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Ofo Bike Share Program Extends Free Trial

Biking sharing company ofo recently extended its free pilot program following a successful start at the 5Cs, yet some problems, including improperly parked bikes, continue to stand as barriers to an overall positive campus view of the program. (Photo courtesy of Erin Slichter)

Bike sharing company ofo has extended its free pilot program following what it says has been a successful start at the 5Cs, exceeding expectations.

“It took off,” said Austin Marshburn, ofo’s head of universities. “Really bigger than I thought it might have been. It’s not something I was expecting with just … a hundred-ish bikes on campus.”

Between its launch Feb. 21 and March 16, ofo’s 843 5C users went on 12,000 rides totaling more than 2,000 miles, according to Pomona College assistant director of sustainability Alexis Reyes.

Marshburn attributed the pilot’s success to the nature of a college campus.

“One of the main things about college is that biking is an accepted mode of transportation for almost everybody,” he said. “It’s more accepted in all cases than, for whatever reason, it is outside of the campus experience.”

Marshburn said ofo currently has 120 bikes at the 5Cs, and decided to extend the free pilot to continue to collect data. Ultimately, he estimates the company will deploy a maximum of 300 bikes at the 5Cs.

Ofo will send an email and survey users before it ends the pilot and starts charging for rides later this semester, Marshburn said.

Despite ofo’s enthusiasm, the program has encountered some issues, including improperly parked bikes.

Pomona Associate Dean Christopher Waugh sent an email March 3 reminding students of proper bike storage practices.

“Ofo is working on programming ‘preferred parking locations,’ which will send a reminder to users who do park in an inappropriate location,” he added. “These users can also be penalized from accessing ofo for a certain time period if they have multiple parking violations.”

Reyes said the colleges will work to mitigate any bike rack shortages that ofo causes.

“We have enough bike racks for 1,617 bikes on campus,” she wrote in an email to TSL. “After Facilities removes abandoned bikes during the summer (~100 bikes) … then the Sustainability Office will re-evaluate the number of bike racks on campus and make a recommendation to Facilities.”

Students have mostly reacted positively to ofo. Thomas Dickstein PO ’20 said he has used the program almost every day and is considering buying a plan when they become available.

“Before ofo, it would take me minimum 10 minutes to get [to classes on other campuses] on foot, but now it’s super quick and has totally changed how I schedule my life,” he said.

But Elise Kuechle PO ’21 said she once had to move a bike from in front of a door to get into a building. “I don’t like that people leave them wherever and are kind of disrespectful with it,” she said.

Because ofo is only officially partnered with Pomona, only Pomona will receive 10 percent of the revenue generated from the program once ofo starts charging for bike use, which will be used to develop bike infrastructure.

This may soon change, however. Pitzer is also considering pursuing a partnership with ofo, according to Pitzer College sustainability manager Warren Biggins.

“If we really want people to utilize this, and if we want to have Pitzer students be able to access bikes regularly … I think it would make sense for us to partner with ofo,” he said.

Pitzer’s Sustainability Committee discussed the potential of an ofo partnership at a meeting Thursday. It decided to continue considering the partnership, and will now propose the idea to multiple government bodies on campus.

Biggins said Pitzer’s final decision will depend heavily on community input. He also expressed concern over bike storage, and said Pitzer might consider designating certain ofo-specific bike racks if problems arise.

Representatives of Harvey Mudd College, Claremont McKenna College, and Scripps College told TSL that they are not currently considering partnerships with ofo.

Before its launch, student employees from Pomona Green Bikes expressed concerns that ofo would conflict with rather than supplement the college’s existing bike infrastructure, but they have recently shown more support.

“We’re all for bike sharing, insofar as it gets more people on bikes and is actually a sustainable alternative to driving,” said Noah Levine PO ’18, a Pomona Green Bikes mechanic. “I’ve been really happy … [to see] more kids on bikes, people that maybe didn’t bike before, or didn’t have access to a bike, or didn’t think they had access to a bike. Seeing them around on ofo bikes has been, for me, sort of an inspiring thing.”

Pitzer’s Green Bikes Program co-head Griffin Cloud Levine PZ ’19 said he recognized Pomona Green Bikes’ initial concerns, but thinks they emerged because of ofo’s fast, unanticipated arrival on campus.

“Because there was this rushed integration, [some issues] didn’t really get solved, and it’s created this kind of tension,” he said. “But I think these are all problems that can be solved.”

He believes Green Bikes and ofo can cooperate, rather than acting as competitors.

“I don’t think it has to be this kind of tension-based relationship where one’s threatening the other, and there’s all these fears … of this commercialized product taking over the 5Cs,” he said. “We’re looking at it as a way of breaking barriers and allowing it as a way for students to have an easier access to bikes.”

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