College Starts Bike Share Program
Issue   |   Wed, 04/29/2015 - 01:20

Students in the Green Amherst Project have designed an Amherst College bike share program and are in the process of executing the program on campus. The bike share program, which is to be implemented by spring 2016, will be open to all Amherst students and available across the campus. Green Amherst Project members Alisa Bajramovic ‘18 and Becky Danning ‘16 are the current organizers of the program.

The idea was first conceived by Green Amherst Project members Ben Walker ’16 and Bob Neel ’16.

“The idea came about when … we were waiting for a session of FOOT leader training to begin in August of 2013,” Neel said. “At the time, the Green Amherst Project … [had] little success advancing the divestment campaign. They wanted to start incorporating other ‘green projects’ into their image. Ben and I took it upon ourselves to create a list of sustainability initiatives to pursue at Amherst, and at the top of our list was the bike share.”

In the initial proposal for the bike share program, Neel and Walker included a survey that collected students’ responses on how they would use bikes on campus.

“This survey has helped us decide which kind of bikes to purchase that would fit students’ needs, and it also reaffirmed our idea that bike share would be a necessary service on campus,” Bajramovic said.
“At the time, it seemed like a particularly helpful initiative,” Neel said. “We both lived in Marsh, and were quickly growing tired of the walk.”

Student organizers initially had difficulty implementing the program due to the liability issues involved in bringing a new mode of transportation to campus, according to several Green Amherst Project members.

“The prohibitive roadblock was the evaluation of bike share liability according to Five College Risk Management, and they didn’t really have the resources to solve that issue,” Danning said.

Last fall, the college opened the Office of Environmental Sustainability with Laura Draucker as director. Green Amherst Project members have reported that working with the new Office of Environmental Sustainability has substantially helped advance the realization of the bike share program.

Draucker “has become the primary point person on staff for the bike share, and she’s been a huge help at navigating the more technical aspects of the program,” Danning said. Bajramovic also described Draucker as “a tremendous resource for the college overall, and for [the] bike share in particular.”

The program organizers have not obtained funding for the bike share program yet, but the Green Amherst Project and the leaders of the bike share initiative plan to apply for funding soon.

“This is something we are still working on. We will need some capital funding to buy the bikes, as well as the infrastructure to fix and maintain them,” Draucker said. “Some other schools have bike shares funded by senior gifts and/or alumni donations together with the student government, so we are exploring these options.”

The main avenue of funding would be from the Association of Amherst Students.

“The AAS has so far been very supportive of the bike share, and we will be applying for funding from them once we have a solidified business plan,” Danning said.

Additionally, the program organizers and Draucker said that the bike share program would engage the campus beyond solely using bikes by opening up a variety of student job opportunities.

“Because this program would be free for students to use, we’re aware that it will have to be as cost-efficient as possible,” Bajramovic said. “In order to decrease fixed costs of this program, increase student interest and make bike share a more sustainable and continuous system, we’re also hoping to create an auxiliary bike repair shop that would be run by students. A bike repair shop would mean we would not have to take the bikes to a local shop every time something was wrong, and it would be a great job experience for any student interested in bikes and mechanics.”

According to Draucker, the plan to have a student-run repair shop means that the Green Amherst Project must obtain capital funding to buy the bikes themselves, as well as to build the infrastructure necessary to keep the bikes and to fund the shop and job positions.

Aside from Mount Holyoke, Amherst is the last of the schools in the Five College consortium to have a campus bike share program enter the implementation stage. “We have been in contact with students [at other colleges] for insights and advice for setting up our program,” Draucker said.

Many of the smaller bike share programs in the Pioneer Valley are considering joining together to create a larger bike share program to serve the region at large.

The “Pioneer Valley Planning Commission is in the second phase of a regional bike share feasibility study and the Town of Amherst, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield as well as many of the local colleges have been involved in this process,” Draucker said. “If successful, this will be a regional bike share connecting all of these communities and colleges. It would be unlikely that this bike share would come to fruition before 2019, so we see our Amherst College bike share as being a great way to test a bike share on campus in the meantime.”