Imagine riding a bright, blue bicycle from Moseley to class on a clear, beautiful, warm, spring day.
With Zagster, the bike-sharing program implemented on Elon University’s campus in February 2017, this option became a feasible reality for students who didn’t own a bike but wanted to enjoy a bike ride or needed to get somewhere quickly.
However, the two, five-bicycle stations located in front of Moseley and Danieley Commons were removed last month due to an insufficient amount of riders.
Elon University’s SGA decided to discontinue the Zagster program due to a lack of ridership.
“To be able to pay the amount to be able to afford having the system here, the full system, it would be dependent on a certain amount of students paying to have a membership to keep the system running,” said senior Rachel Hobbs, the executive secretary of SGA.
The program was launched as a free, pilot program in the initial phase. Students would download the Zagster app and reserve a bicycle for three-hour intervals.
On June 1, 2017, the free trial period ended, and the voluntary membership for Zagster officially began to cost students $50 per year.
SGA has contacted the students who had decided to pay the $50 membership fee to inform them that they will be refunded the money.
Zagster needed a minimum of 600 riders in order to keep the two stations on campus or to expand to six stations. Instead, it only received a bit over 200.
“We really weren’t in a place where I think it would be fiscally responsible for us to renew the contract for two stations or expand the program to more stations,” Hobbs said.
“It’s a $20,000 system, and so to renew the program, it would have been that amount,” Hobbs said. “And … this was a pilot program with two stations, not six. If we were to expand, that price would definitely change because, with the maintenance of what we have now, it would be $20,000 for next year.”
SGA’s Student Issues Committee first received student feedback two years ago indicating student interest in implementing a bike-sharing program on campus.
“This didn’t just come out of nowhere,” Hobbs said about the service. “It was the product of years of research.”
“They did a survey which indicated that at least a pilot was appropriate, and they invested in the pilot program,” said Jana Lynn Patterson, associate vice president for student life, dean of students and advisor to SGA.
“We did a lot of research on our own campus with different departments,” Hobbs said. “We surveyed our student body, we looked at other schools, looked at a bunch of companies, and so we really did our due diligence, I think, in terms of launching this pilot and promoting it as well.”
SGA ended up most closely following Duke University’s model for bike sharing.
“It was a number of schools we looked at back in the early research stages,” Hobbs said. “One of the biggest ones we looked at was Duke because they actually worked with Zagster, so... we looked at Duke and actually went to their campus and looked at their system.”
SGA decided to go with Zagster because “at the time, Zagster was really the leader in terms of collegiate bike rental systems,” Hobbs said.
“They worked pretty well with Duke,” Hobbs said.
But Patterson noted that Duke’s undergraduate population is not only nearly twice as large as Elon’s; the campus also operates differently than this campus does.
“There are a lot of cars inside Duke’s campus,” Patterson said. “Our students–the cars are on the periphery. They’re not right in the middle of campus, so there’s that. Also, we don’t have a lot of commuter students. We have commuter students, but they live very close, so they can walk home in ten minutes instead of taking a bike and going and then dropping it back.”
“Our campus is a highly walkable campus,” Patterson said. “So a lot of times you see biking programs more successful when a campus is more spread out than ours is or when there’s high traffic.”
Hobbs said that although Duke’s program seemed to be a good model to follow, it panned out differently there than it did on this campus.
“They were in a little bit different of a position just because they had a full system from the start and not a pilot,” Hobbs said. “So we started with two stations. I believe they started with six, and then they were free for students the whole time. We weren’t quite in a position to do that.”
“We wanted to pilot it to be fiscally responsible, so we launched a smaller version of the system for the year to test how it does,” Hobbs said.
But Zagster did not meet SGAs expectations.
Sophomore Destynee Spieker used Zagster one time during the initial free period to get lunch with her brother, senior Devon Spieker.
“I thought it was a really good idea, but a lot of people have their own bikes,” she said. “If you’re going to pay to keep a bike or to ride a bike, and you do it for the full four years, you might as well just buy your own bike because you’re going to use that more and you can use that later, after college.”
Spieker also felt as though Zagster could have been more successful if it had been advertised more or in different ways.
“To tell you the truth, it wasn’t spread a lot,” she said. “You could read what it was on the rack, because they had the sign saying ‘Zagster,’ and … it explained it. … The idea of it wasn’t spread very much. I didn’t know what it was, and that’s why I was afraid to do anything with it.”
On the other hand, junior Jared Mayerson said he enjoyed the system since he couldn’t bring his bike to Elon from his home in California.
“I liked Zagster because I really like going on bike rides,” Mayerson said. “But since I’m from California, I can’t bring my bike to school. It was really easy and convenient to take out a bike when I wanted to go on a bike ride, but now that the program is ending, I’ll have to turn to Campus Rec for a long-term rental.”
Patterson cited Campus Recreation’s bike-rental system as a reason why Zagster might not have worked as well as hoped.
“I think that there are several things that affected our the program,” Patterson said. “One is that Campus Recreation has a very robust bike rental program, so students that are really interested in biking can either bring their own or rent one for the year, and that’s a wonderful program.”
Hobbs and Patterson expressed SGA’s support for students’ needs, wellness and interests above all else.
“Just because we’re not in a position to renew Zagster doesn’t mean that there aren’t students on our campus that benefit from biking and like biking,” Hobbs said. “So we do want to support those students in some capacity. Our way of doing that is looking at, in the next few weeks, what we can fund in terms of Campus Rec’s program. … It’s the same price that ours was. It was $50 for the year to rent a bike, so we’re in the process of looking at how we can support that financially. That way we can support students and their interest in biking, even though it’s not directly through Zagster anymore.”