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The end of campus bikes?

By Nate Powell-Palm

No matter how much we’d like to believe it, Grinnell will never be a socialist utopia. In many social science introduction classes, such as Economics and Political Science, students learn about the phenomenon known as the ‘tragedy of the commons.’ This societal flaw has come to roost in the form of the Campus Bikes program. A student-run and SGA-supported program, Campus Bikes has recently become the target of several Joint Board senators who are on the warpath to cut the program.

At last Wednesday’s Joint Board, Senators Sam Mulopulos ’14, Tom Van Heeke ’12, Dylan Gray ’14 and Max Farrell ’12 presented a resolution that would abolish the program. They collectively cited the fact that they feel this is a prime opportunity to send a message to Grinnellians that their privilege could be reneged, should they choose not to act responsibly towards the bikes.

“I commend them for taking some action,” said SGA’s Vice President for Academic Affairs, Wadzi Motsi ’12. “We mentioned this at the beginning of the semester, and no one was doing anything.”

She agreed that the resolution is an opportunity to send a message to the greater campus body that people need to reconsider how they treat the bikes.
“It’s not about the money,” Motsi said. “We take a lot on this campus for granted. This symbolizes self governance and how it’s failing.”

SGA Treasurer Kathy Andersen ’13 said she thought the resolution, as written, was not the right answer to the bikes problem.

“The resolution [at Joint Board] was not the right thing that we needed,” Andersen said. “It was too vague. It said to abolish the program, which doesn’t work to fix it.”

Upon the presentation of the resolution, several different voices around campus have made themselves heard on the issues surrounding the Campus Bikes Program.

“The Campus Bikes Program is a fantastic part of this campus,” said SGA President Gabe Schechter ’12. “[It provides] the ability to have this shared responsibility where we can all benefit by handing off our property to each other.”

Schechter continued that he thinks not only is the bike system an opportunity for students to engage in self-gov, but that the issues surrounding the debate have been blown out of proportion.

“There has been a lot of talk of people throwing a bike off the loggia,” Schechter said. “This probably happened no more than twice. It’s really an exaggerated example to keep using.”

Colin Brooks ’13, one of the program’s two coordinators, sees a tragic aspect to the current state of the program.

“I’m not totally sure that it’s worth keeping around. While I love that it’s out there and people can use [the bikes], they get broken so fast,” Brooks said. “As one of the two mechanics on it, it’s pretty discouraging.”

Abolishing the campus bikes programs has triggered enough debate that the original authors of the resolution reconsidered their position in anticipation of the Joint Board vote Wednesday, Nov. 30.

“I sponsored and wrote a resolution calling for the abolition of the Campus Bikes Program. Now, I don’t know if we should necessarily abolish the program,” said Sam Mulopulos, ’14, one of the Senators sponsoring the resolution.

However, Mulopulos solidly asserted that action must be taken to address the problems surrounding the bikes.

“I think we need to see a greater campus discussion. The system is broken,” Mulopulos said.

The resolution came forth for an official vote in this week’s Joint Board. However, in anticipation of the fact that many people did not agree with the notion of simply abolishing the program, the original sponsors of the bill offered an amendment withdrawing the call to abolish the program and instead proposing to withhold the program’s funding. The amendment was rejected and was instead classified as a separate resolution.

This resolution never came to fruition, due to Schechter presenting an alternative solution at the last minute. Those interested in the issue of Campus Bikes will form a committee to gather a large enough body of information to better advise Joint Board senators about the issue. The committee is scheduled to meet this Sunday, Dec. 4. E-mail [sgamoney] if you want to join the committee.

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  • C

    Colin BrooksFeb 2, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    I’m super late to comment on this, but as the nominal program coordinator I feel it’s worth responding to the above points.

    @enthusiastic incoming freshman: the system you’re describing with check-ins is something that the program used to include, though it was separate from the general bikes scattered around campus. There used to be a separate set of bikes that were available to be checked out for shortish period of time, after the signing of contract (thus adding the element of accountability). Any damage could be charged to the correct individual, and these bikes tended to stay in much better shape. For whatever reason this was scrapped a couple years ago, and currently we just don’t have the manpower to run effectively 2 separate systems.

    @quality check: tragedy of the commons, while not a perfect way to describe the situation, is pretty damn apt. From what I’ve seen the greatest wear on the bikes comes from people dropping or slamming them onto hard surfaces when they dismount, or riding bikes that clearly need to be fixed (damaging them further). Both these actions benefit the rider in the short term since they get where they want to go, but quickly destroys a resource for the rest of the campus…and ultimately themselves.

    Ultimately the program needs more support from SGA and a LOT more support from the community to stay viable.

  • E

    enthusiastic incoming freshmanJan 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Hey I’m going to be a freshmen next year and i just wanted to urge anyone reading this that has enough weight to throw around to fight for this program. It sounds awesome. i want to live in a socialist utoptia. i want to live in grinnell (for the next four years). and i wanted Grinnell to be that socialist utopia for me. Not yet being a student, i’m not familiar with how this program works, but im sure if there was a way to give the bikes small check-ins as they swap hands, one could easily identify when a bike has been damaged and who last used it, probably caused the damage. Also, the way Christopher Lee just ripped into that guy was equally if not more awesome than the program. That “quality check” guy just wanted to boast that he took econ. big whoop buddy, but im pretty sure the reference to “tragedy of the commons” hold up.

  • C

    Christopher LeeDec 7, 2011 at 9:30 am

    If you read the article, it’s more than apparent how this is a tragedy of the commons (at least from the writer’s POV). If you’re going to attack an article, you should probably actually read it first.

    1) “Um guys, people abusing campus bikes is not a ‘tragedy of the commons.’ ”
    [citation needed] – You have a claim without a warrant. Go find a warrant.

    2) “It’s when people over exploit a resource for their own individual gain at the expense of everyone who has access to it.”
    This is contradictory to the article…how? The bikes are exploited in that they are used, then carelessly discarded. Responsible use of these bikes would have them left propped up or gently laid down instead of being run into walls and trees or left in mud flats for days.

    “I don’t think you can “over exploit” bikes.”
    So if I rip a handlebar off, dislocate a chain, flat the tires with careless riding, and finally ram the entire thing into a bush, I haven’t been exploiting the resource, I’ve just been doing business as usual?

    “I guess you could argue they are exploited the limited resources of the mechanics to fix them, but again, not a “commons” issue.”
    I guess you could argue without any warrants, but again, no need for sense.

  • Q

    quality checkDec 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    um guys, people abusing campus bikes is not a “tragedy of the commons”

    If you’re going to reference econ classes, you should probably look up what that term means. It’s when people over exploit a resource for their own individual gain at the expense of everyone who has access to it. I don’t think you can “over exploit” bikes.

    I guess you could argue they are exploited the limited resources of the mechanics to fix them, but again, not a “commons” issue.