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OSU picks Zagster to roll out new bike-sharing program

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OSU and USG's upcoming bike-sharing initiative partnership with Zagster plans to add 115 bikes and 15 stations around campus. Credit: Courtesy of Zagster

OSU and USG’s upcoming bike-sharing partnership with Zagster plans to add 115 bikes and 15 bike stations around campus. Credit: Courtesy of Zagster

A partnership between Ohio State and Massachusetts-based bike-sharing company Zagster is set to make zipping around campus on two (and sometimes three) wheels a transportation option for students and faculty as early as this summer, with full implementation by Fall Semester.

The university announced its decision to partner with Zagster on Thursday.

This decision comes after an examination of bids from five different bike-sharing companies, which included NextBike, Social Bicycles, the Gotcha Group, Motivate, which operates the CoGo bike-sharing program in downtown Columbus, and Zagster.

OSU announced its intention to create a bike-sharing program, a joint initiative between the university and Undergraduate Student Government, in January, and was in the final stage of decision-making in early March.

Although OSU will partner with Zagster, the exact terms of the contract are not set in stone and are under negotiation, according to a release.

“They have said that we can have any kind of accessible bike we want,” said Jennifer Evans-Cowley, the vice provost for capital planning and regional campuses. “Based on the specific model of bicycle that we choose, then that may influence the price.”

Zagster is set to provide a variety of bicycles for use by the OSU community. They include commuter, tandem, handle cycle, electric assist, heavy duty and three-wheeled cargo bicycles, which can be used to transport heavier loads, according to the release. The system will launch with 115 bikes and 15 stations.

Evans-Cowley said the program is expected to grow to 170 bikes in three years.

However, the price and style of the bikes are not the only things still on the table.

Evans-Cowley said there are still negotiations concerning the price students and faculty would have to pay in order to use the bikes.

“You can either sign up for a day pass or you can sign up for an annual membership,” she said. “The preferred price by students based on a survey we did was $35 for the annual membership.”

She added that the price is only OSU’s recommendation and has not yet been finalized by Zagster. The price of the day pass has also not been finalized, however, the CoGo system charges $6 a day.

Evans-Cowley also said OSU will pay for the first three years of the bike-sharing program, which will include purchasing the bikes and their stations.

During these three years, money generated through membership fees and one-day passes will build up, and money will be used starting in the fourth year to ensure “a sustainable bike-sharing system on an ongoing basis,” Evans-Cowley said.

This three-year investment was set up in order to keep the membership cost as low as possible, she added.

Tim Ericson, CEO and co-founder of Zagster, said his company and the university will continue to discuss and plan a program that fits with OSU’s campus.

“We basically have to negotiate everything,” he said. “Price and how it’s going to be set up for the students, timeline and insurance requirements, so there’s a lot of stuff that goes into this and we expect it to take a little bit of time.”

Although the total cost of the first three years has not been decided yet, comparable projects at other universities have cost up to $650,000.

The Clean Energy Coalition Michigan, which operates the ArborBike bike-sharing program at the University of Michigan and in downtown Ann Arbor, has a system that now operates with 45 bikes and six stations. It is scheduled to grow to 125 bikes and 14 stations for summer, Heather Croteau, project associate at the Clean Energy Coalition Michigan, said earlier this month.

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.

OSU students will be able to sign up online or on an app and enter their payment information, which will include BuckID. To use a bike, the rider types the bike number into the app and receives a code that is punched into a lockbox on the bike. The box then gives access to a key so the rider can unlock the actual bike.

Ericson said he thinks his company will fit well on OSU’s campus.

“We felt that based on our experience at other universities like Duke and Princeton and Yale that our solution really fit what they were looking for,” he said.

Ericson added that one of Zagster’s most important features is its flexibility. He said although the initial launch will only include bikes on OSU’s campus, the company will track where students use bikes the most and adjust their station locations to better accommodate students.

Abby Waidelich, a third-year in biological engineering who currently serves as senior director of public relations for USG, was involved with the project from the beginning and agreed that Zagster’s flexibility and ability to cater its services to the specific needs of the university was a major factor in OSU’s decision.

“They really sold us with their ability to work with universities and students and being adaptable to the system,” said Waidelich, who was recently elected USG vice president for the 2015-16 academic year.

Waidelich said a USG ad hoc committee was involved in the decision-making process from the beginning.

“The university and administrators have really valued our voice and opinions,” she said.

In addition to the bike-sharing program, OSU will also receive a grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation that will provide the university with funding for helmets and a bicycle education program for First Year Experience students, Evans-Cowley said.

“We want to make sure that every student on campus is safe and has access to a helmet,” she said.

The grant will allow any student that signs up for Zagster to receive his or her own bicycle helmet, Evans-Cowley said. All of the money from the ODOT grant is being used on the helmets and education program and will not be put toward the Zagster contract, she added.

The bike-sharing initiative could launch as soon as this summer with full implementation by Fall Semester, pending negotiations between the university and Zagster, according to the university press release.

Clarification: March 23, 2015

 An earlier version of this article said that the bike-sharing program will be offered on campus as early as fall semester 2015. In fact, bikes may be offered on campus as early as this summer, with full implementation scheduled for next fall.

Correction: March 23, 2015

An earlier version of this article misstated Abby Waidelich’s major as math education. In fact, she is studying biological engineering.

2 comments

  1. You know, it’s bad enough that we are outsourcing everything from parking to bike sharing, but to make matters even worse, the companies that are being selected are all of of state. It should be a prerequisite that the business is a Columbus or at LEAST Ohio based company.

  2. Wow, seriously?!? 2~thumbs down. What a terrible decision.

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