Healthy Outlook: KU bike-share program is about to kick into high gear

photo by: Nick Krug

Margretta de Vries, transit analyst for KU Parking and Transit, excitedly pulls the wrapping from the first of 180 KU bike-share bicycles on Monday, April 9, 2018 at a storage facility near Bob Billings Parkway and Iowa Street, as Can Dai, a representative of bike-share company VeoRide stands by. A launch party for the program will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, on the lawn of Stauffer-Flint Hall.

What’s better than the University of Kansas purchasing 180 Jayhawk-bespeckled bikes for all students and community members to share?

Getting them for free.

KU has partnered with the company VeoRide to bring a bike-share program to campus, and it’s happening soon — the bikes are expected to be delivered Monday. They’ll celebrate with a launch party from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, on the lawn of Stauffer-Flint and make the bikes available for use that day.

Donna Hultine, director of KU Parking and Transit, said she was in favor of a bike-share program but hesitant to fund something she thought might require another student fee.

Through this company, however — selected from eight responses to a request for proposals — the university paid nothing upfront. Instead, VeoRide gets paid through riders’ memberships and day passes.

“The VeoRide product, of the three bicycles that we tested, was the favorite by just about anybody that got on that bike,” Hultine said. “So that’s kind of how we’re here.”

A one-month pass for student, staff or faculty riders is $14, or $49 for a full year of unlimited 30-minute rides. That goes for anyone with a .edu email address, so students of Haskell or JCCC would be able to ride at that rate, as well. Monthly and yearly passes are $26 and $100, respectively, for community members. You can also pay as you ride — 50 cents per 15 minutes — or buy a day pass for $7.

The company will have staff on location in Lawrence to monitor the bikes and perform any needed maintenance.

The bikes themselves are pretty high-tech.

You use a smartphone app to scan a QR code on the bike you want in order to unlock it and start your ride. When you reach your destination bike rack, you manually secure the bike and tell the app to end your ride. Hultine said there will also be options for those who don’t have smartphones or access to a credit card.

This screenshot shows the VeoRide app’s map of all locations on the University of Kansas campus where bike-share bikes will be safely stored or picked up for a ride.

The bikes all have built-in GPS and various sensors that can set off alarms on the computer where they’ll be monitored if the bikes are tampered with, Hultine said. The GPS can also sense if a bike is moving at the speed of a car.

The GPS, headlights, tail-lights and electric locks are all solar-powered by panels in the baskets on the fronts of the bikes. The seats on the bikes are adjustable, with specific markings by height — no guessing at various seat placements.

“There’s seven gears on these bikes. We were worried about the hills, but we’ve had a few people who really are bike enthusiasts, who have really nice bikes, who like the feel of this bike and say that for maybe going up Naismith, the seven gears could be enough,” Hultine said. “… I think a lot of people will find that these bikes are really comfortable to ride. They’re really easy to step through; they’re really sturdy.”

As the program rolls out, all bike racks on KU’s campus will be designated as spots to leave the bikes. As students start using them, the company will be able to gather data on where they’re used most.

“We’ll have good data guidance on where those bikes should end up,” she said. “There’s no physical, permanent infrastructure; no new bike racks.”

Hultine said she hopes to work with the city of Lawrence to arrange for some bike racks around town, similar to the way the two entities work together to bring bus service to campus.

“It’d be neat to be able to have them on rec paths and in the downtown area,” she said.

Hultine is a self-described Fitbit queen — I can relate — who says she thinks anything that can get campus moving more is a good thing. Waiting for a bus can be stressful, but hopping on a bike at Daisy Hill to get to Jayhawk Boulevard, for instance, Hultine thinks will be a popular option.

“I am really excited to be able to offer another sort of movement option instead of everybody thinking you need a car to get around on campus,” she said. “I’m hoping that this is a good solution for movement. Even faculty and staff going to a meeting — I think if it’s relatively level, you know, grab a bike and go.”