Bike Share Gains Momentum as Student Service

16

It is a Friday afternoon and the distinct sound of gears turning and people chatting drifts from the Berkus Hall garage. Students take bikes for test rides while music booms from stereo speakers. Inside the Bike Share’s “cage”, the arrangement of furniture resembles someone’s office space or living room, but filled with Los Angeles Metro maps, bookmarks and scribbled biking tips. Visiting bikers looking to rent or fix a bike are approached by Bike Share workers as they walk in. The matrix of tools and spare bike parts scattered about appears disorganized and chaotic, but behind the messy facade student workers move with impressive coordination and efficiency, casually gliding from one project to the next. This is the hub of Occidental Bike Share.

Perhaps the most visible component of Bike Share is their free bike rental programthe source of the orange and white bikes that can be spotted zipping around campus and the surrounding neighborhood. There are currently 24 bikes available for rent to students and faculty, but according to Bike Share employee Genevieve Babcock (sophomore), many bikes get little rest between renters.

“On busy days, we have to turn a lot of people away because there are not enough bikes,” Babcock said. “Most bikes are loaned out within minutes of being returned.”

Yet Bike Share remains loyal to the “share” portion of its name: Patrons can rent out a bike for up to a week, but the number of days they keep the bike equals the number of days they must wait to rent again. The policy allows other students a chance to rent, thus fostering a cycle of communal sharing.

For those with their own bicycles, the Bike Share offers both a full tool kit and a staff of students who are eager to help with repairs. With employees working Tuesday through Friday, the Bike Share is well equipped to handle the needs of Occidental’s bikers. But this has not always been the case.

In Fall 2009, professor Mark Vallianatos’s UEP 246 Environmental Problem Solving class dreamed up the Bike Share program as a new mode of green transportation for the Occidental community. A group of students started the organization in 2010, under the banner of “Bike Cage.” Until Spring 2012, the program consisted of six aging mountain bikes that could be rented from the front desk of the library. Bikes were often loaned to the friends of Bike Share leaders and returned late without penalty. The inconvenient system led few students to actually make use of the service.

This was the state of affairs that current seniors Charles Deffarges and Robin Bruns inherited when they joined the Bike Share team as first-years in Spring 2012.

Working with the upperclassmen of Bike Share, Deffarges and Bruns soon learned how to promote the service and capitalize on funding opportunities. They completely restructured Bike Share’s policies, set new employee standards, reinforced guidelines and brought others in line with their goals.

The previous Bike Share leaders also taught Deffarges and Bruns how to request funding from the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fund (RESF) and Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC). The Bike Share has increased its funding three-fold since 2012 with funding from both bodies.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Lea Worob (senior) is a frequent patron of the bike rental program, and has noticed a growth in demand over the past few years.

“The Bike Share has gotten much more popular since I first used it in 2012,” Worob said. “Now, if I go to rent a bike on Friday, I have to wait a while for someone to return with a rental bike.”

Bruns is excited by the change of pace, and looks forward to ensuring that Bike Share maintains its momentum.

“It’s huge—we used to go to people to promote Bike Share, but now people come to us,” Bruns said.

Crucial to this shift was this year’s promotion of Bike Share to an official student service. Replacing the Bike Share’s old title of ‘club’ with ‘student service’ was desirable largely because it allowed for an increase in funding.

“It also provides institutional backing, so the administration looks out for Bike Share and visa versa,” Deffarges said.”There is more accountability now and the long-term livelihood of the Share is secured.”

Unlike clubs, which are often retired once their leadership graduates, the Bike Share will be supported by ASOC without the attendance of its founders. It took a year of advocating and petitioning through ASOC to upgrade Bike Share to a student service, and the change even required ASOC to amend their constitution to add new services.

RESF, a subset of ASOC, now automatically allocates 25 percent of its funds towards Bike Share. This means the club receives just over $10,000 per year to help fund employee wages and new projects.

RESF co-presidents Grace Bender (senior) and Julia Kingsley (senior) both support Bike Share’s work.

“Bike Share is a great program that is clearly successful, as shown by the number of bikes that are consistently checked out and can be seen around campus,” Bender said. “We are looking forward to seeing how they reach out to more people on campus and continue to make a positive impact.

The Bike Share also receives funds from ASOC’s Capital Improvement Fund upon request, as well as a semester allowance that comes with being a student service. A recently approved funding proposal will supply Bike Share with seven new bikes, bringing the number available to 31 by the end of 2014.

“We have not had any funding setbacks,” Deffarges said. “We have approached ASOC and Sustainability Fund [RESF] and received everything we need. But to continue to grow and serve more people, we need to expand into new locations.”

But Bike Share employees do not limit themselves to on-campus partnerships. The Bike Share has a healthy relationship with Flying Pigeon LA, a bicycle shop in Highland Park that supplies the Bike Share with spare bike parts and tools. Flying Pigeon co-founder Josef Bray-Ali partnered with the service because he appreciates the Bike Share’s mission.

“We’ve always enjoyed working with Occidental Bike Share and we really like how they use biking as a means to access and interact with the community,” Bray-Ali said. “The Bike Share leaders kept coming to us with good ideas and we really wanted to get involved. We’ve given them used parts and sold them tools at just above wholesale prices.”

Bray-Ali believes that the strength of Bike Share comes from its energy and youth.

“We see Bike Share as a method for helping students get into politics and explore the local scene,” Bray-Ali said. “It really captures the holistic, social mission that we have here and that I imagine Occidental shares as well.”

Bike Share is also allied with PUBLIC Bikes in the Bay Area, which provides them with bargain prices. According to Deffarges, all Bike Share bikes are bought from PUBLIC Bikes.

Along with new partnerships, more funding and a higher status, this semester also marked the most competitive year yet for the Bike Share hiring process.

“In the past, students that hung around the Bike Share or got along with us were brought on after a semester,” Deffarges said. “This year we had an application process and had a bunch of people to choose from.”

Laurel Cheever (sophomore), a new hire this year, still found the application process to be fairly relaxed.

“You had to fill out an application, but it was causal, and I had a 10 minute interview,” Cheever said. “It helps if you show that you care about bikes and want to help out the community, if you fit in to the laid back atmosphere of Bike Share, and if you’re a person who has a lot of ideas for what Bike Share could do in the future.”

Bike Share leadership recently engaged in some employee bonding on a retreat to Marsh Park for a day of orientation and team-building. The employees learned more about the service’s standards and guidelines and finalized their mission statement.

“I tried to attune my staff to our goals, amend the mission statement to reflect our shared values and motivate them to influence the group to better achieve that mission,” Bruns said.

According to Babcock, Bruns achieved her goal to motivate the team.

“After the retreat, I felt that I was able to assume a leadership role but also delegate that position to others,” Babcock said. “We have a sense of mutual accountability,” Babcock said.

Rizwan Sardar (junior) found that the retreat built community among Bike Share employees and also fostered leadership.

“We’ve never had a retreat before, but this was a valuable opportunity to really get to know all the new employees and build a more cohesive Bike Share family,” Sardar said.

Aside from rentals and repairs, Bike Share staff also plan community events, such as group bike rides. In the past they have cycled to the South Pasadena Farmer’s Market, Peddler’s Creamery downtown and the Bike Oven Art Auction in Highland Park. They hope to launch a program to help other clubs initiate group bike rides.

Employees are also active in marketing and advertising through social media. The Bike Share’s latest Instagram photo contest offers prizes in exchange for pictures of students on Bike Share’s bikes. Babcock headed the online campaign to spread knowledge of the Share and promote biking on campus.

“The improvement mission aims to broaden our name on campus and increase our presence,” Babcock said. “By displaying the high demand for bikes, we’re hoping to get more rental stands on campus and eventually a more central location.”

Location is one of Bike Share’s biggest hindrances. Although the staff has done its best to make the Berkus garage an efficient work space, it still lacks basic commodities such as WiFi and running water. Its placement on the far end of campus also makes it difficult to attract more potential riders to the service.

“Charles and I have developed this program in the last three years to the point that we can no longer continue to grow without institutional support, so we are proposing a location upgrade,” Bruns said.

Bike Share has three potential locations in mind: a trailer next to Bell-Young Hall, a multi-use space in the Bengal Room in lower Johnson Student Center or an entirely new, free-standing building. Each option would provide Bike Share a central location on campus in addition to the Berkus garage. The creation of a free-standing Bike Share building was under consideration by facilities over a decade ago, but did not receive adequate support.

In the short-term, the Bike Share hopes to become more accessible to students by developing hubs around campus, in locations such as the Quad. These hubs would consist of a bike rack with several bikes available for rent. A long-term Bike Share hub in the Quad would supplement the current location, leaving Berkus Hall as a workshop for repairs and storage.

In the mean time, the Bike Share is promoting their service through temporary pop-up bike rentals; bringing bikes to students on lower campus to stir up interest with those who have not made it to the Berkus garage themselves.

“Having a pop-up rental stand really helped us engage with the community,” Deffarges said. “We had people we’ve never rented to asking for bikes. We also had Oxy staff members asking about bikes and even people from the Eagle Rock community. We want people to get used to the Bike Share being in a central location and increase exposure for those who don’t come by Berkus Hall.”

Deffarges wants to make pop-up rental stands a regular installation on lower campus, with bikes available Wednesdays and Fridays at midday.

Through fundraising and self-promotion of its services, the Bike Share aims to serve an idea far greater than itself. The organization’s overarching mission is to provide sustainable transportation for students to explore and learn beyond campus.

“A major component of Oxy’s Strategic Plan is connecting more students to Los Angeles, which includes transportation options for getting off campus,” Bruns said. “Investing in Bike Share is a really important way to execute the educational and experiential learning process that is part of the objective.”

Bruns’ ultimate wish is for Bike Share to transform Occidental College into a leader in sustainable transportation. But to keep growing in size and reach, the Bike Share must receive student and institutional support.

“Our goal is to educate the members of our community, giving them the knowledge and ability to make responsible transportation choices and become life long riders,” Bruns said. “Biking provides a whole new perspective, and we want to provide that outlet.”