By: Sophia Bates, Assistant News Editor and Mary-Ellen Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Towson University’s current bike share program could be facing collapse after multiple cases of vandalism and theft have been reported on campus.
Gotcha, the bike share system partnered with Towson University, has been taking the damaged bikes off campus, according to Towson Gotcha Operations Manager Jeff Lindner.
“This level of rampant and unchecked criminal behavior will collapse any ride share system,” Lindner said.
Towson previously had a different bike share system with the company SPIN. According to Matthew Palmer, TU’s Director of Media Relations and News, the switch to the Gotcha bikes happened as SPIN began to deemphasize the company’s pedal bikes and trend towards electric scooters.
According to Lindner, a TU alum, when the semester started, there were 26 of the electric teal bikes located around campus. Now there are only 16.
Lindner’s vandalism report includes 12 different types of damages, all that fall into categories including accidental/vandalism, vandalism, crashing/vandalism and criminal act.
“I understand that on a college campus, things are going to be goofy and things are going to break,” Lindner said.
But according to Lindner, the vandalism rates at Towson University are exceeding that of the entire cities of Syracuse with 200 bikes, and Baton Rouge with 500 bikes. Lindner said that at Towson there are “similar instances of destruction but greater rate.”
Towson freshman and philosophy major James Ronald said he feels the bikes are beneficial to have on campus, but that students need to use them responsibly.
“As college students we are all poverty stricken, and gas is expensive,” Ronald said. “So that, combined with potentially lessening environmental impact of driving around on campus, makes it a beneficial idea.”
The vandalism report included that five bikes have broken seats and 10 baskets have been cracked, broken, or smashed. The report also showed that bikes had broken kickstands, smashed headlights, stolen batteries, and smashed or broken wheels. Some bikes have also been reported missing.
Additionally, another bike’s GPS system was disabled and lost due to theft on Thursday.
“I am also searching for another bike that last sent a GPS signal from the garage at Liberal Arts,” Lindner said. “I suspect this bike was stolen as well.”
According to Lindner, the vandalism rates at Towson University are exceeding that of the entire cities of Syracuse with 200 bikes, and Baton Rouge with 500 bikes. Lindner said that at Towson there are “similar instances of destruction but greater rate.”
As a student, Ronald said that students should, inherently, be responsible to handle and take care of the bikes in the program. Yet despite this, the vandalism does not surprise him.
“People in the age group of 18 to 22 can do stupid things,” he said. “That doesn’t invalidate the fact that the potential of us to use a bike share is still there. I’d find it hard to believe that the majority of these students that come in contact with the bikes are going to vandalise them.”
Palmer said that there are currently police investigations on this issue.
“The Towson University Police Department is investigating instances of vandalism of Gotcha bikes on campus,” he said. “Two of the bikes [that are being investigated] are no longer usable, while other bikes have sustained minor damage.”
According to Lindner, there was a bike that was thrown off Osler bridge that sustained damages.
“Despite having the clear evidence that at least one of the suspects is the culprit of throwing a bike off of the bridge, nothing will be done,” Lindner said.
He added that the suspect is denying using the bike, despite proof from the bike share system’s servers.
“The individual was caught in a blatant lie to the Towson security, they are not pursuing the issue,” Lindner said. “The cameras were either pointed in the wrong directions and/or could not clearly pick up anything.”
According to Lindner, the Gotcha bike share system partnered with Towson University to provide sustainable transportation.
“Towson University wants to be a community leader in establishing alternative transportation for the campus and greater Towson community,” Lindner said.
Ronald said that he feels vandalism is typically done by a minority of individuals.
“That might mean we could implement some sort of anti-tampering device [on the bikes] or have cameras on the docking stations or bike racks,” Ronald said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean we need to get rid of them.”
Palmer added that Towson is committed to providing alternative methods of transportation both to campus and on it.
“Malicious damage of the bikes is a challenge to that commitment,” Palmer said. “But not one that will deter us.”
Ronald said he appreciated the University’s commitment to providing alternative transportation, but asks that his fellow classmates be careful with the bikes.
“People need to watch where they’re going because I almost got run over by a guy on a bike the other day,” Ronald said.
Minor mechanical issues for the bikes on campus can be reported via the Gotcha app’s “report a maintenance issue” tab. Riders will need to enter the bikes’ ID, upload photos, and describe the issue.
Students and faculty who notice any damaged property on campus should report it to TUPD, Palmer added.
TUPD is located in the Public Safety Building and patrols campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students and faculty who see damaged property can call their non-emergency number at (410) 704- 2134 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to report damaged bikes.