Rolling away

PSU’s bike rental program good but could use some maintenance

Portland has become a hub for bicycle commuting. It only makes sense that its schools work toward making bike commutes safe and affordable, right?

PSU’s bike rental program good but could use some maintenance

Portland has become a hub for bicycle commuting. It only makes sense that its schools work toward making bike commutes safe and affordable, right?

The answer is yes, but only if care is taken to ensure that the programs these schools start are carefully planned and are not abused. Specifically, the bike rental programs available at these schools need to remain vigilant to be successful.

Both Portland Community College and Portland State University now offer bike rental programs. The PCC program, which is new as of this winter, currently has about 50 bicycles available at $15 per term for rent, and it hopes to round out the year with 100 or more.

PSU’s bike hub has a program similar to PCC’s, although the pricetag is a whopping three times the amount, at $45 per term. VikeBikes, as the program is called, was initiated in fall 2011. It currently has about 22 bikes available, with no word on if and when they will get more.

First of all, the VikeBikes program requires that a student takes a minimum of three credits per term, whereas the PCC program requires a 6-credit minimum. An argument can be made for either side—more inclusive versus more invested and whatnot. However, for safety reasons, it might be a better idea to require the same number of credits as is required to use student health insurance.

PCC does not offer its own health insurance, so it isn’t as much of a concern for them. However, many students at PSU would otherwise be uninsured without PSU’s coverage. And considering that, according to a 2010 study done by Oregon Health and Sciences University, 20 percent of bike commuters will have a traumatic event on their commutes within their first year—with 5 percent of all commuters requiring medical attention from these events—it is probably a good plan to make sure bike renters have some form of medical coverage.

As such, the Bike Hub might consider increasing its minimum credit requirement to five credits, matching school requirements for insurance coverage, to ensure its riders are safe.

There is also, of course, the issue of keeping the program itself sustainable. The rental cost is higher for VikeBikes than the PCC rental program, but the Bike Hub does not take as many precautions in the event that a bike is totaled or stolen.

Both programs give the renters a significant amount of equipment. PCC rentals include bikes, fenders, helmets, bells, locks and lights. VikeBikes rentals include bikes, fenders, a rack or basket, a set of front and rear lights, helmets, locks, membership to the PSU Bike Hub and an annual bike parking permit for use of the PSU Bike Garages and Bike Rooms.

Despite the rather large amount of equipment provided by each, the PSU VikeBikes program only charges $225 if the renter fails to return his or her equipment. PCC, on the other hand, charges up to $400 for the failure to return their rentals.

The lower price may be good for PSU students, but perhaps not the Bike Hub itself. In order to sustain itself, the Bike Hub needs to be able to replace its equipment. At the moment, the Bike Hub simply refurbishes bikes that have been abandoned on campus or donated by supporters of the Bike Hub. But there’s not always the option of receiving and refurbishing said equipment for a low price.

Helmets should always be new, good locks are expensive and even when the work is done in-house, refurbishing a bike can be costly—anywhere from $50–100. A higher cost might be beneficial as an insurance policy for the Bike Hub. If nothing else, they could put the money toward expanding the program or securing insurance on their bikes.

As for the cost per term, $45 isn’t bad. One of the reasons PCC can offer it for less is that PCC received $40,000 to kick-start the project. The Bike Hub, which falls under the heading of Auxiliary Services at PSU, was able to start the program with the help of the Solutions Generator winners from 2009.

Moreover, the program has only recenty taken off. Last quarter, only seven bikes were rented out of the 21 the Bike Hub had. Now, all 22 bikes have been rented, partly because of a free rental promotion for those interested in the Bike to PSU challenge.

Now that it’s spring again and the weather’s a bit nicer, the Bike Hub might want to advertise VikeBikes a little more. With some modifications, VikeBikes might just become the model for a university bike rental service.

Let’s see how it goes.