Tucson pedals its way into the future

Tugo Bikes at their docking station at the Mckale Center in Tucson, Ariz. (Photo by Emily Homa)

Big, bulky and bright yellow. You have most likely seen these bicycles scattered around Tucson and have thought to yourself “wow can those bikes be any less aerodynamic?” Their neon blue front plate and thick handlebars top off their signature look that catches the eye of anyone who passes by.

However, these seemingly clunky rental bikes are making an impact on the city. In fact, in recent years bike share systems have made a significant impact across the country.

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials Bike Share report from 2010 to 2016 over 51 bike share systems have launched in the United States and there have been over 88 million rides.

The city of Tucson was ready to join in on this national trend with their own version of the rental bike system.

Tugo bike share launched on Nov. 17  and today has over 330 bikes in 36 stations across 13 neighborhoods surrounding the University of Arizona and the downtown area.

General manager Nick Grzebienik said that these areas were the initial launch sites of the company, so it was easy for riders to find a station wherever they go.

“Tucson is a great biking community, but there is a high bike theft. A lot people would like to bike but they don’t have the ability to,” Grzebienik said. “There is a large downtown area with great bike street lanes, so Tucson just makes sense to have a bike share program.”

According to the March 2018 Operations Report, the most popular station at Main Gate on University Boulevard had over 915 rentals out of 13,000 rides total. The least popular was at Menlo Park with 35 rentals.

The report states that in the first four months of the launch there were 450 members who held monthly and annual passes and over 1,700 daily passes were sold. Tugo riders had ridden over 8,900 miles and burned 382,000 calories.

To ride for a day it only costs $8 and for an annual pass it costs $80. However, there is a $5 access pass option for low income riders.

“The program has been very successful…,” Grzebienik said. “Low income programs for most bike share programs is at about 5 percent and Tugo is at about 15 percent.”

Tucson Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Coordinator Andy Bemis said that although the stations are mostly surrounding the University, local ridership is growing.

“450 passes have been sold to locals so far, so we would love to grow the system to get more of the community involved,” Bemis said.

To ensure that the bikes aren’t tampered with or stolen, specific security measures are taken.

“None have been stolen so far and every bike has a GPS unit so we know where they are, and they are linked to the credit card used,” Bemis said. “If the bike is not checked out and moving, we can find it.”

Grzebienik said that all the docking stations lock the bikes which helps prevent bike thefts. Tugo has other safety components including how the seats lock out and their obvious physique.

“One of the biggest deterrents is that it’s a bright yellow bike with our name on it,” he said.

Tugo was made possible by several providers including the City of Tucson, a federal grant and multiple sponsors including Tucson Electric Power, Banner University Medical Center and the Tucson Roadrunners.

…This program is a great benefit for the community. TEP, Roadrunners, etc. clearly all saw that benefit too,” Bemis said. “Socially responsible businesses wanted to take part as well and saw it as a benefit to their business.”

According to Bemis the capital funding provided for the startup allowed the stations to be placed only on public property. However, with private funding and further expansion, that can be changed.

Grzebienik said that there are future plans to expand outward by adding two or more stations once the zoning and funding is figured out.

University of Arizona senior Becca Hale just started riding with Tugo and has been loving it.

“I live near campus, but I’ve been wanting to exercise more so when I buy a day pass I feel more motivated to actually ride and work out,” Hale said.

Bemis said that the success of the company is measured in how often people return to a Tugo station and the additional revenue provided by the riders.

“It’s a financially sustainable operation so far, ridership is doing quite well, and it’s embraced by the community,” Bemis said. “We’d love to see it grow more, but that can take time and a better outreach.”

Emily Homa is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at jhoma@email.arizona.edu

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