Students seek to improve bike lending program

Bowling Green sophomore Joseph Jones and Clarkson freshman Eli Heintzman combine their skills to fix a broken bicycle in WKU’s Big Red Bikes shop beneath Parking Structure 1. Jones said he hates the way the bicycles get treated on campus. Many have been abandoned and are later fixed up by mechanics like Jones and Heintzman.

Michael McKay

There’s a red bike leaned against the bike racks in front of Mass Media and Technology Hall. The bike, marked with a ‘7,’ has been in the same position for the last week.

That bike is a Big Red Bike, part of a bike-lending program offered through the office of Sustainability.

The 36 bikes are refurbished by student bike mechanics and made available for check-out for a three-day period at a time.     

Glasgow junior Jade Boyle, a student worker with Facilities Management, said a lot of people don’t follow the three-day limit.

“Some do, but most of them — I’d say 90 percent of them — don’t bring them back on time, or at all,” Boyle said.

Jodi Southerland, office staff for Facilities Management, said she agreed with Boyle that a lot of people don’t bring back the bikes.

“We have at least six bikes that have been out since last semester,” Southerland said. “We have people kind of abuse the system.”

Southerland said she thinks people abuse the system because Big Red Bikes are free to use.

Boyle said a number of people who want the bikes can’t get them.

“A rough estimate is probably about 15 — 15 or 20,” she said of the number of people who come in a week when the weather is nice.

She said only five people out of the 20 will actually be able to rent out a bike.

The Big Red Bikes program was started in 2007 by WKU GreenTopper Ellen Hagan. Sustainability Coordinator Christian Ryan-Downing said the first bikes were kept in the International Center.

“She’s an alum, and she’s off in her career now, but we always like to credit Ellen, because it was not an easy program to put together — finding a place, finding people to work on the bikes — and it was all-volunteer at the very beginning,” Ryan-Downing said.

Big Red Bikes was able to grow and move into its current location at Facilities Management in Parking Structure 1 because of support from Facilities Management and Parking Services.

Ryan-Downing said Parking Services Director Jennifer Tougas, an avid cycler herself, donates the money from Parking Services to Big Red Bikes to fund a bike mechanic for the program.

 Ryan-Downing said as of March 16, there have been 178 rentals.

“And that’s a lot, but it’s important to note that that’s only as much as we could handle,” Ryan-Downing said. “We could’ve easily had, I don’t know, maybe twice the rentals if we had enough bikes to keep up with demand.

 “There’s only so much a 20-hour-a-week student bike mechanic can do.”

Louisville junior Ben Aroh is working on a group project for his Management 210 class. Aroh’s group chose Big Red Bikes as an area around campus that could be improved.

“It’s a new program. It’s only been around for a few years,” Aroh said. “The thing we noticed is the rental system — the whole system — has a few kinks in it.”

Aroh said it became apparent that the rental system could be worked on after his group found last month that 15 bikes from last semester hadn’t been returned.

“We didn’t expect that, but that’s kind of the area that we will be working on improving,” Aroh said.

Along with changing the organization and rental process, Aroh said his group wants Big Red Bikes to place holds on students’ accounts, similar to what the WKU library does for students with fines and unreturned books, who have the bikes out for more than a month.

“Just to kind of encourage students to use the program properly,” he said.

Ryan-Downing said she and Aroh were looking into whether or not they could place a hold on a student’s account. She said she doesn’t want people to be discouraged from using the program.

“I don’t want to do it, but if that’s the only way to get our bikes back, then I guess, yeah,” she said.

Aroh said he’s not worried that placing holds would hurt the popularity of the program.

“The majority of the people have the bike for a week or two and then bring them back,” Aroh said. “The people that would discourage are, you know, not helping the program.”

Ryan-Downing said Aroh’s group has been implementing other ideas to help the program, like redesigning the form students fill out to get a bike and getting rid of redundant folders.

Aroh’s group also created a key rack to the bikes to help workers see how many bikes are available more easily.

Ryan-Downing said Big Red Bikes will implement the group’s new system after they determine if they can put holds on student accounts.