By Chris Myers
College comes with a lot of financial burden. When considering the rising costs of tuition, parking permits, housing and books, it is easy to see why one might not want to add add the costs associated with owning a vehicle to their budget. Moreover, with a lack of parking resources and fluctuating gas prices, it is easy to see why those who own vehicles would find driving around Bozeman and daily commutes to campus unappealing. Whether we live on or off campus, most of us have been or will be in positions demanding transportation.
MSU students currently have access to free transportation through the Streamline, which is great for students with flexible schedules or residences near bus stops. There is also carpooling for those who like to turn their friends into taxi services. Finally, there are those rolling their Lamborfeeties and Chevrolegs. What if I told you there is a cheap, viable alternative that other cities have already implemented?
Transportation could be made readily accessible to MSU students and Bozeman residents through a city (or university) operated bicycle rental system. Bike share programs are growing in popularity all over the world. Our neighbors to the north have a public bicycle system established in Montreal with more than 450 stations and over 5,000 bicycles. Denver’s program is known as B-Cycle and offers annual passes to local students for $49. That is less than a third the cost of an MSU S/B parking permit. Daily and monthly rates are also available, making access to the program as convenient as possible.
For those of you unfamiliar with how a bike share system typically functions, they are city-funded and operated. Modified bike racks are erected throughout the city as self-serve bike rental stations where bikes can be withdrawn and deposited. Renters acquire bike rental passes ranging from 24 hours to a year in length. In some areas, public bicycle programs are free for the first 30 to 45 minutes of use.
Why should a similar system be put into effect here in Bozeman? There are countless scenarios where this system would prove advantageous. Perhaps a student wants to meet friends downtown without the risk of driving back inebriated or leaving their vehicle to be towed. Renting a bike would be very favorable for many out-of-state students and those studying abroad, both situations in which buying a bicycle for a term is not cost effective. Those owning vehicles and parking permits may still find a 20 to 30 minute bike ride is quicker than searching for that one parking spot that may or may not become available in time for your afternoon class.
A public bike system membership is more comparable to an investment than a fee. Consider the hundreds of dollars spent on parking permits throughout the duration of your MSU attendance. Add to that the cost of fueling your vehicle from daily commutes to and from campus. Even with parking permits, I have fallen victim to situations demanding the use of paid parking and I am sure I am not alone. Compare these costs to a $49 annual membership.
In addition to the financial benefits, bike sharing guarantees available parking. Though students are offered parking permits that guarantee access to specific lots on campus, they are not guaranteed available parking spaces. The lack of availability will be greatly worsened during the construction of the parking garage. Those with F-lot parking access will find the Lincoln Street site closes quite frequently for MSU events. Nevertheless, the bicyclists are seemingly the only ones safe from parking inconveniences.
There are few reasons not to be on board with a bike share program: the system would help combat air pollution, ease traffic problems, promote exercise, reduce DUIs, limit mooching and lessen feet blisters. You do not have to worry about theft or storage of a bicycle. The bikes are there when you want them and gone when you do not. Better yet, consider the convenience of a new bike without maintenance responsibilities. Even if you are not interested in utilizing the system, there is reason for excitement: think of all the students riding bikes and freeing up parking spaces.