Monday, September 06, 2004

Why Wouldn't This Work?

Proposal for a University of Limerick Campus Bike Rental Scheme


In order to reduce congestion on the road network around Castletroy and to alleviate the pressure on the University car parks, it is proposed that the University initiate a student/staff bike rental scheme. This will also have attendant health and environmental benefits. After an initial investment, the scheme could become self-funding within four years.


The University of Limerick is unique in that most of the University's students live within a mile of the campus in the town land of Castletroy. Despite this, a significant number of students choose to drive to college. This has caused problems with car park allocations and contributes to the congestion on the Dublin-Limerick road. In contrast, relatively few students cycle to the University, even though no part of Castletroy is more than 10 minutes cycle from the University, and the campus road network is well suited to cyclists.

A bike rental scheme might take some of these student motorists out of the system, improving the quality of life for all.

Piloting the Scheme

The scheme could be started with 100 bikes. These should be chosen for durability and should all be identical. When purchased in bulk like this, the price works out at less than €100 per bike. The bikes should all be painted in easily recognised colours (yellow or orange for example), and each one should be assigned a unique ID number that is also painted prominently on the bike. This ID is associated with the bike's frame number. The pilot scheme outlined here would cost less than €20,000 to fund.

A support contract for the bikes can be sold to one of the bike repair shops in Limerick. This would involve a bike repair kiosk being opened in the Stables complex. This shop would carry 20 spare bikes and a stock of spare parts. Repairs would be carried out according to an established pricing structure. A bike-scheme user will not have to wait for his/her bike to be repaired. Since all the bikes are identical, they can just wheel out one of the spare bikes after paying for their repair.

The bikes will be rented to users on a per semester basis. After paying a deposit (€150), the bikes could be rented for as little as €20 per semester. This also entitles the user to discounted repairs at the bike shop. The ID number of the student is associated with the ID number of the rented bike (or the substitute bike in the case of repairs). Participants in this scheme would also be issued with locks.

Extending the Scheme

If the pilot scheme meets with success, the scheme can be extended by purchasing more bikes. This purchase can be partly funded by the rental and repair income from the pilot scheme. If the idea gathers momentum, the operation of the scheme can be handed over to the bike shop and the University can decrease its involvement if it so wishes. The scheme will gradually become self-funding.

The scheme can be further supported by the University with the establishment of more bike sheds around the college that are covered by CCTV cameras and by opening up several of the existing bike sheds to the students participating in this scheme. It might also be possible to establish a secure bike shed in Limerick city that is accessible only to users of the scheme by key card.

As the bike population of the University grows, it will lend weight to the argument that a bike path should be available between the campus and the city. If the scheme is very successful, the idea may be exported to other Irish Universities. This is something that can be franchised by the original bike shop as a business (rather like Campbell’s Catering).

Elements of the Scheme

There are a number of elements to the scheme that are independent, and would be useful even if implemented alone.

* The availability of bikes for rental.
* The establishment of a bike shop in the Stables complex.
* The provision of secure (CCTV monitored) bike sheds around the campus.
* The provision of a bike path between the city and the campus.

Potential Benefits

* Reduction in congestion in the Castletroy road network and on the N7.
* Reduction in demand for car parking around the University.
* Reduced environmental impact (due to noise and emissions).
* Students get into the habit of cycling, which has health benefits and is something that will contribute to their quality of life.
* The scheme is comparatively inexpensive to pilot and has the potential to become self-funding and eventually profitable.
* The existence of a large bike population in Castletroy will lend weight to the argument that a bike path needs to be built between the University and the city.

Potential Problems

* Insurance. It is unclear who would be liable in the case of an accident (especially if the accident is caused by poor maintenance). Either the University would have to insure the scheme, or the users would be required to sign a waiver.

* Security. Bike theft is endemic in Limerick so considerable attention must be paid to this issue. There are a number of potential solutions that might lessen the problem. The provision of secure bike parking facilities is one. There are also options that can be explored involving tracking chips or RFID (radio frequency ID) tags and bar coding.

* Lack of interest. If the pilot scheme fails, then the University’s initial investment will be at risk. However, the sum needed is relatively small, and the bikes can be sold off to students/staff second-hand to recoup some of this money.

* If the take-up is primarily from pedestrians (as opposed to motorists), then many of the benefits will be lost. However, the scheme will still improve quality of life.

* Seasonal interest. During the summer, there will be much fewer people around. However, it is possible that the bikes can be rented to the foreign students who spend the summer in Limerick.

Benficiaries/Interested Parties

* The University of Limerick. The scheme will serve as an example of the University’s commitment to improving the quality of life for its staff and students. It will also help alleviate the car parking problems of recent years.

* Limerick County Council/Corporation. Any reduction in the congestion on the roads around Limerick would be useful. The scheme might attract some seed funding from these agencies. Eventually, they might find themselves in a position to provide a bike path.

* Environmental Society of UL. Aside from the direct environmental benefits of the scheme, it also helps to promote cycling as an alternative to motorised transport.

* ULSU & PSA. This is an issue that affects the quality of life for UL students. The ULSU has previously shown itself to be interested in the car parking issue…and this is one possible solution.


cron said...

How many UL students _want_ to cycle to college?

How many of those don't already have a bike?

How many of those have €150 for a deposit, but don't have €100 to buy their own bike with?

Unless the bike repairs were very cheap, I don't see the incentive for a would be two-wheeling student to take part in the scheme.

To take this out of the realm of pure speculation, I'd suggest some market research along the lines of:

Do you currently cycle to college?
- If yes, how much (if anything) have you spent on bikes/repairs in the past year?
- If no, rate the following reasons in order of importance:
a) I don't want to / can't afford to invest in a bike.
b) I don't want the maintenance hassle of a bike.
c) I don't want my bike to get stolen.
d) Rain.
e) There's no bike path.
f) I don't know how to ride a bike.
g) Cycling would mess up my hair.
h) I'm physically incapable of riding a bike.
i) Rain.
j) I'm too lazy.
k) I need to show off my car.
l) Rain.

batgimp said...


Ok, this is an old proposal, and I changed my mind about the prices. You could maybe run it at a loss and see a dividend in reduced congestion etc. But anyway:

1. Driving is becoming more expensive (fuel, parking) wrt to usage...even while it is cheaper to get into (lower insurance, 2nd hand prices vs. average income).

2. For some people, maintenance is a big deal. For people with a complete lack of mechanical ability (or a toolset), even a puncture could mean trekking all the way into town with a sick bike and waiting for it to be repaired.

3. Theft is a huge problem. However, having a large stakeholder like UL involved means that security can be improved (ie, bike sheds, better locks). It's also more likely that prosecutions will be brought forward if there is a scheme controlling 150 bikes on campus...even if the cost of the prosecution outweighs the cost of the bike - for sheer deterrent value. I'm not convinced that the average Limerick criminal sees much economic return on bike theft. I'm pretty sure most bike thefts are crimes of opportunity and lo-fi "joyriding".

As for laziness and rain. Well, Limerick's wet. Buy a jacket. To a certain degree, the idea will have to be "sold" to the students. But that's what marketing is for, creating a "want" where none previously existed. The proposal is to pilot the scheme with 100 bikes, so you don't have to create too much demand. After that, you can gauge the market a little better.

At worst, it would be a good way of squeezing grant money out of a few organisations who pay lip service to traffic and environmental issues without doing an awful lot about them. And it's a helluva lot cheaper than building carparks.

Then again, it's not like I'm proposing to invest my own money in something like this. It was just an interesting idea.