliable, informed and empowered contact that can work with the rider to resolve their issue?
  4. Rebalancing. If you are allowing point to point trips, how often and who is responsible for reallocating bikes evenly across the system?
  5. Cleaning & maintenance. Bike share bikes are ridden significantly more often than personal bikes, sometimes up to 5 hours a day. Also, dirty bikes and stations leave a bad impression and lead to lower ridership. You must identify an entity with experience in bike mechanics that is responsible for regular maintenance of the bikes as well as account for the costs of replacement bike parts and repair time.
  6. Emergency repairs. With any bike share system, parts are bound to break. Sometimes, something as simple as an accidental flat tire can render a bike unusable. When an emergency fix is needed, who is responsible and how does the campus pay for part or bike replacements?
  7. Storage. In some states it may be for snow, in others, hurricanes, tornados or tropical storms. Due to weather or other factors, there may be times when you must take all bikes off the ground for secure storage. If you anticipate this being necessary on your campus, it is critical to have a plan, or work with your bike share provider, to ensure fast and safe storage of your fleet.

Step 8: Give the university predictable costs & responsibilities

The biggest issue many campuses face with bike share programs is that the upfront costs regarding bikes, stations and system launch are fixed and predictable, but the ongoing, everyday expenses of operating, supporting and maintaining a bike share system can be highly variable.

In our experience, these ongoing operational costs can make up the bulk of the university’s cost for running a bike sharing program.

When campuses own and operate their own programs, we see a rough price breakdown of 40% of overall program costs going towards the initial equipment purchase and 60% of overall program costs going towards ongoing maintenance, support and replacement activities.

It is important to consider the long-run responsibility and budgeting ability of the campus. Even the most highly talented and motivated group of students will eventually graduate.  Plan ahead to ensure that the campus can support and operate the program over the course of 5, 10 years or longer.

Additionally, many organizations prioritize budget predictability and stable costs over a rock-bottom price. Keep in mind that ability to reliably plan for the expense of running a program may be more attractive for budget authorities than getting something that is cheaper upfront but fluctuates in its demand for money and time.

Step 9: Account for growth and expansion

Every campus program’s goal should be growth. A healthy bike share is a growing bike share. We see well-run bike shares become an integral part of the transportation network on their campuses, enabling better trips and health adventure for all of the people who work, live and study on campus.

When you plan your bike share, think about the options for growth. As more bikes are added to the system, will there be a way to scale operations in a way that controls costs? Does your system get automatic upgrades and access to new technology or will the campuses need to purchase bikes and sharing technology again?

Its also important to plan for ongoing rider marketing and education. Every year, a portion of your campus will be new students so ongoing activities to help them be engaged with and properly educated about your system is important. The best bike share providers include this in their services and are always working to help the system grow in ridership and influence for the campus.

Summary

Don't underestimate the complexity of launching and running a new transportation network on your campus. Considering these 9 points when planning your bike share program will help you to fully prepare to select the right partners and equipment to allow for successful launch and long-run growth of your campus’ new bike share.

Learn More

Download the free guide Campus Guide to Bike Sharing here.

Zagster’s planning, launch and operations teams are experienced in managing on-demand campus transportation networks. Get in touch with us to learn more about how we can help you in planning or implementing a bike share program for your campus.