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Pedals to the Metal: UTRGV students help put bike sharing program in high gear

BikeShare Rio Grande Valley, a program proposed by four UTRGV students in a class taught by Dr. Elizabeth Heise on shared and alternative transportation models, is managed by Zagster and  makes available to students, faculty, staff and the public 85 cruiser bikes found at stations on the Brownsville, Edinburg and Harlingen campuses. Stations also are available at various locations in Brownsville and Harlingen that have partnered with the university to offer this service. The station shown here is on the UTRGV Edinburg Campus. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

By Gail Fagan

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – SEPT. 2, 2016 – What started as a class assignment for four environmental science students at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has turned into a new bike sharing program on UTRGV campuses and in two Valley communities. 

The service – BikeShare Rio Grande Valley – makes available to students, faculty, staff and the public 85 cruiser bikes found at stations on the Brownsville, Edinburg and Harlingen campuses, as well as at various locations in Brownsville and Harlingen that have partnered with the university to offer this service.

The bike share service will be managed by Zagster, Inc., a national company that manages bike share services at numerous other locations, including The University of Texas-Dallas, Yale and Ohio State. The contract with Zagster, which supplies the stations and bikes as well as maintenance and technical assistance, is for two years.

“The kernel of this idea began in a class taught by Dr. Elizabeth Heise regarding shared and alternative transportation models. The students put together a research paper which was then presented to Auxiliary Services. We saw its potential right away and were pleased at how it anticipated our goal of creating a multimodal transportation network at our university,” said Rodney Gomez, UTRGV director of Parking and Transportation Services.

The students – Myrna Leal, Herlinda Pena, Alex Garcia and Miranda Krafka – submitted the shared transportation proposal as part of the Conservation of Natural Resources course they took in spring 2015, which was taught by Heise, an associate professor of Environmental Sciences at UTRGV.

“One of the things I tell my students is, part of what we are doing is not just a homework assignment; there are real, tangible outcomes,” Heise said. “I teach them how they can play a role in impacting the university and their community.”

Leal, a senior from Brownsville, said her group proposed the shared biking program to help students be more active and to reduce emissions.

“Maybe more students will hop on a bike instead of using their car to go just a mile away,” Leal said.

The team researched the companies and the costs, and created and conducted surveys via social media, all of which went into their proposal. They also presented their findings to university administrators with a recommendation to select Zagster as the shared bike service UTRGV should use.   

Leal said it was exciting to know that something the students worked on is going to be felt throughout both campuses and across the Valley.

“This is what a real college experience is supposed to be like,” she said.

The bright white bikes, which feature a basket and safety features like lights, reflectors and a bell, can be found via the free Zagster Mobile App – available for iPhone and Android – or online at www.zagster.com/rgvbikeshare.

Each bike at the designated Zagster bike stations can be accessed from a smart lock via the mobile phone app, which provides a code to unlock the bike. When the bike is returned to the bike station, the rental ends. 

EXISTING BIKE STATIONS

  • UTRGV  (45 bikes):
    • Harlingen – HCEBL.
    • Brownsville – Student Union South, Student Union North, Casa Bella and Main.
    • Edinburg – Student Union Building, University Recreation Building, University Library, Baseball Stadium and HPE I. 
  • City of Brownsville (30 bikes):
    • La Plaza Terminal.
    • City Plaza.
    • Linear Park.
    • Washington Park.
    • Dean Porter Park.
    • Belden Trail.

  • City of Harlingen (10 bikes):
    • McKelvey Park. 

THE BENEFITS

The current partnering cities of Brownsville and Harlingen are contributing financially to the success of the project. Users can pay an annual membership fee of $35 that allows trips under one hour to be free; a user would pay $2 per hour over the first hour and up to $10 per ride. Monthly and hourly memberships are also available.

Gomez said using Zagster as an inexpensive and convenient travel option will provide numerous benefits, including improved traffic flow and less congestion on campus.

“We see this as part of a slew of services for students, faculty and staff that will improve travel – not only by providing another option to navigate within the campuses, but also to access nearby campus locations,” Gomez said. “It also strongly promotes healthy living and sustainable communities. In the future, we want to add more options, like shared ride services, vanpools and car share.”

Gomez praised the student team’s foresight and talent.

“Our students at UTRGV have dreams and visions that, if implemented, will continue to improve UTRGV and our Valley in many ways,” he said. “I see it as a responsibility to continuously engage them and help bring their ideas to reality.”

Learn more about BikeShare Rio Grande Valley here, or send email to transportation@utrgv.edu.

MEDIA CONTACTS

Gail.Fagan@UTRGV.edu
UTRGV Chief Sustainability Officer / (956) 665-3030

Marci.Caltabiano@UTRGV.edu
UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications / 956-665-2742