As bike-sharing grows in popularity in DeKalb, so do abandoned bikes
DeKALB – DeKalb resident Su Hartung said she started seeing VeoRide bikes from Northern Illinois University here and there outside of campus. At first, she thought that, if anything, those improperly parked bikes would be stolen, she said.
Within the past couple of weeks, Hartung said, she started to see more and more posts on social media about dumped bike sightings around town. One person said they saw a couple at a local grocery store. Another said there were three at the park. Someone said they saw a bike dumped in the bushes at a nearby apartment building, and another person in a wheelchair even said they couldn’t get around a bike dumped on the sidewalk in front of the library, she said.
“That’s when I thought there’s something amiss with this program,” Hartung said.
The social media complaints about the VeoRide bikes come after the company started their bike share service in April at NIU. City officials also are working with VeoRide to expand the program so it can service community members outside of the current NIU campus boundaries.
The program works by allowing users to pay ahead to use the bikes, which have a special locking kickstand that makes docking areas, such as those used for Divvy bikes in Chicago, unnecessary. Users can pay through the app to ride the bikes for a few minutes, a few hours, monthly or annually.
Kyle Hanley, fleet coordinator for VeoRide at NIU, said he was hired about a month ago to help manage the 233 bikes in the area. Hanley said there wasn’t anyone assigned to oversee NIU’s program before. Since he’s started in the position, he said, he’s gotten about two or three calls a week about bikes being abandoned or causing accessibility hazards.
“Which is not as much as I was expecting,” Hanley said.
VeoRide spokeswoman Linda Jackson said there have been nearly 3,000 riders and 27,000 total rides taken since the program started in April.
Hanley said the app explains to the user how to pick up the bikes and how to properly park them. He said the app specifies proper drop-off locations for the bikes within the NIU campus boundaries.
Hanley said he and another part-time staff member have been working on tracking abandonment and are still working with management to address the issue. He said VeoRide goes on a case-by-case basis regarding penalties for abandoned or damaged bikes.
“If necessary, we charge them accordingly,” Hanley said. “Or if they ride the bicycle out of range, they get charged for it until the bike returns to the area.”
DeKalb Police Cmdr. Steve Lekkas said the police department has gotten several calls regarding the VeoRide bikes, but it usually appears to be an issue of residents from around the university not understanding whether a bike is truly abandoned or it’s just temporarily parked by a user. On the flip side, he said, there is user potential within NIU and even as the program works to expand to DeKalb.
“It looks like it’s going to be a good tool for people who don’t have their own cars and bikes and things like that,” Lekkas said.
Jackson said roughly a dozen bikes have been decommissioned since the program began about six months ago and that several are abandoned each week, but that abandonment number has been decreasing. VeoRide representatives said they weren’t able to give an exact number of how many total bikes have been abandoned or damaged.
Jackson said the company tries to work as quickly as they can to pick up bikes that are improperly parked. She said she wants to encourage people to report abandoned or damaged bikes either through the VeoRide app or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We want to make sure they’re in circulation the way they’re supposed to be,” Jackson said.
If a bike borrower cannot return a bike to a valid area and requests VeoRide staff to pick up the bike, the company can charge the user a pick-up fee of up to $120 at its discretion, according to the app’s user agreement. Riders also are responsible for all trip fees and a $120 service charge to recover the bike if they abandon it, the agreement says.
Tim Holdeman, public works director for the City of DeKalb, said he hasn’t heard any complaints from residents about the bikes. He said city officials are also working with VeoRide on agreement terms, including which areas the bikes will be allowed in, to expand the program to the rest of DeKalb soon.
“Hopefully within a month or so, but I really don’t know for sure,” Holdeman said.
Lekkas said there will be more publicity on how the program works on a community-wide level once the program boundaries include the rest of the city.
“We’re aware of it,” Lekkas said. “We have met with the representative now and we’re working on it for it to not be a nuisance,”