A new way TUGO is here

The bad news is that carbon emissions measured in parts per million, or PPM, have surged above 400 PPM since 2016.

The somewhat symbolic and somewhat tangible former goal is for climate stabilization. An exact safe number is unclear; however, there is a movement calling for 350.

The good news is that there’s a new public transportation system in Tucson to help reduce your own carbon footprint.

Launched in November, Tugo Bike Share is a bike rental service geared toward commuting rather than recreation. The network boasts 36 stations serving primarily Downtown and University of Arizona areas with a total of 330 bikes to ride.

“The way that it works is, you come up to a station, you rent a bike and take it out in 30-minute intervals,” said Nick Grzebienik, general manager of Shift Transit, the partner company that operates Tugo.

In addition, plans are in the works to make capital improvements for pedestrians and cyclists in Tucson over the coming years.

Bikes have to be docked in one of the stations every 30 minutes, otherwise an additional $4 fee will be charged.

“We want to keep it a commuter program to keep bikes in circulation,” Grzebienik said.

He said educating users of the 30-minute rule has been the biggest challenge since the program’s launch.

However, it seems like that goal has been achieved. The average trip duration for the first month was 23 minutes, according to Tugo’s newsletter.

Tugo stations come in two varieties: kiosk stations that accept credit cards and Smart Stations where all transactions are done through the Cyclefinder mobile app or online via the Cyclefinder website. Perhaps most impressive is real time information to users about the number of bikes rented out and the number of docking stations available.

These stations have the added benefit of being solar powered, Grzebienik said.

“We have two batteries on the bottom along with the solar panel up top,” he said. “The solar generates battery power … I would say in a month we maybe switch out one or two batteries from one or two stations. They are self-sufficient, and so far we haven’t had any issues. They are not connected to any city power lines.”

To pay for Tugo, the city of Tucson received a $1.3 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration to cover the costs of the bicycles and docking station, with user fees and sponsorships from public and private organizations covering the operating costs.

Bike shares have been growing in popularity, with the first such systems going back over 50 years in Europe. Bike shares with docking stations have increased from six programs in 2010 to 74 in 2016, according to the Journal of the Transportation Research Board. The rise of information technology and GPS have improved the security of such systems and allowed for widespread adaptation.

Other reasons for the boom include reducing traffic congestion, promoting clean air and improving public health.

According to a 2015 Tucson Bike Share Feasibility study, one of the biggest opportunities in Tucson is the chance to use bike share to augment the city’s investment in the streetcar.

“Bike share offers a first and last mile transportation option that could extend the reach of existing fixed route services,” the study noted. This is one of the major concerns with public transportation planning “the last mile problem,” or the challenge of getting people from their residence to a public transportation hub.

Tucson resident Desiree Clark wishes bike shares were available when she was a student.

“Especially as a broke student, bike share would have been a beautiful cheap option,” Clark said. “It’s like having an emergency set of wheels you don’t have to worry about or find storage for. Tucson has a huge bike theft problem … (Tugo) is a pretty awesome idea.”

One of the most common resident concerns about Tugo is the security of the bikes. All of the bikes are equipped with GPS, and the bright yellow color and design make them distinct and limit their appeal to would-be thieves.

“Detroit is the most comparable to Tucson in population,” Grzebienik said. “And in talking with them, they have lost maybe one or two bikes … the number of bikes that go missing is very minimal, and they do get recovered quite quickly.”

You also will see security measures reflected on your account. A lost or stolen fee of $1,200 is charged for bikes that are not returned to a station. In addition, a $24 security deposit is temporarily added to each $8 daily pass. Bikes also are checked twice a month to ensure safety.

It appears that Tugo is a hit with Tucson’s college students.

“We are definitely seeing an uptick with the university returning,” Grzebienik said.

So far, the most popular station is the Main Gate station, according to Tugo’s monthly newsletter.

In the coming years, the bike share program may expand, said Grzebienik.

Programs like Tugo go hand in hand with policies that some cities, including Tucson, are adopting to make their streets safer.

In fact, the Tucson City Council unanimously voted Jan. 23 to develop a Complete Streets Policy, which is “… a transportation policy and design approach that requires streets to be planned, designed, operated and maintained to enable safe, convenient and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation.” … “is intended to influence future transportation funding decisions and the prioritization of projects.”

One of the next major planned bike infrastructure projects is The El Paso and Southwestern Greenway, a 6-mile path for bicyclists and pedestrians. The goal of linking downtown and the Kino Sports Complex.

Joe Giddens/Aztec Press, A Tucson pedestrian rides their bike past the Pima Community College Downtown Campus bike station on an afternoon.

The area also is looking to increase the number of bicyclists. Launched last year by the PeopleForBikes foundation, the “Big Jump Project” awards 10 cities $200,000 in technical support for bicycle commuting. South Tucson will be the focus of this grant with the stated goal “to double or triple bike ridership in specific neighborhoods,” according to the PeopleForBike’s website.

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