Chapel Hill’s bike-share lovers no longer need to remain on UNC’s campus to easily access a ride. 

The town and university have moved a Tar Heel Bikes hub from campus to downtown Chapel Hill at the intersection of West Franklin and Church streets. 

Most interesting is the town’s announcement that the relocation of the hub is intended to test ridership and inform future shared mobility options in Chapel Hill—specifically an electric bike-share program. The town is also exploring ways to coordinate with UNC and its bike-share provider, Bolt Mobility, on the placement of additional off-campus hubs. 

Before the hub’s relocation, 100 Tar Heel Bikes were located at various hubs on UNC’s campus. After registering for a SoBi account, anyone can ride a Tar Heel Bike for free, up to an hour daily. UNC students and employees of the university or hospitals may also use their university email to access up to two hours of ridership every day, after paying a $30 annual fee.

The INDY first learned that a town-wide electric bike-share program was being considered during a previous interview with John Rees, president of the Bicycle Alliance of Chapel Hill. Rees also discussed the equity concerns surrounding the proposed Triangle Bikeway. 

Officials confirmed that the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro are considering a contract with Bolt to deploy a pilot fleet of approximately 100 e-bikes. This fleet, which could be placed at no cost to the town, would allow e-bike users to travel between the two municipalities. E-bikes cannot be docked on UNC’s campus, at this time. 

Since electric bikes can reach speeds of up to 20 miles an hour and cost you as little as five cents to travel 80 miles, they present a cost-effective alternative to a car—as the Indy calculated several weeks ago. 

Nevertheless, the town will have to assess safety and equity concerns as it considers the possibility of introducing an electric bike-share program. The last time single-rider electric vehicles arrived in Chapel Hill they didn’t stay for very long. 

Bird scooters were removed from the university and town in 2018, largely due to safety concerns, after the company surprised local government officials with a leg of its University Pop-Up Tour. School officials said in a statement they would use this removal period to explore the possibility of a partnership with Bird, but the scooters never came back. 

Bolt also operates electric scooters and mopeds, and the company currently operates fleets in Raleigh and Durham. But it’s unclear whether the town might also negotiate contracts for these vehicles. 

Ride-share programs also present equity issues by excluding those without smartphones or credit cards, as local bicycling advocates like Rees have pointed out. 

The addition of electric bike-share programs will certainly ease some people’s commutes and gift others with the pure joy of riding. But as the Triangle moves forward with considering complex projects like the Bikeway, commuter rail, and single-occupant electric ride-share programs, traditionally marginalized communities worry they will be excluded from the conversation—yet again. 

People of color have made up just 15 percent of respondents in multiple regional surveys seeking community feedback on transportation-related urban planning projects, as the INDY previously reported. 

These communities say they are concerned more basic gaps in neighborhood biking and walking infrastructure will be forgotten amid what they view as “fancier” projects catering to more wealthy, whiter subsects of the population. 

These gaps include the many streets in Chapel Hill that do not have clearly marked bike lanes, let alone protected ones. On many streets, bikers must mingle with pedestrians who are forced to walk in the road due to thin shoulders or a complete lack of sidewalks. Local activists say the town, if it truly wants to encourage biking, must address these problems, in addition to providing more options for vehicle access.

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