Towson University and Goucher College students have a new option for getting around campus that some residents of neighboring communities hope will relieve some parking congestion in greater Towson.
San Francisco-based Spin held soft launches of its bike-sharing program at both universities last week. The pilots are meant to gauge ridership before a potential expansion in the spring, according to company officials.
About 100 of the company’s dock-less, bright-orange bicycles were distributed throughout Towson University’s campus on the first day of spring semester. Another 30 were placed around Goucher College.
The institutions’ bike share company of choice works differently from companies such as Baltimore Bike Share by allowing users to return bikes anywhere, rather than at designated stations.
To ride, users search for an available bike through the Spin app, which uses GPS trackers to locate nearby bikes. The system uses a cellphone application to both lock and unlock bicycles at the user’s destination of choice, according to Pamela Mooney, Towson University’s director of parking and transportation.
“I thought we’d be slower on people using it, but the first day they were out there people were using them,” Mooney said.
Despite cold temperatures and minimal marketing, Mooney said ridership data provided to the school showed that more than 200 Towson University students and staff signed up for the app and took more than 100 trips total.
The dock-less system was attractive to university officials because it did not cost much money to get the program started, Mooney said. While a docked system would have cost $300,000 to $400,000 for 100 bikes, Spin sets up at no cost to the school and makes its money by charging for rides, she said.
Users may rent a bike for $1 for a 30-minute single trip or pay for monthly or yearly passes. Anyone using a university email receives 50 percent off regular rates.
“The only thing we’ve incurred cost on is a couple thousand dollars to promote them throughout campus,” Mooney said. “It’s a minimal cost to us and minimal from the management standpoint.”
The bike share, which took two years to bring to campus, was also attractive because it helps address a university goal to be more environmentally friendly.
Mooney said university officials have worked on adding a bike-share program on campus for almost two years under directives of the President’s Climate Committee, which formed to address a pledge the university president signed in 2007 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
“Alternative transportation is one of the [parking and transportation department’s] areas of responsibility as well as trying to be green and minimize our carbon footprint,” Mooney said. “We hope that students will migrate to the bikes versus the buses.”
Spin also launched its bike share program at Goucher College last week, according to school spokeswoman Tara de Souza.
The college agreed to partner with the company and bring about 30 bikes to Goucher based on a student’s suggestion, she said.
Goucher freshman Gabriel Silver, 19, said he pursued Spin after using the company’s bikes in Washington, D.C. He emailed the company to find out if they had considered Goucher College as an expansion site only to find out that Towson University was already on track to offer the bikes.
Since the launch, Silver said he has seen heavy use near the campus gym and dorms.
“There aren’t as many cars in the way [on campus], so dock-less is great because you can target any available space,” he said.
Though the program is a pilot for now, the company would like to add more bikes in the future, according to Brooks Buffington, Spin’s head of market operations.
The bikes can make short trips off campus and can be used by the general public, Buffington said. While they do not have to be returned to docking stations, users are encouraged to return them to campus, he said.
“We don’t have an agreement in place with the city itself, but from what we know from [other colleges], students may take them downtown to get a bite to eat … We’re trying to keep them fairly centralized on the two campuses.”
Baltimore County has not been contacted by Spin to expand the program throughout the county, nor is the county considering adding a similar bike-share system currently, according to county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.
However, some residents said they welcome the potential impact the addition of bike share could have on parking congestion in neighborhoods near campus, including Aigburth Manor and Knollwood-Donnybrook.
The increased use of bicycles is something that the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations has been pushing for many years, according to Aigburth Manor resident Paul Hartman, the group’s past president and webmaster.
Hartman said the umbrella group of community associations would like to see more bikes on the road to address Towson’s traffic woes. More bicycles could mean fewer cars and less pollution, he said.
“There is no magic solution so it will take a combination of more bikes along with increased walkability and better public transportation,” Hartman said in a Feb. 1 email.
According to Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, previous attempts to bring a similar system to Towson have not received support from other members of the council or Baltimore County government.
In 2013, Marks sponsored a resolution to look into the feasibility of a county-sponsored program but nothing came of the effort. He hopes to see measures to increase bicycling throughout Towson in the future, he said.
“Since then, I have urged both Towson University and Goucher College to push this concept, along with projects such as bike lanes along York Road and Towsontown Boulevard,” Marks said in a Jan. 31 email. “My hope is that the next administration will see the value of bicycling.”
Dave Riley, president of the Knollwood Donnybrook Association and head of a task force seeking to create a trail system along Herring Run, said he’s interested in learning more about the bike-share system in relation to promoting environmental health and reducing parking problems.
He has asked a campus official to brief the task force on bike share and invited a representative to join the group in an advisory role.
“I support it and I’m interested working with the university,” Riley said.