Gotcha Bike set to roll out on AU campus
Sara Falligant | Opelika-Auburn News | Twitter
Auburn University is rolling out a brand-new bike share program, making it the first university to boast smart bikes from Charleston-based The Gotcha Group.
University officials lined up 10 of the 75 Gotcha Bike bikes on the Roosevelt Concourse Wednesday, and the orange and blue drew the attention of students traveling to and from their first classes of the semester.
“We’ve been developing the first true smart bike for bike share for about a year and a half, and Auburn is our first partner that we’re rolling out the program with,” explained Sean Flood, CEO of The Gotcha Group. “Fully-branded, custom bikes with all Auburn branding.”
Unlike traditional bike share programs that require users to swipe a card at a kiosk and return the bike to a docking station, Gotcha Bike operates primarily through a smartphone app or computer and uses bike racks already installed on campus.
“We’ve gotten rid of that model, and we’ve installed all the technology on the back of the bike. So a user – student, faculty member, visitor – can create an account through their smartphone, locate the bikes through GPS on their phone, walk up to the bike, unlock it and then run around and turn it in to a corral without using a docking station,” Flood said.
The bike locks attach securely to a magnetic strip on the side of each bike. The fleet boasts a handful of other technologies, like lights that turn on when the rider starts pedaling and stay on after the bike is stopped for nighttime safety. The bikes also self-charge as the riders pedal, along with capturing energy with a solar panel. A keypad and screen on the back of the bike allow riders to report maintenance requests and keep up with miles traveled, calories burned, CO2 emissions reduced and money saved biking versus driving a car.
“We designed the bike to be as bulletproof as possible and designed for college bike share,” Flood said. “We tried to do a few things that made it not only a unique bike, but fit a college bike share really well. We went with an aluminum frame, and there are a few reasons for that. One, it’s lightweight. It’s designed to be a co-ed bike, so it doesn’t matter if you’re tall or short, you can use a Gotcha bike.
“Aluminum is weatherproof,” he continued. “These are going to be outside year-round, so we wanted to make sure they won’t rust. They’ve got puncture-resistant tires, so the hassle of your tires running flat, you won’t have any issue of that. The seat is Kevlar, so you won’t have a soaking wet seat when you walk out. And what we think is really neat is, we’ve removed the chain, so this is a belt drive. There’s no metal chain; it’s just a rubber belt similar to a belt drive that operates in your car. No grease, nothing like that. And all of the lock technology is on the back.”
The company provides maintenance and has partnered with local bike shop Southern Trails for day-to-day upkeep.
Riders get two free hours each day, and each additional hour is $5 up to a total of $25. The idea is to keep time short to ensure riders are using the bike share correctly.
“We want to make sure it’s a bike share, not a bike mine,” AU Parking Services Manager Don Andre said, adding riders can rent the bikes for a full day of trail riding or biking longer distances, if desired.
Flood added keeping the bike share running smoothly also relies on having the right number of bikes.
“So, say it takes you 15 minutes to bike across campus. The idea is you bike, lock your bike back up and go to class,” he said. “When you come out, somebody else has probably brought another bike. So you’re not necessarily going to ride the same bike you came in on. But if everybody’s using the system and it’s healthy and maintained correctly, then there’s always a bike available going where you need to go.”
But if riders know they’ll only be off the bike for a few minutes, they can opt for a 15-minute hold.
“One really cool feature is if the student wants to park the bike and grab coffee, they can actually lock it and put the bike on hold, instead of ending the ride and reinitiating that process. They can hold the reservation and keep it active,” said Katie Sargeant, director of Gotcha Bike.
There are about 3,000 registered bikes on Auburn’s campus each year. Out of that 3,000, Andre estimates half belong to students who pick up an inexpensive bike at a discount store just to get around campus.
“We end up with 1,500 at the end of the year because they don’t want them,” he said. “A lot of them are not bikers; they just buy it to get around campus. And that’s what this is for.”
Over the next couple of years, Andre hopes to grow the fleet to between 150 and 200, based on demand.
Gotcha Bike is designed to be a sponsored model without upfront equipment cost to universities. Institutions can opt to self-sponsor or partner with a corporate brand while Gotcha Bike funds the bikes, locks and technology. Auburn’s bikes feature the university’s iconic interlocking AU and “War Eagle Bike Share.” Eventually, Andre said, the bikes will also have secondary sponsors.
The company has contracts with Auburn, Georgia Tech, Florida State, University of Delaware and Northern Kentucky with the goal of expanding to universities nationwide.
The Gotcha Group began its partnership with Auburn in late 2010 when they brought Gotcha Ride to campus, a three-car fleet of eco-friendly vehicles for college students driven by other college students. Over the last year, the two have worked to develop the Gotcha Bike program, focusing on technology and student input.
“The partnership has been really strong. So when we developed this program, the university got very excited about it,” Flood said. “It seemed to make a lot of strategic sense to bring another concept to the campus.”
In considering options for transportation to encourage a more sustainable, green campus, university officials found a bike share program was the perfect choice.
“There’s not any parking on campus, and the cost of parking is just too expensive,” Andre said. With the sustainability issue, what we try to look at is what we can do to provide students a way to get around campus. We just kept looking and looking and decided a bike share program was the best thing to do.
“I think it’s really going to help students get around.”
The fleet is expected to be ready for student use soon.