Big Blue Bicycles

Imagine if you could hop onto a bicycle in front of Gelb Science Center and ride to Elson Art Center. Imagine if you could do that without having to worry about locks, keys, or a lost bike. Think about it. Wouldn’t these bicycles be Big, Blue, and Nice?

Many Andover students use popular sharing services such as Airbnb for home-sharing, and Uber and Lyft for car-sharing, but what about bike-sharing?

This summer in Shanghai, China, I set out to try the “little yellow bicycles” that had the city buzzing. Upon arriving at the main street, I was welcomed by a vast array of hundreds of shining bikes. I hopped on an available yellow bicycle by the company started in Beijing University, Ofo, opened the mobile application, inputted the corresponding bike number located on the bike tag, and unlocked the bike with the four-digit code the screen returned. Not only did I escape the Shanghai heat, but my bill totaled a grand 15 cents.

Later that week, I tested out a bicycle produced by Ofo’s rival, Mobike: I scanned the bike’s QR code and paid through my smartphone. The lock clicked open and I was all set to go. I arrived at my destination in no time, and was able to park my bicycle wherever I wanted.

The bike-sharing businesses in China are bringing millions of bikers onto the streets, ranging from work commuters to foreign tourists. The key attraction of these bike-sharing services is the no-docking strategy. Instead of having to find specific docking stations, users are able take and leave the bikes wherever they please.

After experiencing the convenience of short-distance travel using bike-sharing, I thought about the logistics and possibility of bringing this innovation halfway across the world onto Andover’s campus. For the past few years, I have heard numerous complaints from students about the walk from Gelb to Elson, and from Morton House to Bulfinch. I often see signs posted by students reporting missing scooters and bicycles.

A cooperation between bike-sharing businesses and school campuses is plausible and could benefit more than only Andover students. The two largest bike-sharing businesses in China, Mobike and Ofo, are eager to expand overseas. For example, a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts has recently partnered with Ofo to bring bike-sharing to his campus, for 50 cents an hour to ride. According to MassLive, 200 bicycles will be brought to Worcester on September 14. If WPI can do it, so can we! With most Andover students owning smartphones that can easily download bike-sharing mobile apps, efficient short-distance transportation is just a few steps away.

The main concern with introducing a bike-sharing system onto campus would be safety and regulation. For example, would students use the bikes respectfully? Would students remember to use helmets when riding the bicycles around campus? What are the boundaries for the bicycles?

These concerns can all be addressed. First, as to the respectful usage of bicycles, a team of students could monitor the bicycle locations, and also, the mobile application could offer incentives to students who lock unlocked bicycles, report slashed QR codes, clean up trash left in baskets, and arrange bicycles parked haphazardly. To make sure students do not ride off campus, we could program the bicycles to auto-lock when a certain road is passed, as each bicycle is connected to a navigation service. Additionally, to ensure the safety of community members, Phillips Academy Public Safety could designate “no bicycle” zones.

Many bike-sharing programs in United States have failed to garner a large enough pool of users to sustain their businesses. I believe that this is partially because of cost and convenience reasons, but also because we are oftentimes too absorbed in attaining private homes, cars, and lives.

Bike-sharing at Andover would encourage more students to make the trip to breakfast before class, save students from lugging heavy backpacks back and forth campus, and perhaps reduce the total number of student tardies. But more importantly, familiarizing ourselves with sharing-technologies early-on at Andover will teach us to think “sharing-ly,” and move us to participate in sharing services even beyond high school.