You’re on Livingston for a 12:15pm class, you need to get to Cook Douglas in 30 minutes, and you’ve got two options:
A: Grab your bike and buckle up for a sunny 20 minute ride through Johnson Park where you can stop quickly and feed some farm animals, take in a great view while crossing the Raritan River, and hug the coastline up through Boyd Park, then stroll into campus.
B: Break out the Rutgers App to see when the next REXL is coming, hopefully make the first one that comes by, and wait in angst as you hope the bus makes it to Red Oak Lane in time for you to run to class.
It’s hard to think about on-campus life when the only decision you have now between classes is if you have enough time to make a burrito before logging back into canvas, but I think choice A sounds like a no brainer.
However, option A is definitely in the minority of what Rutgers students actually take. And that may continue to be true, as Rutgers closes down their bike rental program.
Back when we were on campus, you might have seen a few big grey metal boxes in parking lots around campus. Those boxes contained the bikes of RU’s rental program - A.K.A your ticket off of the crowded busses and into open breezy rides around campus.
When everyone comes back to campus though, the most noticeable form of transportation (next to the busses) will be fleets of electric scooters. As a die hard Rutgers biker, and sustainability advocate, I wanted to chat with the Senior Director of RU Department of Transportation and RU Climate Task Force Member, Jack Molenaar to get to the bottom of why the bike program was ending, how scooters arrived, and establish what that means for Rutgers Transportation and sustainability.
Jack: “I've been trying to do a bicycle program for a while … we had a federal grant lined up and I'm glad we ended up not using that grant, because that had a lot of restrictions on it and it would have been almost impossible to use the federal dollars.”
Nolan: “the grant that you had… the companies that you'd be working with for a bike share they wouldn't really be eligible?”
Jack: “Right. Also because technology changed and New Jersey allowed Escooters, so then all the companies that were doing bike shares … came to us and said ‘no all we want to bring is E Scooters’… These companies were not really turning a profit on bicycle share”
Consequently, we now have an electric scooter vendor in New Brunswick, and speaking from personal experience, these hot rods are insanely fun. But I wanted to know how sustainable of an option these electric scooters really are.
Out of other options, Jack said Veo (the company managing the E Scooters) was a more sustainable alternative because of the way they recharge their batteries.
“they've rented space in New Brunswick, where they have a shop, and where they charge the batteries”, while other companies have almost like a doordash style charging program where people can sign up to bring the scooters back to their houses to charge in exchange for cash/ride credits.
“We like (Veo’s) model because it ends up using less fuel because you don’t have all these extra people fighting each other to pick them up”. Essentially saying a more centralized charging setup is the better alternative.
Although the scooter program is electric, and clearly demands more energy than biking would, he wanted to draw focus to the main benefit of micro mobility.
“The goal is to get as many people as possible to use (the program) to reduce the demand on the buses, then the buses become more efficient”. A sentiment I eloquently coined “Less asses in seats, less emissions from our (bus) fleets!”
Those are all the facts from Jack about why Rutgers now has a scooter program, but let’s weigh our options again.
Despite all of this, I’m still holding out for a new age of biking culture around campus, and urge Rutgers to bring back their bike program, bigger and better than ever.
One drawback to the E scooters is their limited range due to their cost. The bike rental program gave students bikes for only 25$ a semester, while 25$ on an E scooter would only get you a few days! So scooters work for short distances and joy rides, but when it comes to bypassing an LX or REXL, bikes are still the way to go. Not to mention emissions-wise, human powered bikes will always win over electric scooters.
To sum up, if you have a bike or are able to get your hands on one, bring it to campus! Google maps is your friend, and you’ll notice the routes are scenic and decently easy to use. You’ll see campus from a different point of view and lower Rutgers carbon emissions in the process. If that’s not possible though, grab a scooter and you can pat yourself on the back for supporting RU micro mobility.
To learn more about sustainability and RU transportation, check out the Climate Task Force’s newly released phase 2 report!