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Mass Transit Must Transform Itself to Mixed Transit

June 7th, 2013 by dk

A bike share program is coming to Eugene. More precisely, it’s coming to the University of Oregon this summer. But with a little tweaking, the program can begin to meet the next step in our region’s overall transportation needs.

Modern bike share programs combine automatic credit card purchases with GPS capabilities. They use the same technology as the Redbox automated DVD rental kiosks, but instead of a movie, you get a bicycle. Insert your credit card and the system unlocks a bicycle for your use. Insert your card again at the same or a different location, and the system bills you for the time you had the bike and locks it in place for the next user.

Bike share programs have succeeded best in two types of places — large cities and college campuses. Cities have a density of users and destinations. Campuses succeed because the users are young, the cost is modest, the locations are close, and the boundaries are clear. Widening a campus program beyond those borders without relying on big-city density is the opportunity before us.

These systems have long thrived in European cities, where the automobile is not so closely linked with its users’ identities. In America, we divide ourselves too easily into motorists, bicyclists, and transit riders. Each group defines itself against the others. We have a chance here to begin changing that.

There’s no better way than to begin planning bike share locations adjacent to every EmX station, administered by or with the full cooperation of Lane Transit District. LTD should jump on this bikewagon. We celebrate diversity here. LTD can become known for more than administering a [ITALICS] mass [END ITALICS] transit system. This addition will earn them stripes for coordinating a [ITALICS] mixed [END ITALICS] transit system.

Anything that encourages users to mix their transportation options strengthens the system and the people who use them. It also shifts the focus from the transportation options themselves and onto the people who use them.

Personal automobiles work best for certain uses but not all, as anyone who has taken a shuttle bus to Autzen Stadium or the Oregon Country Fair can attest.

EmX has brought to Lane County what one supporter aptly describes as “fret-free” transportation. Ten-minute frequency, up-to-the-minute arrival signage, and well-designed stations alter the user experience from a conventional bus to resemble light rail.

But there is a downside to this system. EmX stations are farther apart than normal bus stops. We can’t afford “More Busses Everywhere,” as some protest signs implore, because bus drivers are expensive. Even if they weren’t expensive, they wouldn’t be free. Unless they were us. If we could pilot our own “between stations” vehicle, the EmX system would quickly become more attractive to more users.

“Most successful bike share [programs] are run by and incorporated with a transit system. They really are transit systems more than anything else,” Shane MacRhodes told me. MacRhodes manages the Eugene School District’s Safe Routes to School program. He expects the four campus bike share locations to be installed this summer will serve as a catalyst for future growth.

“Bike share … mainstreams cycling and gets more people out trying bikes for transportation, then they demand the better infrastructure that we know we need,” MacRhodes wrote.

It’s also significant that bike share programs make it easy for users to mix and match their transportation choices, based on weather, schedule, energy, and impulse.

Incorporating bike share locations with EmX stations solves another problem for casual users. Once you’ve rented a shared bike, it’s easy to forget and hard to remember where the nearest drop-off location is. As the EmX fleet becomes as ubiquitous as it is recognizable, the cyclist will need only to follow one to the nearest location.

Once EmX and bike share share locations, they also can share tickets. LTD could bundle a bike rental fee into an EmX ticket and vice versa. These moves would retain and enhance LTD’s nationwide reputation as an innovator and a leader — not only of transit, but of transportation choices.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs here at Kahle is a board member for Better Eugene-Springfield Transit, but these opinions are only his own.

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