There will be more of those distinctive green LimeBikes on and around N.C. State University’s campus this spring.
The California-based company and NCSU have agreed to expand the bike-share program that began with 300 bikes last August. This spring semester, there will be 200 additional bikes, including some electric-assist models that help riders maintain their speed and climb hills.
NCSU considered last fall’s rollout a test for LimeBike, the first bike-share program in the city. Based on surveys of students and staff, the university decided not only to continue the program but bring in more bikes, said Mike Kennon, NCSU’s assistant director for transportation planning and operations.
“The response was overwhelmingly positive from our users,” Kennon said.
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Through last fall, more than 12,000 people had downloaded the LimeBike mobile app that lets them unlock a bike and charges them for the time they’re using it. The app also lets would-be riders find a LimeBike, which are generally parked where the previous riders left them. The same GPS technology allows the company to keep track of its bicycles and send someone out to retrieve bikes that have been taken off campus and not used for a day or two.
Early on, some riders made sport of the odd places they could leave the bikes, including in a tree near the Free Expression Tunnel and on top of N.C. State’s Fountain Dining Hall. But Sidney McLaurin, LimeBike’s North Carolina general manager, said those pranks turned out to be rare.
“The students have really done a good job of taking the program as their own and not abusing it,” McLaurin said.
Bike-sharing – the idea that someone can rent or use a bicycle only when it’s needed, then leave it behind for the next person – has taken many forms in cities around the world. Dozens of local governments and transit agencies across the country have started bike-share programs, either on their own or in conjunction with one of several start-up companies such as LimeBike, which also operates in Durham, Charlotte and Greensboro.
The city of Raleigh plans to roll out its version of bike-sharing this spring, with 300 bikes and 30 docking stations, mostly downtown and near college campuses, where bikes can be checked out and returned. McLaurin said the city’s program will help raise the profile of bike-share and get people used to the idea, and he thinks the two programs will appeal to different customers.
“The riders we see appreciate the convenience of not having to dock the bike” at a fixed station, he said. “I still expect to see a portion of people who don’t want to return it do a dock.”
Harry Rybacki of Oaks and Spokes, a cycling advocacy group, says he has used both docking and free-range bike-share programs and sees the advantages of both. The city’s docking stations will be in places where people are likely to expect to find a bike, such as transit stations or shopping centers, increasing the chances that a bike will be where someone wants it, Rybacki said.
“I want to see both systems in place, working together,” he said. “I think that they’ll complement each other really well.”
LimeBike says people rode its Raleigh bikes nearly 24,000 miles through mid-December. The average riding time was a little less than six minutes, and the average trip covered about eight-tenths of a mile. The time begins tolling when the bike is unlocked and stops when the bike is locked.
NCSU students, faculty and staff pay 50 cents per half hour of ride time; everyone else pays $1. There’s no cost to the university, which has a three-year agreement with LimeBike that it can terminate at the end of any semester if the university thinks it no longer meets its needs, Kennon said.
LimeBike doesn’t share numbers related to revenue or profitability, said spokeswoman Mary Caroline Pruitt. The company was launched last June, and now its bikes can be found in 22 cities and on 10 campuses. “Generally, we are doing really well,” Pruitt said.
It was LimeBike’s decision to increase the number of bikes at NCSU by 200, McLaurin said. The number could grow in the future based on demand, he said.