The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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St. John’s Community Responds To New Electric Bikes

TORCH PHOTO/ Alana Campbell
TORCH PHOTO/ Alana Campbell

On Saturday, Sept. 25, there was a new addition to the St. John’s Queen Campus: Electric bikes. Tons of them. They appeared seemingly out of nowhere on bike racks throughout campus with an unmistakable red “SJ” plastered on the side. There was no formal announcement prior to their arrival, but it didn’t take long before students started taking them on joyrides. 

For a few nights, campus became chaotic. The whirring of the e-bikes and the whoops of excited students traveling upwards of 10 miles an hour could be heard from dorm windows. Everyone was talking about them, speculating about why they were here and what they were for.

By Monday, there were already rumors swirling about a bike being found in Montgoris Dining Hall, someone sneaking one into their room, students racing each other and someone trying to do wheelies. 

“It’s been a disaster in my opinion,” said resident student and junior environmental science major Nicolas Ciaravino, who claims to have nearly been run over on multiple occasions. “Students have been incredibly irresponsible with the bikes. I’m not exactly sure what the University’s purpose was.”

Student Government (SGi) President Ethan Burrell has the answers. “We were looking for ways to supplement off-campus housing,” he told the Torch via interview. Last year, the shuttle bus service, which students dorming in off-campus apartments relied on, was discontinued “due to recent budget cuts at the University,” according to an article by The Torch soon after its discontinuation.

Back in June, SGi members found the company Wheels through an Instagram advertisement, and they looked into it. They subsequently had a meeting with the company and Wheels agreed to partner with the school, providing the bikes to us free of cost. 

“We didn’t pay a dime for these. It was a smart investment because it doesn’t affect our pockets, so we still can do programming,” Burrell said.

Students have been incredibly irresponsible with the bikes. I’m not exactly sure what the University’s purpose was.

— Nicolas Ciaravino

The rocky start happened because Wheels delivered the bikes suddenly, giving SGi little time to prepare an announcement. The bikes had already been on campus for four days before SGi sent out a campus-wide email with instructions on how to use the bikes, safety guidelines, location restrictions, costs per ride and other pertinent information.  

The geo-fencing, Burrell admits, was initially glitchy, allowing students to ride freely on campus in areas that are supposed to be red zones or “No Ride Zones.” They have since fixed them, so when a student tries to ride the bikes in these areas, the bike gives them 30 seconds to return to a yellow zone before shutting off.

One hundred total bikes were given to the school. Most of them were delivered to the Queens campus, but there are more at the Goethals apartments, Seton Complex and Henley Road. 

Olivia Gittens, a sophomore legal studies major dorming at the Henley Road Complex  for the first time this semester, has some reservations about this being a viable alternative to the shuttle bus service. 

“I think I speak for everyone in Henley when I say the fact that St. John’s shut down the shuttle program is extremely frustrating and inconveniencing,” she said. “Many of us spent extra in order to live off-campus and it now feels like a punishment.”

Gittens occasionally takes a bus to campus or catches a ride with a friend, but for the most part, she traverses the 0.7-mile distance on foot. “The walk is just tolerable now, but come colder weather, or even bad weather like rain, sleet and snow, the walk will be terrible.” 

She has concerns about the recent robberies, and she claims that the lack of reliable transportation is a threat to student safety. “The whole point of the shuttle is a way to safely get to class and back and it seems like the bike is not an effective replacement,” she said.

Many of us spent extra in order to live off-campus and it now feels like a punishment.

— Olivia Gittens

Additionally, she mentioned that multiple students have gotten into accidents, sustaining injuries on the bikes.

John Breheny, Director of Public Safety, confirmed that there have been numerous injuries. He said there have been “less than half a dozen, maybe four or five,” mostly resulting from falling off of the bikes. “On two occasions, students have gone to the local emergency room for minor injuries. They were treated and released.”

Breheny is largely optimistic about the program. He says that his office hasn’t received any complaints, just inquiries. He emphasized the importance of students driving responsibly. Though it’s an SGi initiative, Public safety worked with them to set the speed limit on campus to 10 mph, rather than the typical 25. 

“I think it’s a good thing for the school,” said Breheny. “It’s here on a trial basis. We’ll see how it goes.”

Less than a week after the bikes were introduced, representatives from Wheels came to campus and set up a tent at the Stormsburg event. Johnnie Moore, operations Manager of Wheels, answered students’ questions while his associates handed out merchandise and offered free test rides. The company’s plans are to come back periodically and do education and safety demonstrations. 

“We know it’s not going to fix all of the problems,” Burrell admitted. “But it’s something convenient students can use.”

For more information about the bikes, go to www.takewheels.com/stjohns.  

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  • L

    LeeOct 16, 2021 at 10:12 am

    To be entirely honest, the fact that the school got the bikes for free and now we are expected to pay to ride them is a bit frustrating. Using them for a daily commute to class is going to add up for students, and now that the trial period (in which they were still 29 cents per minute without the $1 “activation fee”) has ended, they seem to pretty much be sitting around unused. I’d say probably a dozen of the hundred are just sitting in the entrance to the first Townhouse, and with time they’re all just going to become a nuisance. With the shuttle gone and the bikes quite literally given to the school, the fact that students are footing the bill is unsurprising but maddening nonetheless. The school should be providing transportation from off-campus apartments, especially because of recent safety concerns mentioned in the article. Burdening students with yet another expense during a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty for many probably wasn’t the way to go. But thank you for your honest and thorough reporting!

    Reply
  • K

    KaylaOct 16, 2021 at 1:22 am

    LOL one of the “minor injuries” on the bikes was a broken arm and the bikes were “free” bc students pay to ride them, they’re fine for now but they’ll be dangerous in the winter with ice and snow admin needs to stop putting responsibility on sgi and bring back the shuttles esp with the recent string of crimes so close to campus

    Reply
  • D

    DWOct 15, 2021 at 2:07 am

    What an intriguing article!

    Reply