How Student Advocacy Started a Micro-mobility Program at the University of Central Arkansas

How Student Advocacy Started a Micro-mobility Program at the University of Central Arkansas

by Adrian Albus

Once you are a Zagster partner, you sure will talk to Adrian Albus, our VP of Markets. His team will get you up and running in no time, and ensure the success of your program. Fun facts: Adrian is a Boston Celtics ticket holder and has hiked to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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Adrian Albus

VP of Markets

Spencer Burton is a junior at The University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway, Arkansas, where he studies finance. Back in late 2017 and early 2018, Burton led a 5-month effort, working with UCA students, UCA administration, local town officials, and Zagster to establish a micro-mobility program at UCA, whose school mascot is Bruce D. Bear. In this interview, he shares his amazing success story in bringing a bike share to “Bear Nation” and its over 11,000 students.

Adrian: Where did your idea of starting a UCA micro-mobility program originate?

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Spencer Burton

Spencer: I was interning with my local congressman, Rep. French Hill, in Washington, D.C., when I was assigned to write a one-minute speech for the congressman about the new Conway micro-mobility program, which launched in June, 2017. UCA is actually in Conway, but I hadn’t even heard about their new program until just then. I became interested fast.

Another catalyst was my positive experience using the D.C. micro-mobility program during a summer break. When I got back to campus at UCA, I looked at transportation differently. I said, “why can’t we bring a micro-mobility program to our campus, and maybe integrate it with the existing program that Conway has just started?”

Adrian: What did transportation options look like at UCA before the program?

Spencer: Our campus parking situation was, and is, incredibly limited. UCA has a large population of commuter students and we have a fairly large international student population. Those students don't necessarily have access to cars. We do have a shuttle program here at UCA, but then you’re reliant on the program’s schedule and defined pick-up and drop-off destinations. The spirit of our proposed micro-mobility program was simple: to enable our students to be mobile, whether on campus or off campus, on their own terms.

Adrian: How did you advocate for, and develop, the UCA micro-mobility program?

Spencer: I initially reached out to Zagster [start a program] and said, "I'm interested in setting up a program here at UCA, what can I do?" Zagster quickly responded and we had a conversation about options on how to make this happen. From there, I reached out to the bike friendly university committee, led by Dr. Peter Mehl, who’s currently the assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts. We basically got the people who supported a campus program into the same room, and talked about the details. Those people became our program champions. So I had the city of Conway with me, and I had a university champion.

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Then a bunch of things started happening pretty quickly. I continued having calls with Zagster, talking about the number of bikes, pricing models, that kind of stuff. I was also able to convince Kelley Erstine, the chief of staff for UCA’s president, that this was a good idea. There were so many people we had to loop in because of all the content-specific areas where we needed assistance, such as physical plant [the “built” campus environment of buildings, structures, etc.] for the campus, legal for contracting, and more. The whole process took five months. We worked with university officials to make sure the finances were okay. They signed the contract. We finalized all the deliverables, such as station locations, coordinates, and concrete. We were ready to go.

Adrian: What was the program launch like?

Spencer: We launched officially on April 5, 2018. We’d had a “soft launch” in late March, when we offered a promotional membership where students could sign up and ride for free. The April 5 launch party was so great. Guests included UCA students and administrators, the Mayor of Conway, and the UCA president. We actually organized a bicycle race between the mayor, the president of UCA, and the UCA mascot, Bruce D. Bear. And obviously, the Bear won (see the photo).

The program has been on a steady upward trend in the months since the launch. We've had around 11,500 trips, with 4,300 active members. Seven out of ten of the top riders are UCA students, with the remainder being members of the Conway community. In terms of how riders are using the program, it’s a mix of things -- getting around campus, recreation, and taking shopping trips to Kroger, Walmart, and other nearby retail locations.

Adrian: What have you learned by starting the UCA micro-mobility program?

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Spencer: I've learned a whole lot about project management, especially the need for having someone on your side who has decision-making power or who can influence decision-makers. This project taught me how important determination is. Once you've hit an obstacle or a “no,” you've got to figure out how to address the decision-maker’s concern. Typically, you need to regroup with the people you're working with, your team of champions, and say, “this is the concern someone has raised, so how do we address it? How do we alleviate that concern to accomplish our goals.”

Adrian: What’s your advice to college students, or anyone, who may want to start a micro-mobility program?

Spencer: Know your intent, your reason for doing this. Know the existing transportation problems, and how your program could help address them. Know how to communicate your ideas. If you're starting a campus bike share program, you need to know if students want it. You need to understand the geography, how people are currently getting from point to point. Is it car dominated? Does the municipality provide bike infrastructure? And you need to know if your university is open to a program. It takes a lot of determination and hard work, not to mention a supportive team to get it done.

Adrian: Thank you so much for taking the time to describe all you’ve done, Spencer, and congratulations on seeing all your hard work embodied through the great program you’ve started at UCA. We’ve watched you from afar, and are so thrilled to see the success of the UCA program. We look forward to continuing to help you grow the program and see even more riders take advantage of UCA’s amazing micro-mobility program. Good luck to you and all of “Bear Nation” there at UCA!