Students embrace BikeShare pilot

Monash red bikes – Students have been using these free bikes to travel from their parked cars to campus. Picture: Elliana Saltalamacchia.

By ELLIANA SALTALAMACCHIA

Monash University’s bike-sharing program is finally gaining some traction after becoming a free service in July.

Monash BikeShare launched a six-month free trial at the start of semester two and just five weeks into the program, there have been 950 student sign ups, Transport Sustainability Officer Reeta Lad said.

Prior to the free trial membership numbers were very low, Ms Lad said.

“We had no option but to make it free,” she said.

“A couple of Mondays ago it was a really nice day and we had peak usage. There were about 300 trips made which was the highest we’ve had since we implemented the scheme.”

Monash BikeShare was launched in July 2015 and it is the only service of its kind in Australian universities. As part of the scheme, 70 red bikes with helmets are available around the clock at the Clayton campus for student and staff use.

Users can reserve a bike using an app and unlock it using their four-digit PIN. The bikes can be kept for three hours a day and can be locked up on any bike rack on campus.

It used to cost student $76 for a full year membership and $40 for just half a year.

Ms Lad  said she was expecting membership numbers to continue to rise throughout the trial period until the scheme’s capacity of 1200 is reached.

“Its offering of free has obviously had a huge impact on uptake,” Ms Lad said.

The contract for the share bikes expires at the end of 2018, but Ms Lad said she was hoping Monash would fund the program so that it became a permanent free service.

“It all feeds into our environmental and sustainable transport policy to provide people with other options,” she said.

However, Ms Lad was unsure of the viability of the service once the contract ran out, because of new bike-share systems such as oBike.

“We’ll have to see how that industry plays out,” she said.

Have you seen the yellow bikes in the city?

oBike is picking up speed as Australia’s first dockless bike-sharing system.

oBikes have been found in all manner of places around Melbourne.

The service was launched in Melbourne’s CBD on June 15, and has extended to inner-city suburbs such as St Kilda, Elwood and Elsternwick. But now, the yellow bikes can also be spotted at Swinburne University.

oBike Australia marketing head Chethan Rangaswamy said the company deployed 40 bikes across the three Swimburne campuses on August 15.

There have been more than 50 registrations within the university, and more than 150 trips taken.

“We believe it’s a slow start but it has huge potential,” Mr Rangaswamy said.

He said oBike had been in conversation with Melbourne universities and aimed to implement the program into more campuses.

“We want to have our bikes in every single university and we want to encourage university students to ride more.”

Riders can leave the bike anywhere that is convenient, unlike the blue Melbourne Bike Share service managed by the RACV, which has designated drop off and pick up stations.

A search on #oBike shows people have delighted in highlighting oBike’s “teething issues”.

All oBikes are fitted with GPS-enabled smart locks that link to a smartphone app, allowing riders to locate a bike near them.

Mr Rangaswamy said more than 1000 bikes had been deployed in Melbourne and the app had been downloaded over 5000 times.

But the dockless system has been a challenge. oBikes have been found in all sorts of places, including up trees and in the Yarra, with Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle planning to crack down on the problem.

Mr Rangaswamy said these were just “teething issues” that were overshadowing the benefits of bike sharing for the community.

“What we’re trying to do is offer an alternative form of transportation which is going to be cost effective, promote healthier lifestyles and most importantly, ease congestion,” he said.

“oBike is definitely here to stay, but not discounting that there are challenges we need to address and it’s something we are already addressing.”

While the Monash service supports its growing residential accommodation and off-campus parking facilities, Ms Lad said a system like oBike could give students an incentive to ride to university rather than limiting their travels to only on campus.

 “I would love to keep it on, but if we got things like oBike starting to compete with it, it’d start to be dead money we’d be investing.”