As UC Santa Barbara students returned to the eclectic, oceanside community that is Isla Vista, an additional aspect to the erratic collection of bicycles could be noted: more than 300 black bicycles parked in racks and pods, complete with shiny green baskets and stickered QR codes.
The latest addition to the UCSB and I.V. communities – courtesy of the start-up company HOPR and complete with the tagline “Hop around UCSB” – first appeared over a month ago.
James Wagner, program manager for UCSB’s Transportation Alternatives Program, said bike sharing has been on UCSB’s radar “for at least a dozen years.”
“A lot of students will buy a bike maybe used for $50, or maybe a new bike for close to $100,” Wagner said. “For a similar kind of dollars you can use a bike that is easy to use, has three speeds … if something happens to the bike after you lock it, it’s not on you anymore.”
CycleHop LLC, HOPR’s parent company, launched the HOPR-transit mobile app in Spring 2018, according to the company’s website.
The HOPR bicycles are equipped with a “smart bike share system,” meaning that anyone can use the bicycles as long as they have the app on their smartphone. Users can also report problems with the bicycle through the app.
The first official steps toward bringing a bicycle sharing program to campus first began three years ago, said Mo Lovegreen, UCSB’s campus sustainability director.
“A board was formed that included UCSB, the County of Santa Barbara, the City of Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Waterfront, SBCC, SBCAG, MTD, the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition [and] the City of Goleta,” Lovegreen said in an email.
The group agreed UCSB should take the lead on the program, include Isla Vista and then expand into the cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara down the road, according to Wagner.
UCSB then received proposals from eight bicycle-sharing companies looking to set up in the area, Lovegreen said.
“A.S. Bikes and a number of students on campus participated in developing the scoring rubric for the proposals as well as the bikes, they also test-rode the bikes, and were part of the decision making body for the vendor,” she said in an email.
HOPR’s “no cost” offer was what ultimately sealed the deal. The company said it would shoulder the full cost of the program, which would have otherwise costed the university around $1.5 million dollars for the initial start-up.
HOPR signed a three-year-long contract in early May 2019, according to Callie Price, UCSB’s purchasing and contracts manager. The contract can be extended before it expires.
Each bike normally costs somewhere between $1,500 and $5,000, Wagner said.
“For dock bikes, there are dock costs, and then there’s transaction fees for the credit cards and maintenance and all sorts of things,” Wagner said.
The first 1,000 students who sign for the annual membership with their UCSB email – and also qualify for financial aid through UCSB – will receive half the membership money back into their Billing Accounts Receivable Collection (BARC).
The bicycle sharing program is also an added bonus to a campus where over 1,500 bicycles are abandoned every year.
“We’ve got a waste problem in terms of abandoned bikes,” Wagner said. “We do sell some of them; the CSOs do a sale at the third week of every quarter in order to put some of those bikes back into service, but usually they only sell a 150 back to the students.”
“Maybe, as people use more and more bike share bikes, there will be fewer bikes abandoned.”
HOPR plans to add more than 900 additional bicycles to the UCSB and I.V. area by January 2019, according to Wagner. Eventually, “upgraded” bicycles, such those with electric pedals, will be integrated into the campus.
“A lot of our students ride bikes at night without any lights or reflectors, or anything else. The HOPR bikes all have front rear lights that activate whenever you ride,” Wagner said.
“Students are riding HOPR bikes that are well-lit, brand new and are frequently maintained and inspected. Hopefully that will keep everyone who rides them safer.”