The world’s largest bike share company, ofo, has partnered with Texas A&M Transportation Services and will introduce 500 dockless bicycles to campus Tuesday.
The bikes will be released at an official launch event in Rudder Plaza from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. where students, faculty and staff will be encouraged to ride the bikes away to their destinations in order to distribute them.
The ofo bike has a solid aluminum frame and solid rubber tires, with three-speed gears and a motion-generated front-light with a solar-powered backlight. Next semester, an additional 4,000 ofo bikes will be introduced to campus. While the program normally requires payment by the hour or semester, the service will be free of charge until March 13. Users can download the ofo app to locate the nearest bike, which will be accessible with a QR code.
Increasing the efficiency of campus mobility is the main reason for the partnership with ofo according to Ron Steedly, Transportation Services Alternative Transportation Manager, but the program comes with the added benefit to potentially reduce the number of personal bikes. Steedly said there are approximately 6,000 bikes regularly left overnight, meaning they have been brought to A&M strictly for on campus riding, not commuting.
“Last semester we partnered with Urban Planning to help us assess what percentage of bikes are moving at any given time,” Steedly said. “We determined that there are about 2,000 bikes being ridden at any given time. If we have 6,000 bikes on campus and only 2,000 are being ridden, we don't need 6,000 bikes. If we have 3,000 shared bikes, that means half the bikes you see visually will go away. The campus would look a lot cleaner, but we would still have plenty for people to share when they needed them.”
Steedly said there is usually a negative outlook on freeflow bikeshare programs such as ofo due to challenges faced in other cities such as Dallas, but A&M has taken precautionary measures to minimize potential problems.
“Dallas has seven or eight different vendors, we have one,” Steedly said. “Dallas did not identify their service area in advance, we have. Dallas did not identify their user group to target, we have. Dallas doesn’t have 13,000 bike parking spaces, we do. All those little things made this concept difficult in Seattle and Dallas and D.C., but we’ve mitigated a lot of those problems because we’ve done the homework in advance.”
It is the responsibility of the users to use the bikeshare properly to ensure success of the program in Aggieland, according to Melissa Maraj, Transportation Services Communications Manager.
“It’s really important that when [students] are using [the bikes] and moving them around campus that we take consideration to be responsible stewards of the community and just take care of the resources that we have so that the campus stays nice and we continue to have the benefit of programs like these,” Maraj said.
While A&M is the largest university that ofo has an official contract with, the company has worked in Tempe, Arizona, home to Arizona State University. Austin Marshburn, ofo’s Head of Universities, said this background has taught the company how to efficiently rebalance and move bicycles around a large college town.
“Texas A&M is the first state university ofo has partnered with in Texas,” Marshburn said. “This actually isn’t surprising as the Aggies are on the cutting edge of mobility not just in Texas, but nationwide. That said, we have also partnered with Paul Quinn College to deliver bikes on and around their campus in Dallas and are currently in discussions with other universities in Texas.”
With over 70,000 students, faculty and staff, Marshburn said it is more functional to view A&M as a city in itself rather than an average campus.
“Instead of treating the college as one area, we’ll be staffing up to make sure we can break it out into smaller zones that our team can patrol more easily — almost exactly as we do in other cities of similar size,” Marshburn said.
The event is not only a time for students to disperse the bicycles, but it is also an opportunity for users to speak with Transportation Services about where they think the bikes should go, according to Maraj.
“We’re hoping people will be inspired not only to get on these bikes but maybe change their behavior and try something new for the long run,” Maraj said.