Semester Rentals Reference
Over time, we have collected questions received from other universities and agencies looking to deploy a similar program. For easy reference, our responses are posted here.
Frequently asked questions:
- How many total semester rental bikes do you have?
- How many are typically rented out?
- Do you provide helmets for your rentals?
- Is there anything I would do differently with your program?
- Is there anything in particular that has worked very well for your program?
- Do you provide the buff bikes year round, or do you retire them for the winter?
We currently have a warehouse that is holding about 70 Semester Rental bicycles and another 80+ bicycles we are fixing up for a fall sale. However, while my program has 70 total bikes, we currently have only 20 ready to be rented. The reason being: most of our bikes are impounded throughout the school year/during the summer. If the bike looks as if it has been abandoned (and after attempts to warn the owner) for an extended period of time, CU's Transportation Department impounds the bikes and we end up getting them to fix up and rent. We are hoping to greatly increase the number of bikes we rent.
To be honest, this semester we only rented 8 bikes. However, in order to restructure/reorganize the program we did not allow as many rentals as we would have liked. We were contacted by 30+ people to rent a bike, and we are hoping to have that many rented next semester.
We have a few helmets that, if asked, we will provide. However, we encourage renters to purchase their own helmets so that it fits them better. We DO provide locks.
There are a couple things that I've been interested in pursuing, but we are in need of focusing on the main mission and structuring the program so that it can be successful and passed on from year to year and still operate the same way. I would like to see multiple sources of revenue so that the program is self-sustaining. Things like: renting winter gear to bikers, selling t-shirts, bicycle maintenance classes, summer/winter storage, etc. We won't be trying these anytime soon.
This is what I really wanted to answer, I think this should help you the most. We have learned ALOT this semester about the program. One of the best things you can do is to TRACK EVERYTHING. Get all information from your renters and keep an excel with all of their info. Make sure you have all information about each bike and what lock it is paired with. Track all delinquent renters (the ones who do not return the bikes). Keep a robust accounting system so that you can budget, plan, and see where you are losing/making money.
ALSO: Stick to a plan! Our biggest problem was that from year to year (or semester to semester) or student managers were being replaced with another manager. This became a problem because everyone tried to organize/track/rent in their own way, and once the torch was passed, that student spent their time trying to figure out how to do everything or make up his/her own way. Because of this we've lost many bikes, lost many locks, and lost many potential renters. Design a system/operations that is efficient, scriptable (you can write down every single step), and scalable so that you can grow the program. Once you design that system, STICK TO IT!
We've found that having a bicycle mechanic dedicated to the semester rental program has been very helpful so that he/she can focus solely on semester rental bikes.
We also implemented an online scheduler so that potential renters go online, choose a time (times are based on when the manager is available throughout the week), and then I get an email saying I'm meeting Joe Smith at 10AM on Thursday. Previously we did it all by email. The average turnover was: 5 emails between potential renter and manager and 4 days before a date was set to meet. If you want to scale and grow your program it gets difficult tracking all of these correspondences, much easier just to have allotted times for the renter to choose from.
We are currently making a bicycle catalog so that renters can look at the available bikes online and choose the bike then.
First, buff bikes are two day rentals (different program, different manager, very successful!). The buff bikes are retired for the winter. We do not retire the program for the winter (due to the fact that the Boulder climate means little snow/water/adverse weather during the winter). We rent on a Fall Semester, Spring Semester, and Summer Term basis. Also, for only $10 you may renew your bicycle for another semester.
(Rev. Robin Kalsbeek, 12/9/2010)