UCI Transportation Should Take Zotwheels Out of First Gear

Zotwheels, a bikeshare system meant to reduce UCI’s carbon footprint, is one of several outdated, yet novel, campus utilities that is desperately in need of a rework.

Although it is managed by Transportation and Distribution Services (TDS), Zotwheels has been neglected over the past two years and is clearly at the bottom of the department’s priorities.
Implemented into the school’s infrastructure to provide students access to affordable bikes and reduce the need for automotive travel, Zotwheels’ good intentions have been lost in the wind due to poor management.

From its launch in the fall of 2009 until the winter of 2016, Zotwheels’ news page alerted students of the maintenance and software updates its four kiosks would undergo. The last update posted to this website was on January 5, 2016, alerting students that the stations were disabled due to “Inclelement [sic] Weather.” This post’s incorrect spelling and lack of a follow-up (were the stations ever enabled for service again?!) loudly broadcast the obsolete online presence of the program.

The bikes themselves are as derelict as the website that supposedly monitors them. All of the bikes have flat tires, full coats of rust, several generations of spiderwebs covering their frames, and generally look unrideable. It is clear that maintenance has not been done on the fleet for years, and I sincerely feel sympathy for the unwitting freshman who buys into the $40 program just to end up maintaining the bikes themselves.

The neglect tragically extends to students, many of whom do not know the system even exists. A lame game I play on my way to class is looking at bikes to see if one of the Zotwheels is actually being used, and, over the course of two years, I have not seen a single person ever riding a Zotwheel.

The lack of users registered with Zotwheels may be a result of poor advertising or simply the unwillingness of students to fork over money to ride a dirty deathtrap around campus, but either way, it is clear that the system needs some serious reworking.

I think that, as a last ditch effort, the university can sell the fleet at a campus bike fair, tear down the stations, and build something actually useful in their absence. While this option is the probably the easiest way out of a depressing situation, it would undermine the purpose of Zotwheels and rob UCI of yet another quirky, lovable program. Although I think that Zotwheels is currently in a bad state, I believe that it has the potential to become the unique, thriving program it was meant to be.

The first step to repairing Zotwheels’ reputation is to inform students, — and apparently TDS, too — that it exists. Students won’t drop $40 on a program they don’t know exists, and, while researching the kiosks, I became aware of how hilariously unaware students are of Zotwheels. While student involvement is needed for the system to thrive, effort is also required from TDS. Old updates on Zotwheels’ website implored students to report low-air bikes and discolored bikes to their office, pretty much guaranteeing that the bikes never received maintenance until their disarray reached critical levels. Students barely care enough to remember to eat half the time — can you really expect them to report a flat tire on a bike they don’t own?

TDS needs to have a couple of people walk around campus on weekends and maintain the bikes. It would be easier to handstand-walk your way to class than it would be to attempt to ride a Zotwheel on Ring Road, and the few students who know about the program realize this. With proper maintenance, I believe that students would be willing to actually use the program rather than look the other way when they pass it.

Lastly, I think the bikes could use a bit of an upgrade. Their hardware is decent, but their white paint jobs are a recipe for disaster. It is beyond a terrible idea to paint bikes, which remain outdoors literally all of the time, the color most notorious for getting dirty quickly.
I adore Zotwheels not because it is a highly functioning system or because it’s useful to me, but because it is something unique to UCI. I still believe in Zotwheels, and I hope that TDS makes the changes needed to breathe life back into its rusted hull.

Isaac Espinosa is a second-year electrical engineering major. He can be reached at imespino@uci.edu.