Here’s the story behind those Carolina blue bikes that showed up on UNC’s campus this week

Bike share has come to UNC-Chapel Hill with the roll-out this week of a fleet of 100 blue bikes available for riding around campus.

The Tar Heel Bikes program is run by Gotcha Bike, a company based in Charleston, S.C., that has similar programs on 29 other campuses, including UNC Wilmington, UNC Charlotte and Queens University in Charlotte.

Riders can find and reserve Tar Heel Bikes at one of 18 docking stations around campus using an app on their cellphone or through a website. The first hour per day of riding is free, with charges of up to $6 an hour after that.

Campus officials, including Chancellor Carol Folt, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday afternoon for the program, which is part of a larger environmental initiative to reduce waste, water use and greenhouse gas emissions on campus.

The idea behind bike share – that someone can rent or use a bicycle only when it’s needed, then leave it behind for the next person – has blossomed in cities and on college campuses around the world. In August, bike share company LimeBike of California began a similar program at N.C. State University with a fleet of 300 distinctive green bicycles, while N.C. Central University started a bike-share program using bicycles from Zagster, a Massachusetts company.

In the increasingly competitive bike share industry, each company touts its advantages over other programs. Gotcha Bike says its bicycles, with GPS technology provided by Social Bicycles, are “the most rugged in the industry,” and that its app allows users to track how many calories they’re burning and carbon dioxide emissions they’re avoiding as they ride.

Gotcha Bike also says its docking stations are an advantage over programs such as LimeBike that don’t offer them. LimeBike users can leave the bike in any public place, and the company’s app lets would-be riders find the one closest to them. When the bikes wander too far from campus or haven’t been used for a few days, a LimeBike employee goes to retrieve them and return them to a place where they’re likely to be used.

At UNC, riders are expected to return their bike to a docking station, but if they don’t Tar Heel Bikes can also be tracked and redistributed to docking stations around campus to try to ensure there are bikes available at all of them.

“We find that having designated docking stations around a campus allows bike shares to be seen as assets and a real benefit to the campus,” Sean Flood, Gotcha Bike’s CEO, said in a statement. “Docking stations reduce chaos and help managers track bike whereabouts.”

Tar Heel Bikes offers two membership plans. The daily plan is available to anyone, whether or not they are affiliated with the university. It costs nothing up front, and riders get the first hour free per day and pay $6 per hour after that. They also get 30 minutes of “hold” time per day, where they can park the bike between docking stations without the time counting against them.

The “lifestyle plan” costs $30 a year and is limited to those affiliated with UNC and UNC Healthcare. Riders get the first two hours per day free and pay $4 per hour after that. They get an hour of hold time per day.

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Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling