The Carleton Student Association (CSA) recently voted to terminate the Zagster Bike Share Program, a service which provided rental bikes to students who did not have their own bike on campus. The bike share service was discontinued on October 26.
The program was initiated in the fall of 2017 by the Student Projects Committee (SPC), a subsection of the CSA, and allowed Carleton students to check out bikes for free for up to four hours. The program was entirely funded by CSA, with funds coming largely from the Student Activity Fee. Zagster bikes are no longer available for use.
The Zagster program required users to download an app, which then gave them a code to unlock one of the available bikes. Users had to return their bikes to one of the two Zagster stations, located at Sayles and the Recreation Center. If a bike was not returned after four hours, then a fee was charged for every hour it was not returned.
The decision to discontinue the program stemmed from concerns about the reliability and the effectiveness of the program. When asked why the program ended, CSA President Apoorva Handigol ’19 said, “We went with Zagster because of its great insurance and repairing system. However, they did not keep up their promise. Many bikes never got repaired (being in a rural location is tough), there were constant problems with the app and overall students did not get the bike share experience they deserve. We were spending a lot of money for bikes that were not serving students in the way we expected.”
A frequent user of the Zagster Bike Share during the summer, Henock Befekadu ’21, said that his main concerns with the program were the dependability and availability of the bikes.
“I used the bikes during the summer because it was a free bike and I needed a way to get to Econo [now Family Fare],” Befekadu said. “Zagster was good in theory, but the problem was that the bikes weren’t in good condition. The chains would lock up continually and the seat wouldn’t stay in place. The availability of the bikes wouldn’t be as much as you’d like them to be. It was like the renting policy wasn’t working the way it should have.”
Sophomore Chris Kitchen, another user of the program, echoed these complaints. “I used them because it was convenient, but honestly it frustrated me a lot when you would obviously see three bikes sitting there but the app said you couldn’t take any of them,” he said.
According to Kitchen, there were also security issues for the Zagster bikes. “One thing that I would also like to bring up was how easy it was to steal those bikes,” he said. “It was pretty much common knowledge for anyone that used them that the locks were broken on about half of them and if there were no bikes around people would just take those without paying.”
CSA Treasurer, John Mullan ’20, the chair of the SPC, described the problems that led to the reconsideration of Zagster. “Bikes were not being maintained, software bugs allowed for people to keep the bikes for days on end without imposing any penalty, and ultimately only four bikes were available for the last few months,” he said. “Zagster demonstrated no intention to change the situation.”
These issues were brought to Mullan’s attention by SAO Director Lee Clark and SAO Assistant Director Miiko Taylor.
“They informed me that Zagster had failed to comply with numerous parts of the contract for months on end, despite our persistent demands for change,” Mullan said. “Following that meeting, I brought the information to SPC, and then CSA Senate, both of which unanimously voted to cancel the project.”
According to Mullan, SPC reached out to the Zagster headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts several times, notifying them of their noncompliance in maintaining the bikes and the software. However, Zagster never showed intentions of resolving the violations of their contract.
The contract with Zagster was set to renew on October 27 of this year. Given the poor conduct and lack of communication from Zagster, SPC and the CSA Senate cancelled the program on October 26.
On how this will affect students that used Zagster as a transportation method, Mullan commented, “For the people who relied on those bikes, we recognize it will be an inconvenience. As a whole, however, it did not seem fair to be spending $18,000 of students’ money on a project that was operating nowhere near what it was supposed to.”
He continued, “When the project was passed via a referendum a few years back, each one of us likely assumed that we were voting to spend $18,000 for a 10 bike system. Zagster refused to give us a refund for the bikes that were down, so we were effectively spending $18,000 for four bikes. And even those bikes still were plagued by software bugs.”
CSA and SPC are currently in the process of searching for a replacement option. They encourage students to reach out if they know of anything that might be of interest.