Ohio State University opted not to integrate with the city’s bike-sharing system on Thursday, instead hiring Massachusetts-based Zagster to launch a new fleet of bikes on campus.
The decision is a blow to the city’s vision of a seamless bike-sharing system across the region, which has focused on spreading the CoGo program outward from Downtown. Ohio State officials said they were swayed by Zagster’s cost and its variety of bike models.
“Zagster offered the most cost-effective model,” said Jennifer Evans-Cowley, OSU vice provost for Capital Planning and Regional Campuses. “We were really impressed with Zagster’s technology plan and their flexibility in really understanding the unique needs of a university campus.”
The program will start with 115 bicycles as early as this summer.
Costs haven’t been finalized, but an early proposal put Ohio State’s cost at $468,000 over the first three years, after which user fees would sustain the program. That translates to about $4,000 per bike, compared with more than $7,000 per bike paid by Columbus to start CoGo.
Ohio State didn’t provide cost proposals from the four other companies that bid, including Motivate, the New York-based company that operates CoGo for Columbus. Others that submitted proposals are Nextbike Inc., Social Bicycles Inc. and the Gotcha Group LLC.
“While we are disappointed not to have an opportunity to provide a bike-share solution that would be more integrated with the greater Columbus community, we wish OSU the best of luck with this project,” Heather Bowden, general manager for CoGo, wrote in an email.
Zagster specializes on smaller bike systems with lower costs. It operates 80 bike systems across the country, including one at Easton Town Center.
Instead of using high-tech docking stations, the company uses standard bike locks, with the key locked in a box on the bike. Users send text messages to get the box code, and then return the key at the end of their trip.
Unlike CoGo, which charges daily and yearly rates, Zagster offers hourly rates.
Along with 100 traditional commuter bikes, Ohio State plans to order 15 specialty bikes geared for those with disabilities. It will include a mix of hand cycles, tandem bikes, models assisted with an electric motor, three-wheel cargo bikes and heavy-duty bicycles.
“Really, the bonus for us was that they can incorporate any type of bicycle we want,” Evans-Cowley said.
Students who pushed for a bike-sharing system said they were happy with the choice.
“Students are excited about having a bike-sharing system in place within a matter of months,” Abby Waidelich, vice president of the OSU Undergraduate Student Government, said in a news release. “Students have been a key part of this process and believe this system meets the university’s goals.”
On social media Thursday, some critics said Ohio State missed an opportunity to create a citywide bike system. But the decision won’t deter CoGo from spreading toward campus and toward Franklinton, and later to suburbs, said Alan McKnight, recreation and parks executive director for the city.
“The CoGo system that we operate has been very successful and well-received,” he said. “I don’t think this changes our plans.”