One hundred and twenty-five University of Tennessee, Knoxville, students have begun riding electric bikes(e-bike) around their large, hilly campus thanks to cycleUshare, the nation’s first automated e-bike sharing system. The pilot program includes two stations with seven e-bikes and three regular bikes per station. The first station, located at Presidential Court, is powered by conventional electricity. The university expects to open a second, solar-powered station in the next two months on the Agriculture Campus, presumably an area with high transportation demands.
The bike sharing system is fully automated, with a kiosk programmed to allow students and faculty to check in and check out their e-bikes with a swipe of their university I.D. cards. It also includes a battery vending system, where a user replaces a used battery, to be recharged, for a fresh one, as well as an electrically locking bike rack for all bikes. Attention, hardcore bicyclists: there are two models being used. A hybrid Marin Larkspur, which is people-powered, and Currie Technologies‘ sexy, cleanly designed, and light (52 pounds is light for all that added weight!) Izip Trekking Enlightened, which comes with a Lithium battery pack on the back of the bike. Currie Technologies’ website claims the bike has a 24 to 30 mile range, and a topspeed of 20mph, but that definitely depends on terrain and rider behavior. It recharges in four to six hours, depending on how much the battery is depleted. Each bike is to be equipped with GPS sensors to monitor travel behavior, and energy use sensors for energy analysis.
The program is the subject of a research study by civil and engineering assistant professors Chris Cherry and Stacy Worlay, as well as David Smith from biosystems engineering. The six month study will hopefully provide them with information on the health and environmental impact of bike sharing systems, and the operational feasibility of e-bike sharing stations. From the press release:
“We want to test the technology, operations, environmental impacts, travel demand impacts on physical activity, and economics of developing such a system,” said Cherry. “With this being the first fully automated electric bike sharing system in the country and one of the first in the world, we hope to prove or disprove many of the assumptions that are attached to such a system.”
Why not use a traditional bicycle? Before cyclist die-hards (I’m imagining Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in “Premium Rush” would have something nasty to say) begin protesting, consider that one of the program’s goals is to gently and unobtrusively introduce electric vehicles to the campus. This exposure will, hopefully, prove to users that e-bikes and other alternative modes of transportation are practical. This pilot program could also reduce the number of unnecessary motor vehicle trips. And, no matter how you slice it, e-bikes are an environmentally-friendly, zero emission alternative to driving- extra points for the solar powered bike station to come. Another goal is to impact public health by exposing people to mild active transport. The professors may be getting people out of their cars and into some physical activity. It’s better than none!