Colleges offer free bikes for everyone

Written by adam


College campuses that want to rein in student driving have hit on a novel solution: give all incoming students free bikes if they agree to leave their cars at home.

College campuses are really the perfect environment for this sort of transportation experiment: small, geographically constrained populations of relatively fit individuals who need to make numerous short trips every day. College campuses, I imagine, also have more discretion over their built infrastructure — roads, bike racks, bike paths, parking spaces, etc. — than a typical small town.

It’s worth noting that bicycling benefits from certain network effects. That is, the more people that ride bikes, the more appealing biking becomes. For example, it’s well documented that bicycle safety increases when there are more bicycles on the road. Given such self-reinforcing effects, it makes sense for colleges to jumpstart the process by handing out bikes. The colleges themselves also reap benefits in the form of decreased need for parking, less trouble with alcohol-related driving accidents, and progress toward sustainability goals.

Free bikes aren’t the only approach schools have taken. Several have dabbled in different flavors of bike-sharing programs, with varying degrees of success. Bike-sharing is, generally speaking, a great idea, but it addresses a different set of problems. If a bike is your primary mode of transport, you don’t really want to fuss with micro-rentals. You’re better off just owning. Although possibly only appropriate on smaller campuses, the idea of just giving bikes away has an appealing simplicity.

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  1. Anonymous

    Which colleges are offering the free bikes?

  2. Bridget

    Do we know what schools are sponsoring this??? I don’t think mine is….

  3. David ben-Avram

    The NY Time articles says its University of New England (only 1 college). It also mentions some schools offering free bike rentals.

  4. Veggieforce

    Wow!!! what a great Idear. If anyone gets info about more schools sponsoring this could you please contact me? I would love to spread the word around!!

  5. Tad

    Ripon College in Wisconsin is doing a similar program and I’ve read the results are good thus far.

  6. James

    Google Inc does this too — they have a massive number of cheap (bad) bikes that people don’t *want* to own… littered all over campus so that people won’t drive between buildings for meetings etc throughout the day. They aren’t secured at all — Works like a charm.

  7. Adam Stein

    By the way, this would make an excellent project for an enterprising student group on one of the 99.999% of college campuses that aren’t present sponsoring such a project. If the college wants funding ideas, consider a) sponsorships from bike companies and b) jacking up the parking or other usage fees for car owners on campus.

  8. Antwon

    My college didn’t jack up parking fees so much as make most car usage on campus prohibitively annoying: very limited parking near one’s housing, and even less so anywhere near the classrooms. Either way, though, it had the same general effect: everybody used a bike for pretty much all intra-campus transit. It was fairly spectacular, it was.

  9. Kenneth G

    Very nice solution. Although Copenhagen does actually have a “bike-sharing”-program.. We have something called a “bycykel” (Citybike) – a specially designed bike, that stands in special holders all over the inner city, you then deposit 20 Dkr (4-5$) in the lock, and the coin is then returned when you return the bike. They are there from spring till fall – in the winter they are collected and repaired.

  10. Adam Stein

    Argh, hoisted on my own petard. I’ve modified the post.

  11. Dan

    It seems like a lot of cities are starting programs like this, hourly bike rental and such. They have this at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as well; there’s a bunch of nasty orange bikes lying all around the campus that you can use to get around.
    Although we did try this at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and that was pretty epic fail. After a week or two, all the bikes had disappeared from campus.

  12. Anonymous

    this is a cool idea, but i have to have my car because i have to drive home at least 3 times a week. and that’s over 50 miles round trip.

  13. web design company

    Love the idea. Unfortunately, they also need to provide some badass locks. Bike thefts on campuses are on the rise like never before.

  14. Jorge

    Paris did something similar to Copenhagen last year or so. The system trusts the users less, though. So, for you to use these bikes, you pay a deposit about equal to its value. If the bike disappears for more than x number of days or is destroyed, you get charged. Otherwise, it is free for the first 30 minutes of use and there is a small fee after that. The bikes stand on posts where their lights are recharged and you use your card to unlock them. There are stands everywhere and they get used a lot. For obvious reasons, few are stolen.

  15. Ben

    My college happens to offer free bikes for students, and I can tell you now it’s the dumbest thing they have ever done. Free bikes are like an invitation for drunk kids to mess with them on a daily basis. What seems more entertaining for a drunk college kid on a weekend night to mess with a bike that they have no ties or responsibility to? While it might promote a ‘green’ campus in all actuality they pay more to the local bike shop to have them fixed then did to buy all of the bikes. Why don’t we put that money into something useful, like say, new textbooks? Kids can walk to class, but its hard to get a degree when you’re working with antiquated books.