University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s new bike sharing program huge success; expansion on the horizon _lowres

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK -- Ivy Thibodeaux, a student manager for Geaux Velo rental bicycles at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, does maintenance work on the bikes Wednesday, April 6, 2016, in front of the student union on campus in Lafayette, La.

Community members driving near the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s campus are bound to see sleek, white bicycles sporting the “Geaux Vélo” logo now that the university’s new bike-share program is even more successful than first anticipated.

Less than a month after UL-Lafayette launched its Geaux Vélo bike-share program, the 52 bicycles already have been rented out over 882 times to students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the community. Gretchen Vanicor, the director of sustainability at UL-Lafayette, said the department underestimated the number of bicycles needed to keep up with the demand during peak hours.

“They are catching on even faster than we had hoped for,” Vanicor said. “Every afternoon at the Girard Park Circle and Student Union kiosks, we’re consistently seeing seven of the 10 bikes out all at once. We have 715 people already signed up, and we are averaging close to 100 rides per day.”

People wanting to rent a bicycle must first go to geauxvelobikeshare.com and register using a credit card or debit card, or students may use their Cajun Cards. Renters will then receive a username and PIN, allowing them to go to one of the three kiosks located at Girard Park Circle, the UL-Lafayette Student Union or Cajun Field to pick up their key and bicycle.

“We’re excited about having a kiosk at Cajun Field because there is a ton of free parking at Cajun Field any time of day, especially on weekends,” Vanicor said. It’s located along the Mickey Shunick loop that the city is developing, so that’s a great place to park and pedal. We certainly encourage community members to sign up.”

Members may rent the bikes free for the first hour, $1 for the second hour and $1 for the third hour, according to Vanicor. Hours four through eight are free, and every hour after is $1 each. Renters must return the bicycles back to their original station by midnight.

Reece Merryman, the president of the UL-Lafayette Cycling Club, said he believes there might be some complaints about the lack of bicycles if the university doesn’t acquire more soon. He said several times when he has passed the kiosks, he has seen every bike rented out.

“The bikes are in good condition; they rode really well and we had no problems with them,” Merryman said of his experience riding the bikes for the first time. “For the students on campus, it can get them from class to class quickly, to run errands or go to places near campus. I hope to see this program moving toward downtown, the Oil Center or even River Ranch in the future.”

Bicycle sharing programs similar to Geaux Vélo can be found worldwide such as Paris’ large-scale public bike-share system, Vélib’, which offers approximately 20,000 bicycles with over 1,200 kiosks. Universities all across the U.S. have also adopted similar bike-share programs, according to Vanicor.

“We spent a good year researching this program and reaching out to other cities and universities who have them,” Vanicor said. “We spent a long time looking into it, and everything that we’ve hoped for is panning out. We’re excited.”

Cain Menard, a UL-Lafayette student and member of the university’s cycling team, said he believes the program not only provides an affordable and reliable transportation option, but it also promotes bicycle awareness in the Lafayette community.

“The more bikes on the road, the more people in cars will pay attention and the more local legislators will push for more bike lanes,” Menard said. “Lafayette is growing into a more bike-friendly city, which is exciting.”

Because of the success of the program, the city is hoping to see bicycle kiosks downtown within the next year, Vanicor said.

“We’re happy to expand it, and we’ve already spoken to city officials and to downtown officials who are certainly eager and excited about the possibilities of expanding it to downtown as well,” Vanicor said. “We’re not looking to make money off of this program, we just want it to be self-sufficient.”