Now in its third year of operation, the University of Virginia’s bike-share program is continuing to grow and is considering ways to expand services.
“You take that first ride for your midday mobility need and you just go, ‘This is awesome,’” said Rebecca White, director of UVa’s parking and transportation department. “You really have to fold it into your transportation options, and once you do, it’s great.”
UVa students, faculty and staff, as well as visitors and members of the wider community, have been taking advantage of the UBike program since it started in 2015. In total, the program has accounted for more than 22,000 trips and nearly 17,000 miles traveled.
In 2015, there were a total of 6,071 rides taken on UBikes. That figure came close to doubling in 2016, at 11,208 rides. The program has recorded 5,508 trips this year through July and White said she anticipates the total for 2017 could surpass that of last year.
The program offers a variety of rates, from a pay-as-you-go plan at $3 per hour to an $80 annual plan with 90 minutes of free daily riding time. Although anyone can create a UBike account and access the bicycles, special rates are available for people affiliated with UVa.
UBikes can be ridden anywhere and placed on “hold” between stops, but the bikes need to be returned to a designated hub or the user will be charged an additional fee.
Most of the hubs are located near UVa’s Central Grounds and Health System. However, the program has added a hub on Preston Avenue near the UVa Licensing and Ventures Group office and Blue Ridge Cyclery, which performs maintenance on the bikes. Two hubs also have been added to the northern part of UVa’s campus at the North Grounds Recreation Center and the i.Lab at the Darden School of Business.
When it comes to expanding or making additions to the network, White said keeping the system balanced is a key consideration.
“A balanced system is a network, or a web, of racks and availability such that it’s pretty balanced out as to trips leaving one hub and going to another, so that you don’t have to worry about, ‘Oh, this hub just completely emptied out,’” White said. “On the other side of that coin … [if] you run out of rack space … then people are faced with not being able to plug the bike back into the station.”
When a system is not balanced, bikes are redistributed to ensure availability. White said balancing can be a challenge if a hub is at an endpoint of the network with no other hubs nearby. The existing system is pretty well-balanced.
“If there’s no rack within a half a block, you’re kind of putting the customer or the user in … an awkward position of either the rack’s empty or the rack is so full they can’t plug the bike back into it,” White said.
Although downtown Charlottesville is a popular destination for students and community members, UBike does not currently have a hub near the mall. The most eastern hubs are on Preston Avenue and West Main Street.
“When we get off UVa property, it’s a little bit trickier,” said Jonathan Monceaux, the university’s assistant director for transportation services.
Monceaux said UBike has offered pop-up stations in the past for special occasions, such as the Tom Tom Founders Festival.
“We basically geofenced every existing rack on the Downtown Mall and said, ‘You can just ride down there and lock to any of the racks down there,’” he said.
White said the implications of a possible downtown hub are being discussed.
UVa is currently studying the potential for a new UBike hub near commuter parking lots that many university employees use near University Hall and the John Paul Jones Arena. Commuters, such as those who work at the Health System, could then bike the remaining distance to work.
When discussing the potential for this hub, White said they will be looking at the impact on balance and whether redistribution will need to occur.
“Because that commuter that rode the bike in in the morning, they want a bike at their destination hub so that they can get back — but there might be athletes, people who study out there, who might move the bikes around,” she said. “We’re exploring that right now.”
Monceaux said the UBike program also has been involved in various outreach efforts to university staff, such as the Hoo’s Well fitness challenge and working with departments to encourage employees who need to drive around Grounds to use UBikes instead of state vehicles.
White also said data collected from UBikes can inform future transportation improvements.
“You can really see overlapping corridors,” White said. “Then you can use that to say, ‘Oh, well, maybe we should have a bike lane here or ‘share the road’ signs or whatever amenities you want to consider — it helps focus you on where people are actually riding.”