KNOXVILLE, TN (BRAIN)—The first e-bike sharing system in the U.S. could be unveiled as early as this fall at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
The small-scale pilot program will consist of 15 of Currie’s pedal-assist trekking-style bikes and five hybrid, traditional Marin bikes with no batteries. Chris Cherry, assistant professor at the university’s civil and environmental engineering department, came up with the idea a year ago as a course project for one of his classes.
“It started as a concept I was interested in studying and I was able to find money to buy the equipment and have my students to do the initial design and analysis for a transportation planning course project,” Cherry said.
But the project soon ran into funding and liability issues, which have delayed its implementation. However, Cherry said the system is just about ready to go live with most of the details, including the unique docking stations, tailored e-bikes and battery vending machines, ironed out.
Cherry emphasized that the impetus behind the program is to develop research findings about bike usage, safety-related issues with bikes and e-bikes and physical activity. The e-bikes and bikes will be equipped with GPS and pedal sensors to track usage.
Cherry said he opted for e-bikes instead of a full fleet of traditional human-powered bikes because of the campus terrain. “Our campus is pretty spread out and very hilly so riding a bike requires a bit of devotion,” he said. “This is a way to hopefully get people to ride more bikes. A lot of students will drive across campus. It’s really auto-oriented.”
Larry Pizzi, president of Currie Technologies, said that aside from providing the fleet at a deep discount, Currie worked closely with Cherry on modifying the e-bikes to make them viable for the program, specifically the battery configuration. Pizzi doesn’t think public e-bike sharing systems will proliferate due to the higher price tag of an e-bike and the large scale of citywide systems. “But with private programs, like a university program, it definitely becomes more viable,” Pizzi said.