If I were to paint a picture of Isla Vista – and assuming I had some sort of artistic skill – I would include Freebirds, palm trees, and about a thousand bikes. While the student population of I.V. may change its face every year, one thing always remains the same: Isla Vistans of all ages love their bikes. Kids practice popping wheelies in cul-de-sacs. Cyclists in jerseys jet through on road bikes. Girls maneuver the streets on bikes, grasping handlebars with one hand and holding down flowy summer skirts with the other. (I’d admit, I’m guilty of this.) And of course, there’s the badass biker guy with a mustache who cycles around on his bike holding handle bars higher than his head.
This city – excuse me, “unincorporated community” – is tiny enough to ride around in 20 minutes or less, so there is no need for a car. Besides, if everyone had cars, we would have to park them on top of each other.
So when I saw Paris’s bike sharing program Velib’ last fall, I immediately wondered if something like that wouldn’t work here.
Here’s my plan, modeled pretty similarly after Velib’: Different bike stations would be set up throughout I.V. and on the UCSB campus, strategically located at the most popular and convenient bike spots. To use a bike, you swipe your credit or debit card in a machine similar to the parking permit machines currently at UCSB. You have to buy a membership – either a yearlong pass for $25, a three-month pass for $10, or a day pass for $1. Then the machine gives you a code to unlock one of the bikes, which you grab and ride away. If you get the bike to another station in less than 30 minutes, your ride is free. The first two hours cost an additional $5 each hour; each hour after that costs $10, to encourage the return and rotation of the bikes. If you don’t return the bike, your credit or debit card will be charged replacement costs of $500.
I figured the cost of the yearly membership fee by determining the average cost of a bike – sometimes on sale at Kmart for $80, usually about $130 for a new beach cruiser at a bike shop in I.V. – and dividing it by four, the average amount of time students stay in I.V. and need a bike. Theoretically, using the bike-sharing program would be about the same price as buying your own bike, if not even cheaper.
Installing a bike share program in I.V. and UCSB would mean people wouldn’t have to purchase bikes when they arrive in I.V., which is fantastic for those who aren’t quite sure if they’ll even want one. Students wouldn’t have to stress about what to do with their bikes over summer or winter break. There would be no need to stress over stolen bikes. Parking in illegal areas and having your bike impounded by Community Service Officers (CSOs) would be a problem of the past because parking in all bike docks is obviously legal.
Theoretically, bike sharing in I.V. is a great concept. People I talked to applauded the idea and wanted it to work. However, that’s just it – it’s only an idea. Having it actually play out, complete with its problems and costs, is a whole different thing.
“Forget it,” said George Misbeek, the owner of Varsity Bike Shop in I.V. He has been I.V. at the bike shop for 45 years, and he just doesn’t think people are honest enough for a program like this to be successful. The theft of the bikes is surely one of the biggest concerns with a bike-sharing program and one that is not easily solved. One suggestion is to label the bikes with something that marks them as part of the bike share, and to fine anyone caught with a stolen one. The huge fee for a bike not returned also prevents theft. Oh, and there’s always the off chance that all people will return the bikes just because people are inherently good, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for that.
Well, okay, suppose nobody steals the bikes. There’s still the problem of maintenance and figuring out who will fix popped tires and who will grease squeaky brakes. Perhaps CSOs could play doctor to the sick bikes, taking them to repair shops when they fall ill.
So, assume the bikes are all intact and remain not stolen. What if there are no bikes at a station? Undoubtedly, this will happen. Ideally, the bike stations would be no more a quarter mile apart, making it easy to walk to the next station to find a bike. But, conversely, what if you get to a station to return your bike and there are no spots available (as would surely happen at the lecture halls during big classes)? You could scan your card at the permit machine, which would be smart enough to know that there were no spaces available. It would give you 15 extra free minutes to find the next available station to park your bike. Now, if only professors and bosses would give people the same break.
So let’s suppose none of the bikes are stolen, they always remain in good condition, bikes are always available nearby, and there is always a free space to park them. We come to the one bump that always comes up: money. The university actually has a car-share program right now – Zipcar – that is funded partially by parking citation fees, partially by student fees, and partially by user fees. James Wagner, the UCSB program manager for UCSB’s Transportation Alternatives Program, said Zipcar has been quite successful thus far on campus. Point for shared transportation.
Perhaps funds for a bike-share program could come from bike tickets – yes, those exist for things like riding on sidewalks or through crosswalks – or from student fees or taxpayer dollars or a private agency.
But is it worth it? I’m conflicted. Having to worry about carting my own bike to and from the Bay Area during time away from I.V. or having it stolen while I’m in lecture is something I do not enjoy. But on the other hand, being able to pick up my trusty Trek from my backyard at a moment’s notice is a convenience I’m not sure I want to give up.
Anybody have a million dollars and feel like taking a chance on an idea?