DeKALB – DeKalb resident Su Hartung said she started seeing VeoRide bikes from Northern Illinois University here and there off campus and at first thought they would be stolen, she said.
In recent weeks, Hartung said, she’s seen several posts on social media about dumped bike sightings around town. One person saw a couple of them 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 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 its 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 NIU campus boundaries.
The program allows users to pay using a mobile app to use the bikes, which have a special locking kickstand. Users can pay through the app to ride the bikes for a few minutes, a few hours, monthly or annually.
Kyle Hanley, VeoRide’s NIU fleet coordinator, 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 clarified there were two part-time workers employed by the company to oversee the fleet before hiring Hanley. She said there have been about 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 on campus.
Hanley said he and another part-time staff member have been working on tracking abandoned bikes and still are working with management to address the issue. He said VeoRide works 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 received 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 are potential clients off campus as the program works to expand into 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 about a dozen bikes have been decommissioned since the program began about six months ago, and several are abandoned each week, but that number has been decreasing. VeoRide representatives said they weren’t able to give an exact number of how many bikes have been abandoned or damaged.
Jackson said the company tries to work as quickly as it 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 emailing email@example.com.
“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 to pick up the bike, the company can charge the user a pickup 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 said.
Tim Holdeman, DeKalb public works director, said he hasn’t heard any complaints from residents about the bikes. He said city officials also are 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 communitywide 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.”