Promoting Pedaling

Bike-sharing programs promote student health and reduce pollution on campus.

Many college and university administrators have embraced sustainability because of the support expressed by students on campus. One way for those students to manifest their commitment to environmentally friendly practices is to take part in a bike-sharing program.

Many higher-education institutions seeking to reduce campus traffic and greenhouse emissions have begun programs that provide students and staff easy access to bicycles for traveling around campus.

Some bike-sharing programs offer free bicycles on an honor system; others are rental programs that charge a set fee for a specific length of time. Some technologically sophisticated systems use radio frequency identification (RFID), smart cards and computer systems to keep track of bikes and users, and deter thefts.

One of the first university campuses with a high-tech bike-sharing program is the University of California-Irvine. The ZotWheels program enables students and staff members who pay a fee of $40 a year and pass an online safety course to have access to a fleet of bikes on campus.

Last month, the program received a Green California Leadership Award.

Here's how it works: Bikes are available from four ZotWheels stations centrally situated on campus. Students insert their ZotWheels card into a reader at one of the stations, and a bicycle is released from the docking station for them to ride for up to three hours. The bike can be returned to any of the four campus stations.

Each bike has an RFID tag, and the system can immediately detect if a bike has not been returned within the three-hour limit. Users who miss the deadline will have their ZotWheels cards automatically deactivated. A user must contact a ZotWheels administrator to have the violation cleared and riding rights restored. If the bike is not returned within 24 hours, or if it is severely damaged, the user will be charged $200.

The university encourages bike riders to wear helmets, but ZotWheels does not provide one. It also does not provide a lock or lights, so the bicycles can't be used after dark.

In Atlanta, Emory University has a bike-share program that lets students sign out bikes that must be returned before the end of the day. Last month, Emory and Georgia Tech, also in Atlanta, announced that they would use a $50,000 grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund to develop an automated bike-share system for use on both campuses.

The system is scheduled to begin this summer on the Emory campus with 11 bicycles that will be equipped with global positioning software and wireless communications. According to Emory, the GPS will transmit the location of each bicycle in real-time, communicate maintenance needs and send unauthorized use alerts.

A cellular-based locking system will enable users to find and check bikes in and out with their mobile phones.

In the future, the program plans to have fleets of bicycles on the Georgia Tech campus and in the neighborhoods between the two schools.

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