Successful Initiative Report: ThunderBikes

By, Alina Buzgar

Can you can get from campus to Safeway or Walmart in five minutes without using a car or spending any money? Yes, you can! Use a ThunderBike.


Bike sharing programs were started in Europe in the mid 2000’s and by 2013 became a global phenomenon growing to an estimated half a million bicycles worldwide. Inexpensive subscriptions and smartphone apps make such programs accessible and very popular wherever they are implemented.


ThunderBikes is Thunderbird’s free bike sharing program.


ThunderBikes was launched late July 2014 in response to a seemingly simple need: to offer Thunderbird students an alternative, sustainable and viable transportation inside and outside campus.


The program was set up to simplify and enhance the student experience, to give a sense of normalcy and offer students an alternative mode of transportation and increased independence while helping them adapt to their new environment. According to Giacomo Paccione, TSG President Summer 2014, the  “key to the success of the program was bringing simplicity to its implementation”. To use a ThunderBike all you have to do is pick up a bicycle at campus security. Once you show your student id and sign a waiver you can enjoy your new found freedom and return the bicycle you “rented” 24 hours later, free of cost.


Giacomo Pacione and TSG representatives Casey Sutton and Sabah Hussein followed through on the initial idea and spearheaded a successful bike sharing program. They managed to secure the required funds (just under 1000$), acquired  approvals for the purchase of four bicycles (with helmets and baskets) and orchestrated all the arrangements need to set up the initiative. Sam Guiza, an avid biker and Facilities Supervisor, and Isaac Easley, Safety and Securities Manager, were instrumental to the development and implementation of the program through their leadership and direct involvement. Until now, just over two months since ThunderBikes’ inception, bicycles were checked out almost 100 times. Students have rented bicycles primarily to run errands or go grocery shopping around campus. Once they realize the benefit of having a bicycle some of them purchased one of their own while others have become repeated renters.


“Glendale is not the most bike friendly town” admits our local enforcement liaison. To make biking a safe and viable option you can make use of sidewalks and bicycle lanes (information available through Google Maps or the Glendale Bicycle map). The campus security team also advise bikers to obey the rules of the road, yield to cars and pedestrians, generally be aware of your surroundings and use a light if riding at night.


There are still improvements that can be made to the program. Based on the initial success and overall evaluation the number of bicycles offered might be increased. At the same time students mention the need of automating the rental process and perhaps adding more transparency and real-time availability information.


A short history of bicycles:


Bicycles have been around for almost two hundred years now, and they have evolved significantly becoming a main part of local culture (see Amsterdam) or a popular competitive sport (see the French Tour). In the early 1800’s the first “gliding walk” vehicle was invented, followed by the Velocipede (a “bicycle” with wooden frame and metal tires) and afterwards by the high-wheeled bicycle in the late 1800’s. Once the pneumatic tires were invented and implemented by John Boyd Dunlop in 1888, the bicycle became a viable and popular mode of transportation. By the early 1900’s bicycles were widely used and 50 years later racing bicycles grew popular and featured dropped handlebars, narrow tires, numerous speeds and a lighter frames and mountain biking became an olympic game at the 1996 Atlanta games. In 1972, in the United States, bicycles outsold cars: 13 million to 11 million and bicycle thefts accounted for 17 percent of all larcenies.


What about you? Have you used ThunderBikes? Do you have any ideas to improve the program? Do you own a bicycle? What do you use it for? Would you recommend it to others? Share your ideas and comments below.


Check out the Phoenix Bicycle Club.

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