It was a sun-soaked September day last year when the ribbon was cut for Fayetteville’s and the University of Arkansas’ VeoRide bike share program.
Hundreds of brand new, red-and-white bikes lined the brick walkways around Fulbright Peace Fountain outside Old Main. Mayor Lioneld Jordan and Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz both delivered remarks to a crowd of media, staffers and local enthusiasts.
I remember this day well. Launching a bike share program had been a long term goal of the city and of the university. It was a big achievement.
One year and more than 85,000 rides later, the program has faced challenges, but endured and even thrived. VeoRide has launched 290 pedal bikes and 150 electric-assist bikes in Fayetteville.
Not all those bikes survived the rigors of being ridden and kept outdoors year-round. The remaining battle-tested fleet of about 360 bikes wear the scars of hundreds of rides. I think after a year it’s fair to say these bikes have already become part of the transportation infrastructure of our community.
Along the way, we found the program doing what we’d hoped it would: replacing car commutes for short trips. Ridership peaks on weekday afternoons as UA students get out of class and need transportation home or to jobs. A bike is often the quickest option for short trips, and, at 55 cents for an average trip, students can count on them as cheap, reliable transportation.
Here’s how the program works.
The customer uses a smartphone app (think Uber). There’s a map showing the real-time location or all the bikes and e-bikes. Once the customer finds a bike, they unlock the bike’s rear wheel by scanning a QR code on the bike. The system is dockless, meaning riders can park the bikes anywhere inside the service area shown as a “geofence” on the map. Once he’s done riding, he just parks it and goes about his day.
Dockless bike share is, by its nature, a little chaotic. Bikes get parked in unexpected places. Vandals sometimes abuse the bikes. But this dockless system also allows overall freedom for the rider to end his trip wherever he likes, rather than having to track down a docking station.
When the city and university launched this program, the focus was always on building ridership and making sure the program would be affordable and well-used. The Fayetteville Visitors Bureau and Experience Fayetteville have supported and promoted the bike share to tourists who love exploring our trails.
Despite this success, the future of bike share in Fayetteville and the region is anything but certain.
Shared electric scooters have been shown to out-compete bikes shares in many markets. And scooters are coming.
Small numbers of scooters have already deployed in various cities, including Bentonville, Jonesboro, Little Rock and Russellville. The e-scooter industry has been buoyed by new state legislation requiring cities to allow e-scooters.
Companies are now poised to launch in Fayetteville and are expected to expand across the region.
Only time will tell how e-scooters will affect the bike share program, but we’ll never have to wonder if bike share could have worked in Fayetteville.
It’s here, and it’s rolling.
Dane Eifling is Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs coordinator for the city of Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas.