Over the long weekend, I had my first experience with Phillips Academy’s new community biking system, Big Blue Bikes. It was just after the library had opened, and I was going to breakfast in town with a friend who had a bike of his own. I signed in with the librarian and she presented me with the rules, which briefly paraphrased to: “Wear a helmet, do not damage the bike, no cycling when the library is closed, and bikes can only be taken for a maximum of two hours.”
I got my key from the desk, and after spending a few minutes trying to find the right bike and fumbling with the lock, I hopped on. Besides the slightly clunky helmet, bright PA labels conducive to the familiar “catboner” effect, and the struggle of handling keys in the bitter cold, everything went relatively smoothly. But as I got back to campus, and dropped off the bike, I saw that no other bikes had been taken. Odd. I passed the library many times that day, and still no bikes were taken. In fact I passed the library for the entire weekend, and from what I could see, no bikes had been used.
To my current knowledge, this biking system’s popularity was limited to just, well, me. Back at the dorm I asked many students what they thought of the system, and they all were reluctant to check out bikes under the same opinion: the renting time of two hours was too short. Expanding my inquiry to upperclassmen, who unanimously agreed, I concluded that the two-hour rule was the cause of limited popularity of Big Blue Bikes
In two hours, there is not much one can do on a bike. Maybe one can take a quick trip to town, but once one is there, a meal or a run to CVS leaves a slim margin of time to do anything else. One of the main uses for bikes on campus is to coast between classes, and with a seven-hour school day, a two-hour rent time is useless. Unless making frequent trips to the library is desirable, I don’t think many students will be checking out bikes during the week.
Here on campus, most places students go to on bikes or on foot are places where they intend to stay for a while. A musician might bike to Graves for a rehearsal, or a student might bike to Siberia to get to their sport in time. Under the two-hour rule, however, one must quickly return to the library to sign in the bike and cannot wait for the duration of the rehearsal or practice.
Anywhere one goes to spend time, anywhere besides a sub two-hour linear trip is impossible under the current Big Blue Bikes rules. To make one’s way over to the library and hack through a synthetic jungle of bike locks just doesn’t seem to be worth it, if one can’t coast around campus for more than two hours. It’s not much faster than walking, and I’m sure many students would rather hoof it than deal with the two-hour hassle.
These untouched bike racks by the library bring some prominent issues to mind concerning Student Council-sponsored Abbot Grants. With no funding, how is the Student Council supposed to maintain and advertise the bike system for student use? With no manpower at its disposal, how is the Student Council able to retrieve, repair, and keep track of bikes in the inventory? Although the biking program is an attractive prospect, more measures need to be put in place for proper upkeep, publicity and integrity of the system. In general, before students launch expensive Abbot Grants like Big Blue Bikes under Student Council authority, more preparatory structure must be arranged to promote efficiency, and for that matter, popularity.
Fortunately, Student Council plans to augment the checkout time for bikes, employing Student Council members to check inventory. If they increase renting time by an hour or two, or to the length of the seven-hour academic day, I have no doubt more students will utilize the bikes. In addition, the staffing of the new program will surely increase its lifespan and efficiency on campus. We have yet to see whether increased checkout time and increased manpower will provide increased popularity for Big Blue Bikes.
Auggie Horner is a Junior from New York, NY..