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UVa ending docked bicycle program

The University of Virginia’s bike share program will end the last week of May.

The UBike docked bicycle program started in 2015 and has provided bicycles to UVa students, staff and faculty, as well as general community members, for a fee.

Rebecca White, director of UVa’s Department of Parking & Transportation, said the decision to discontinue the UBike program was influenced by several simultaneous events, including that Social Bicycles, the provider of the brain/lock mechanism and software for the bikes, did not want to renew the procurement.

Social Bicycles Inc. was founded in 2010, rebranded as Jump in 2017 and was acquired by Uber in 2018. According to an Uber spokeswoman, UVa had the option to keep UBike active by renewing its contract for Social Bike software assets, which are now owned by another company, but chose not to.

When the program launched at UVa, officials hoped that the roughly 120 bikes each would be used for about five trips per day.

UVa did not respond to requests for current ridership numbers for the program, but according to other media reports, peak numbers in 2018 did not meet that estimate. About 50 trips were taken per day that year, White told The Cavalier Daily, and numbers dropped after the introduction of e-bikes and e-scooters in the area.

To use a UBike, a rider can find and reserve a bike using an app, the website or using a bike’s keypad. Bikes are designed to be returned to hubs, which are mainly on Grounds, or in the service area for an additional fee. The bikes are standard, three-speeds with pedals.

Other docked-bike programs across the country are transitioning to dockless programs, such as one in Cleveland.

Charlottesville’s dockless mobility program “that proved to be highly utilized and regional” was also a factor in the bike share program ending, White told the Progress.

According to city staff, Charlottesville has only received one application and proposal for the current program to provide dockless scooters and bikes — from the company VeoRide.

“The university is very interested in regional mobility options, so if all the providers left the area, I would see us continuing to work with the city and county to attract another regional provider, not one for Grounds only,” White said.

According to the proposal submitted to the city, VeoRide’s e-bikes cost $1 to unlock and 20 cents per minute to ride, while e-scooters cost $1 to unlock and 29 cents per minute to ride. Users who are low-income can apply to receive waived unlock fees on VeoRide’s website.

Charlottesville City Council approved official regulations for its dockless mobility program in December after running a pilot program for a year.

E-scooter and bike companies Bird and Lime were part of the city’s pilot program, but Bird removed its scooters in June and Lime removed its scooters in December and did not reapply, citing the requirements for bicycles.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors asked county staff in November to fast-track a policy ahead of new state laws, including one that would allow companies that rent out e-scooters to operate without a license, and approved an ordinance in December.

For a company to receive a county permit, it also must have a permit from the city.

Kiera Newman, a third-year biology major, was checking out a scooter on Grounds on Saturday. She said that she hasn’t used the bikes, but supports the university exploring other alternative transportation options.

“Anything that keeps cars off the roads is good,” she said. “Hopefully we can get more options on Grounds.”


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