Amid a push to bring more transportation to campus, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has embraced electric bikes from Madison BCycle.
However, some students who use the city’s urban bike share program say issues with BCycle's availability and equipment are complicating their commute to class.
BCycle operates rentable bikes at 90 storage stations on campus and the surrounding metro area.
Students download the BCycle app and purchase a membership plan before they are able to unlock the BCycles. BCycle offers a discounted annual membership pass to UW-Madison students for $65, compared to its base annual rate of $158.25.
According to BCycle’s website, students gain access to unlimited 60-minute rides. After these 60 minutes have passed, the bike must be returned to a dock or else they will be charged additional costs for every additional half-hour of use.
There is no guarantee students will have an open dock slot when they need to return bikes, though.
“I have been in situations where there were no spots left to put my bike, and I ended up being late,” said UW-Madison sophomore Kate Lewis, a frequent user of the BCycle bikes.
Over time, Lewis has found efficient ways to deal with a lack of open spots. Lewis said she tries to check the dock’s availability before leaving to ensure she won’t show up to a full dock.
Yet, a fully loaded dock isn’t the sole issue students face. Lewis said it’s not uncommon for her to contact customer support in order to sort out issues.
“Sometimes the bikes don’t register, and I have to contact customer service, which happens relatively frequently,” Lewis said. “They’re helpful, and texting or calling them is easy. It’s just annoying to do.”
When a BCycle doesn’t dock, students need to call or text support, often while in a rush to class.
UW-Madison freshman Anna McDowell is a current Lakeshore resident and relies upon the e-bikes to get to classes and extracurricular activities from her dorm room.
“Sometimes the app doesn’t work,” McDowell said. “You have bikes in front of you but on the app to check them out, it says there are zero bikes available.”
McDowell also describes a recurring absence of bikes in the Lakeshore neighborhood, necessitating the search for an alternative station and defeating the convenience of the system.
Representatives for BCycle did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the BCycle site, students seeking to avoid full stations are encouraged to download the BCycle app.
Additionally, the site describes a contingency plan for full docks. Kiosks allow riders to locate nearby stations with open spots, and the app allows users to add additional minutes to their ride free of charge to ensure they can get to that other dock.
Despite the persistent issues with BCycles, users like McDowell and Lewis said they feel prompted to continue using the services for the times it does operate smoothly and for the student discount.
“Overall, [the BCycles] are super convenient and definitely worth it with the discount,” Lewis said.