Ohio State’s plan to offer bike-sharing on campus aims to make bikes easy to rent and use, but bringing that service to campus might not be so simple.
Bids from five companies are being examined in the final stage of determining the best offer for bringing a service to campus, said Ohio State Administration and Planning spokesman Dan Hedman in an email.
In January, the university announced that it was looking to accept bids from seven bike-sharing companies as part of a joint initiative with Undergraduate Student Government.
The five companies that have responded to OSU are Motivate, which operates CoGo in downtown Columbus, NextBike, Social Bicycles, the Gotcha Group and Zagster, Hedman said.
Industry-standard prices for bike sharing are at around $1,000 to $4,000 per bike and per year, with operating costs between $60 and $150 per months and bike, one bike-sharing company said.
Comparable projects at other universities have cost up to $650,000.
Hedman said the university “is looking for a cost-effective solution” and that “cost is one of many factors being considered during the selection process.”
Sean Flood, CEO of the Gotcha Group, said costs of a system at OSU were probably between $300,000 and $400,000, “depending on what the system would look like.”
Hedman said the on-campus bike-sharing system would have 10 to 15 stations with 100 to 150 bicycles.
Hedman added that “interviews with vendors occurred in mid-February,” and that the final bids were due last week.
“The university is currently in the review process and expects to come to a decision in March,” Hedman said.
Similar-sized systems are already in place at other universities, such as the University of Michigan.
Heather Croteau, project associate at the Clean Energy Coalition Michigan, which operates the “ArborBike” bike-sharing program at the University of Michigan and in downtown Ann Arbor, said the system now operates with 45 bikes and six stations. It is scheduled to grow to 125 bikes and 14 stations for summer, Croteau added.
The ArborBike project cost $650,000 for installment, and has an operating budget of $200,000 per year, Croteau said. An annual pass costs $65, which includes an unlimited number of hour-long free rides, according to the ArborBike website.
The ArborBike system is provided by “B-cycle,” a company founded in 2007, operating “27 systems in more them 30 cities,” according to its website. B-cycle is not part of the bidding process at OSU.
Among the five companies part of the bidding process at OSU, only two responded to requests for comment.
“One of our big forces is our flexibility,” Sebastian Schlebusch, head of global business development at NextBike, a Germany-based company, said.
“Our SmartBikes have an electronic lock and a computer, which can be used with the BuckID or university ID,” he said, adding it would make stations superfluous. SmartBikes also relies on mobile phones and smartphones, Schlebusch said, making it “interesting for students because of their technical affinity.”
“From a technology viewpoint, we can offer station-based systems and systems with smart-bikes, and subsequently can chose between many different combinations,” Schlebusch said.
NextBike will start offering services in several U.S. cities within the next two months, including Pittsburgh and Long Beach, Calif., Schlebusch added.
The company started in 2005 in Leipzig, Germany, he said. The biggest university NextBike provides bikes for so far is the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, which has about 42,000 students and 5,600 faculty and staff, according to its website.
The system there has 180 bikes and 15 bike rental stations, according to its website, and is financed by a fee of about $2 per semester that every student pays as part of tuition, as well as advertising on the bikes and fees collected for trips longer then 30 minutes, Schlebusch said.
Schlebusch said compatibility with existing systems, such as CoGo, is generally important, but that this does not necessarily mean that the university has to choose the existing company.
Flood said the Gotcha Group recently developed its bike sharing system.
The company, Flood said, was founded in 2009 for car sharing, and designed the Gotcha Bike product “12 to 13 months ago.”
“(Our bike) has a built-in smart lock, operating through an iOS or Android app,” he said, adding the fact that most standard bike racks can be used to secure the bikes.
The Gotcha Group will launch bike services this summer at several U.S. universities, including Florida State University, Georgia Tech and Auburn, Flood said.
He said 100 to 200 bikes was “the typical rollout,” but added that a system without kiosk stations is more easily manageable than a station-based system.
“Our system allows you to take a bike from campus to a downtown area, hook it up to a standard bike rack … and take a ride back,” Flood said.
Gotcha Bike, he said, “provides the bikes and equipment to the university at no cost, and then we create an advertising campaign either through the university or with an outside vendor.”
At Florida State, the Gotcha Group will operate a service, and bikes will be available for up to 24 hours free of charge, said Matthew Inman, Florida State’s director of transportation and parking services.
“The bikes are not one-way, you have to take it back were you got it,” Inman said. “We are not spending any money on the bikes itself … All we are providing are bike rack locations. There will be some cost for us” for additional bike racks and new signals.
Representatives from Zagster, Motivate and Social Bicycles were unavailable or declined to comment.
An April survey of students, faculty and staff found that 79 percent of respondents would use a bicycle-sharing service, Hedman said.
“Based on a survey last spring, students indicated they would prefer to pay $35 per year for a bicycle sharing service and have the ability to opt-in or opt-out of the program,” he said.