Need Two Wheels? College Teams With Mobike to Make Them Available
About a year ago while walking through the streets of Shanghai, Davidson freshman, Jeffrey Peng, marveled at the “dockless” shared bikes that dotted the cityscape.
The system seemed simple and efficient. Riders use smartphones to reserve, unlock, and pay for their bike rides, and simply leave their rides wherever their journeys ended. Peng remembers feeling like he was witnessing a new era in urban transportation. He thought, “I should bring these bikes to the United States!”
His vision became a reality in early April when 50 orange and silver Mobike bicycles rolled on to the Davidson College campus, making Davidson the first ever higher ed institution to partner with Mobike, the world’s first and largest smart bike-sharing company.
Peng recruited his roommate, Chris Amoroso ’21, and ShaSha Yan, a freshman student at Babson College, to help create a business plan. They surveyed the student body, tallied the number of private student bikes, and made revenue projections. Last October, Peng crossed his fingers and emailed the team’s draft proposal to Mobike.
While they waited for a response, their initiative caught the attention of Davidson’s Director of Sustainability, Yancey Fouché. She also was pondering ways to improve transportation options for students, and recognized that the Mobike proposal offered a solution for the kind of short trips students make across campus or around town.
“Student surveys show that transportation has a major impact on the quality of student life,” Fouché said. “It seemed to us that Mobikes could benefit everyone on campus by promoting wellness, sustainability, and providing people a fun and affordable way to get around town.”
In January, Mobike responded to Peng and asked to learn more, and the parties involved ironed out the first-of-its-kind, win-win partnership. Davidson College gets to test a cutting-edge solution for student mobility, while Mobike develops a model for serving other colleges around the nation.
“Davidson College is a leading example of a campus finding innovative, affordable, and environmentally friendly transportation solutions for its student body,” said Jillian Irvin, Head of U.S. Policy and Communication for Mobike. “From day one, we have been overwhelmed by the support we have seen from students and faculty on campus, and are excited to be able to partner with the school in this way.”
At this point Mobikes are intended for use only by members of the college community. However, Fouche and town officials are interested in expanding the system to allow for use by all town residents.
To use the service, riders simply download the Mobike app, register, and scan the QR code printed on the frame of the bike. With Mobike’s proprietary smart-lock technology, scanning the QR code instantly unlocks the bike and allows the user to ride it. When the rider reaches the desired destination, he or she parks the bike there and manually closes the lock on the bike.
Mobikes are built to endure heavy weather and heavy use. They feature a three-speed chainless transmission, non-puncture airless tires, a lightweight aluminum anti-rust frame, durable disk-brakes and a five-spoke wheel. Mobikes also have a basket and cup holder, and its lights are always on when in use. An alarm sounds if someone tries to pick it up and move it without going through the proper unlocking procedure. Mobike maintenance personnel have been coming to campus regularly to repair machines that need attention.
“We hope that smart bike share can help transform transportation,” said Fouché. “Urban growth pressures and an urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels call us to develop viable alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles. As a residential college located in a ‘Bicycle Friendly Community,’ Davidson is perfectly located for students and employees to enjoy bikes as either a supplementary, or even primary, mode of transportation.
To bolster its commitment that the Mobike system be accessible to all students, Davidson has made the system free for the rest of the spring semester. Following commencement, Mobike will remove its bikes from campus for the summer to analyze the data on ridership and refine the system for the future.
In their first week on campus, despite dreary weather, 566 individuals tried out the service and logged more than 1,700 trips. As the weather warmed, students have ventured farther off campus, using Mobikes for trips to local restaurants, shops, gyms, volunteer sites, and even class projects at The Farm at Davidson College.
Peng is thrilled to see the bikes on campus and hopes he might have changed the culture just a little bit. “I’m excited to introduce Davidson to the sharing economy,” he said. “It’s been amazing to work with my friends and with the college to make a positive change in college life.”
Bill Giduz was the son who followed his father’s footsteps into journalism. He has been involved his entire life with news and photography in schools he attended and jobs he’s held. He believes now that he’s got a few good years left to devote to The News of Davidson.