A student proposal that would make bikes available for rent in all residential colleges is searching for funding in tough economic times.
The Yale College Council and the Yale Student Environmental Coalition teamed up to develop a proposal for a campus wide bike-sharing program that, if approved, would allow students to borrow bicycles from various locations on campus. Leaders of the project said the program will not only benefit student health and campus sustainability, but also facilitate a more fluid relationship between Yale and surrounding New Haven neighborhoods.
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But one obstacle still stands in the way: securing funding.
The proposal estimates the cost of the pilot program, which would be implemented in three residential colleges, at about $4,300 but did not give an estimate for the full version of the program. Project leaders are hoping to obtain funding from the Office of Sustainability as well as from the YCC and YSEC.
As “a natural extension” of Yale’s recent push toward environmental awareness, a bike-sharing program has been in the works for a while, YSEC co-chair Charles Zhu ’11 said.
“It hasn’t been implemented before because of technical restraints, in terms of problems of theft, liability and maintenance,” Zhu said.
The current proposal, which Zhu said will be submitted to administration next week, tackles those issues in a way that committee members hope will allow the pilot program to launch as soon as possible, preferably by the end of this month. For example, the bicycles will be locked and stored on existing bike racks within residential college gates, a measure the committee believes will decrease the probability of theft. The proposal also recommends opening a campus repair shop for bicycle maintenance.
Holly Parker, director of Sustainable Transportation Systems, said she remains optimistic that the University will be able to make the program work smoothly.
“Historically, it has been very hard to successfully implement [bike-sharing] on a college campus,” Holly Parker, director of Sustainable Transportation Systems, said in an e-mail message. “But I think we have what it takes to do it right — in particular a dedicated group of people who have done a careful evaluation of what didn’t work at other schools.”
Parker said her office and the Office of Sustainability are helping the YCC and YSEC to explore funding options for the program. In an interview Tuesday night, University President Richard Levin called the pilot program a “great idea” but said he has not been involved in discussions about financing for the program.
The pilot program, which YCC and YSEC hope to implement in Morse College, Silliman College and a third college somewhere in between, would be run largely through the offices of the respective residential college masters, although all students would be able to borrow bicycles.
After attending a preregistration session with information on safety and signing a liability waiver, students would be able to sign out a key from the master’s office to borrow a bicycle for the day either without cost or for what Zhu called a “nominal fee” yet to be determined. A range of staff members — from STEP coordinators to master’s aides — would be responsible for ensuring that all bikes were returned.
“Ideally, this could evolve into an electronic system where students would swipe their cards on a lock station next to the bike racks,” Zhu said. “But that would be far into the future.”
YCC Vice President Emily Schofield ’09 said the future of the program will depend on the success of the pilot, as well as whether the University is willing to pay for a full version.
“There are still many details that need to be worked out,” Schofield said, noting that the issue of whether the program would provide helmets for all patrons has not been resolved. “However, funding is definitely one of our biggest concerns right now.”
The bicycle-sharing program began as a YCC initiative. When it received the most support on the Student Development Directive — a campus-wide survey of how the YCC should use $5,000 toward long-term investment in the University — the YCC joined forces with YSEC to write the proposal.
Proponents of the program say bike sharing at Yale would benefit both the University and the surrounding New Haven area.
“Obviously Yale prides itself on being a national and international example of a sustainable college,” Morse College representative Hannah Kieschnick ’11 said. “What’s more sustainable than a bike-sharing program?”
Bike-sharing programs are very popular in Europe, Zhu said, and are only currently beginning to take hold in the United States. Emulating the success of similar programs in Barcelona and Paris, which have thousands of rentable bicycles in service, Washington, D.C., launched an automated bike-sharing program in April — the first of its kind in the United States — in an effort to ease stress on public transportation systems.
By increasing bicycle traffic on campus, Kieschnick added, the program would provide a form of transportation that is more energy-efficient and produces fewer emissions than cars or buses. Aside from the environmental benefits, a bike-sharing program would make Yalies more inclined to explore the parts of New Haven that are not frequented as often by students on foot, Zhu said.
“It gives them a chance to explore New Haven and engage with the community in an easier way,” he said.
The proposal will be submitted to Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker for approval by the end of next week.