A year ago, Jeffrey Peng ’21 was walking through the streets of Shanghai, marveling at the “dockless” shared bikes that dotted the cityscape. The candy-colored GPS-equipped bikes promised to make large-scale bike sharing more flexible and more useful. Riders use smartphones to reserve, unlock and pay for their bikes and then simply leave their two-wheeled rides wherever their journeys end.
Peng remembers feeling like he was witnessing a new era of urban transportation and thinking, “I should bring these bikes to the United States.”
His vision became a reality a few weeks ago when 50 orange and silver Mobike bikes rolled on to the Davidson College campus, making Davidson the first higher ed institution to partner with Mobike, the world’s first and largest smart bike-sharing company.
Working with fellow Asheville School alums, Peng, Chris Amoroso ’21 (also Peng’s roommate), and ShaSha Yan, a first-year student at Babson College, built a business plan. They made revenue projections, surveyed the Davidson student body and walked campus tallying the number of visible bikes. In October 2017, Peng crossed his fingers and emailed the team’s draft proposal to Mobike. Then they waited.
While the students checked their email, hoping for a response, Davidson’s Director of Sustainability Yancey Fouché, caught wind of the undertaking. Fouché had already been trying to improve transportation options for students, and Mobike offered a solution for the kind of short trips students might make across campus or around town.
“Student surveys show that transportation has a major impact on quality of life,” Fouché said. “We think Mobike bikes will benefit everyone on campus by promoting wellness, sustainability and giving students, faculty and staff a fun and affordable way to get around town.”
Then, in January, Mobike responded to Peng asking to learn more. Working with Fouché, Peng and Amoroso ironed out the first-of-its-kind partnership. Davidson gets to test a cutting-edge solution for student mobility while Mobike, which is one of four dockless bike sharing outfits engaged in a one-year pilot in Charlotte, develops a model for serving colleges.
“Davidson College is a leading example of a campus finding innovative, affordable and environmentally friendly transportation solutions for its student body,” said Jillian Irvin, Head of U.S. Policy and Communication for Mobike. “From day one, we have been overwhelmed by the support we have seen from students and faculty on campus and are excited to be able to partner with the school in this way.”
Each Mobike is built to endure heavy use in the elements; featuring a chainless shaft transmission, non-puncture airless tires, a lightweight aluminum anti-rust frame, durable disk-brakes and an auto-inspired five-spoke wheel.
To use the service, riders simply download the Mobike app, register and scan the QR code on the bike. With Mobike’s proprietary smart-lock technology, scanning the QR code instantly unlocks the bike and allows the user to ride it away. To complete their ride, users park the bike near their destination and manually close the lock on the bike.
The Mobike mobile app is now available for download at the Android and Apple app stores.
Helmets are recommended and are available for loan 24/7 from Campus Police in the basement of Tomlinson Hall.
Through the initial pilot period, Mobikes are free to ride.
“We truly hope that smart bike share can help to transform transportation on campus and in our society. Urban growth pressures and an urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels call us to develop viable alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles,” Fouché said. “As a residential college located in a ‘Bicycle Friendly Community,’ Davidson is perfectly located for students and employees to enjoy bikes as one, or even their primary, mode of transportation.
“Because we are committed to making this service accessible, Davidson College has partnered with Mobike to make them free for the rest of the spring semester. Then, we and Mobike will use what we have learned to build a sustainable price model that makes them available to all members of the college.”
In the first week alone, 566 individuals tried out the service, logging more than 1,700 trips despite dreary weather. As the weather has warmed, students have ventured farther off campus, using bikes instead of cars to travel to local restaurants, shops, gyms, volunteer sites, and even class projects at The Farm at Davidson College.
Peng is thrilled to see the bikes on campus and hopes he might have changed the culture just a little bit.
“I’m excited to introduce Davidson to the sharing economy,” he said. “It’s been amazing to work with my friends and with the college to make a positive change in college life.”