I used the new bicycle sharing service in downtown Lawrence; here’s what happened
photo by: Contributed photo
You don’t have to own a bike to be a biker in Lawrence. You can use a new privately owned bike sharing company that is primarily operating in downtown and on the KU campus.
But how does that work? I’m glad you asked.
With the city of Lawrence allowing bike sharing company VeoRide to place its app-controlled bikes throughout town a little more than a month ago, I decided to give it a shot myself.
I snagged a bike posted up on the rack just outside Merchants Pub and Plate at the Eighth and Massachusetts streets intersection on Wednesday and tried to make sense of this whole thing.
I opened up the app and went through the process of checking out the bike. First the app said I had to deposit some cash. It gave me the option of $5 or $10 with a free ride, $20 with two free rides and $50 with five free rides. I picked the $10 deposit because I wasn’t sure how much a single ride cost. I also received a 50-cent and a $1 coupon for signing up.
I later learned from Spencer Dickerson, VeoRide general manager, that the program can charge riders based on time use of the bike or riders can buy daily, monthly and yearly passes. A daily pass costs $6.99, a monthly is $50 and yearly is $100. If you choose the time ride, you pay 50 cents per 15 minutes.
He noted that VeoRide is offering a promotion until Wednesday offering all rides under 30 minutes for free. Currently, VeoRide operates 180 bikes in Lawrence, but another 180 bikes will be placed in Lawrence on Sept. 3.
photo by: Dylan Lysen
After fumbling around with my phone, accidently making the bike bell on the left handlebar go off at people walking by and trying to figure out just how to get the kickstand back up, I tried to get on the bike, momentarily forgetting I had to scan the QR code placed behind the seat (there is also a QR code posted just under the handlebars, in case you’re already on the bike when trying to unlock it).
Once I did that, the bike made a little click sound and I was off.
Beginning at Merchants, I meandered down Eighth Street and took a left onto New Hampshire Street.
When I reached the Journal-World office, I thought I’d had enough bike riding and would leave the bike in this area. But the app didn’t give me much guidance on where I was supposed to leave it. I found out later that there are specific bike racks throughout town where you can leave the bikes.
So instead of stopping and going back to other work matters, I kept riding toward City Hall, where I thought I saw a bike located earlier on the app. While passing the building (now on the sidewalk), I did not see any evidence of a bike rack or any VeoRide bikes. So I kept going all the way over the bridge into North Lawrence.
I enjoyed the view of the river and then turned around at the Levee Cafe and rode back over the bridge. While on the bridge, a man on a Harley Davidson gave me a head nod and said hello. We were just a couple of biker bros hanging out enjoying the nice weather.
Once I was back on New Hampshire, I found a bike rack along the brick wall of the former Borders bookstore parking lot. But when I got off the bike and locked it, the app said I did not leave it in a VeoRide service area and my ride would continue until I placed it elsewhere.
I tried to see where I was supposed to leave it, but the app was no use. Thankfully, I was only about a half a block away from where I got it. I rode back to Merchants and left it at the same bike rack. When the lock clicked, the ride ended.
photo by: Dylan Lysen
The ride was free, as I noted, because it was shorter than 30 minutes and I still have $10 of bike rides left.
According to the app statistics, I rode the bike for 12.7 miles, burned 715 calories and saved 30.1 pounds of reduced emissions. Very cool.
photo by: Dylan Lysen
The only problem is my Apple Watch disagrees. It says I’ve only burned 330 calories up to that point in the day. Additionally, Google Maps showed the ride from Merchants to Levee Cafe is 1.4 miles there and back. I have no idea about how many pounds of emissions I reduced, but the app doesn’t seem to have a good track record during this ride.
Either way, I’m counting it as a workout, based on the sweat and the racing heart.
Although I was able to get the bike back in the service area, the user agreement says riders will be charged up to $120 if they do not make it back and abandon the bike elsewhere. Dickerson said typically it would cost a lot less than that, about $10. He said the service area is all of the KU campus and the main strip of downtown on Massachusetts Street and its side streets.
He said riders can see the service area and parking docks by zooming out of the map while their ride is active. The reason I could not see it is because Apple is currently updating its operating system, Dickerson said.
photo by: Dylan Lysen
If a rider ignores all of that and leaves the bike outside of the service area, they could be charged the $10, but Dickerson said he would try to work with the rider first. I asked what happens if the lock doesn’t work and I just left the bike with my ride still running. He told me he would contact the rider, usually through text message, to let them know their ride is still going and he would advise them on how to get back into the service area or lock the bike.
“If they are unable or unwilling, I will charge them $10,” Dickerson said. “If a bike is really far away and it’s going to take (us) a lot longer to pick it up, then that retrieval fee might be higher. I haven’t had to do that in Lawrence, and I’m imagining if I had to do that in Lawrence it would probably only be up to $20.”
On my second bike ride, this time in the evening and wearing more comfortable clothes, I rode for about five minutes. The app seemed to gauge my information correctly, suggesting the first bike was malfunctioning.
I picked up the second bike on a bike rack next to Replay Lounge, 946 Massachusetts St., rode it around the corner of 10th and New Hampshire streets down to the Lawrence Arts Center, did a couple of circles around the area and then rode back to Replay.
I logged 0.47 miles, burned 26.6 calories and reduced 1.12 pounds of emissions, according to the app. The second ride was free, too, because of the promotion Dickerson mentioned. I still have the original $10 I deposited onto the app for use.
photo by: Dylan Lysen
Throughout my rides, the main issue I faced was finding a place to leave the bike when I was done. After my first ride, and before I spoke with Dickerson, I called a VeoRide phone number to figure out what was going on.
The man who answered — his name is Tom – told me that if you can’t find a bike rack, you can place the bike in a public space that is out of the way of others. Actually, that is not so in Lawrence.
Although other communities may allow for the bikes to be left in public spaces, Derek Rogers, Lawrence Parks and Recreation director, said the city took “the cautious approach” to require docking at a designated bike rack.
“We’d like to put our toes in the water and make sure we don’t have any issues with people complaining about bikes all over the street,” he said.
Lastly, I had some issues reporting problems. Dickerson explained there is a section of the app where a rider can report problems on specific parts of the bike. But when I had issues, it was related to where to leave the bike.
When I was out on the first bike, struggling to find a place to actually leave it, I considered calling VeoRide right then and there. But I did not see its phone number listed on the app, and I didn’t feel like sitting out in the sun any longer to try to find the number somewhere on my web browser.
Instead, I walked back to the office where I called Tom from the comfort of my desk.
While speaking with him, Tom said he did not think VeoRide’s main phone line was listed on the app, but he said he would have the developers add it for future riders who may need assistance immediately.
“Nice catch,” he told me.
That’s journalism at work.
UPDATE: A representative with VeoRide called after the publication of this article to say that a customer service help number has always been on the app. However, she acknowledged that the customer service representative the Journal-World talked to for this article, Tom, mistakenly said that the phone number wasn’t included on the app.