Campus bike-sharing systems can help reduce pollution

Benroy Chan

Just like inconsistent air conditioning and stressful class registration, stolen bikes and occupied racks have unfortunately become iconic of campus life. However, an improved bike-sharing system would provide a solution to the latter of these problems.

Austin is among the most bike-friendly cities in the United States, but a host of issues makes it difficult for students to utilize this form of transportation. Parking and Transportation Services recently announced the start of a bicycling committee to receive feedback on these issues and find fixes to them. If the committee truly wants to improve access and cycling opportunities for students, they should consider implementing an automated bike-sharing system akin to the one found around other areas of Austin.

Many students ride the bus in order to get around campus and to their apartments or dorms, but these buses release carbon dioxide and harmful pollutants through their exhaust pipes. Cycling produces zero emissions, so making it easier for students to ride bikes would reduce the need for buses, lower carbon emissions and improve our campus air quality.

Among all of the issues, bike theft is possibly the biggest deterrent to widespread student bike use. Last year, UTPD received 111 reports of bike theft, and this threat discourages students to financially invest in owning one on campus. Having a rental system would alleviate this stress and provide a low-risk option for students to bike around the campus area.  

Although UT’s Orange Bike Project offers a way for students to rent bikes, this program has crippling inconveniences. To rent for the semester, students must sign up on a waitlist that has over 70 people. Students also have the option to rent a bike for a day, but this can only be done once a week. While the program works well when available, these two flaws make it too inconsistent and nearly impossible to use on a regular basis.

Ultimately, UT should offer an improved bike-sharing system to encourage cycling. The city of Austin has successfully implemented a bike-sharing program called B-Cycle that uses automated stations across the city. Users check out a bike with a membership card and have 30 minutes to return the bike to any other station for no additional cost. If more time is desired, users can simply check the bike back in and out again.

Although critics of B-Cycle claim the 30-minute checkout time is too slim and inconvenient, the density of our campus makes 30 minutes more than enough time to reach another station. The bike-share program should be seen as a way to commute short distances, not make all-day adventures.

The new bicycling committee should see if an expansion from downtown Austin’s system would work or if a separate system could be made just for the campus area. Student ID cards could be used to release bikes to students and track added fees if not returned.

UT currently offers free bus rides to all students, and hopefully, bikes could be offered as a cleaner and greener free transportation method in the future. Offering an improved bike-share program should be a priority for the new bicycling committee, and making it a reality would further our image as a green campus and city.

Chan is a journalism and environmental science freshman from Sugar Land. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @BenroyChan.