FEHON: Amid e-scooter craze, bikes continue to offer more sustainable campus transportation Leave a comment


You are on Livingston campus for a 12:15 p.m. class, you need to get to Cook campus in 30 minutes, and you have two options.

You can 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. 

Or you can beak out the Rutgers application 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 is 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 the first choice is really a no-brainer.

But, option A is definitely in the minority of what Rutgers students actually take. And that may continue to be true, as Rutgers closes down its 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 Rutgers’s rental program — also known as 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 get to the bottom of this decision.

It turns out the Rutgers Department of Transportation Services (DOTS) had been considering expanding its bike rental program with a federal grant it had acquired but were pigeon-holed when they found out that money had a lot of restrictions (e.g. the bikes being American-made) said the director of Rutgers DOTS, Jack Molenaar. 

But it was not just that, because the companies it reached out to about doing a bike share program (like Citi Bike) responded saying they were only interested in bringing e-scooters to campus, allegedly being more profitable than a bike 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, I was told Veo (the company managing the e-Scooters) was a more sustainable alternative due to their charging method. Veo hired employees to drive out and replace and recharge scooter batteries at its shop in New Brunswick, as opposed to other companies who have 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.

The argument to be made is that Veo’s process is more streamlined, so there is less gas being burned driving these scooters around. 

But did you catch that? Not only is carbon-emitting energy used for the scooters, but also what is less visible is the good old-fashioned gasoline that needs to be burned to get the batteries to the scooters on a regular basis. 

To the Rutgers DOTS’s defense, although the scooters are electric, and clearly demand more energy than biking would, it may still help to lower Rutgers’ emissions because its main goal is to get fewer students on the busses.

I do not have a complicated equation for why that makes sense, but basically, with less weight in the bus, it should not work as hard and emit less. Fewer asses in seats, fewer emissions from our (bus) fleets!

Nonetheless, I do not have high hopes for the scooters accomplishing this goal, as their range is restricted by their cost. For comparison, the previous bike rental program gave students bikes for only $25 for a whole semester, while $25 on an e-scooter would only get you approximately 90 minutes of ride time (a few minutes). When it comes to bypassing an LX or REXL, bikes are still the way to go, for your pocket and for the planet.

It is due to all of this that the Rutgers DOTS should not settle for e-scooters as the only alternative to busses they provide, and should continue to seek out funding for a new bike rental program that is bigger and better than the school’s previous attempt. 

Until then though, the power is still in your hands. No matter what campus you plan on living next year, if you have a bike at home, bring it and join the #rutgersbikergang life. After a year of constantly switching tabs to get back and forth to class, why stuff yourself in a crowded bus when you can fly along the Raritan and pull up to your class in style.

And if you do not own your own bike, check out the New Brunswick Bike Exchange where you can score a cheap bike from 50-200 bucks.

Nolan Fehon is a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior majoring in marine biology. His column, “Climate Corner,” runs alternate Thursdays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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