Think Out Loud

Portland State University offers e-bike rentals for students

By Elizabeth Castillo (OPB)
Oct. 18, 2023 7:19 p.m.

Broadcast: Thursday, Oct. 18

The Portland State University Bike Hub started an e-bike rental program this year. The rentals were established through a Drive Change Fund award from Portland General Electric which emphasizes electrifying transportation in Oregon. The goal of the program is to help students who live further from campus reduce car trips and their transportation costs. Daniel Penner is the Bike Hub supervisor and Claire Hinkley is a second year grad student at PSU. We learn more from them about the program and how it’s helping students get to campus.


The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. When Portland State University students started the fall term, a new service was available to them. For just $45, they could rent e-bikes for the whole term. It’s the latest offering from PSU’s Bike Hub program. It was made possible by a grant from PGE. Daniel Penner is the Bike Hub supervisor. Claire Hinkley is a grad student who’s using one of these new e-bikes. They both join us now. It’s great to have both of you on the show.

Daniel Penner: Thanks for having us, Dave.

Claire Hinkley: Thank you.

Miller: So Daniel first, what’s the overall idea of the Bike Hub?

Penner: Yes. So we are an on-campus bike shop that started in 2010 and with the goal to make it as easy as possible for PSU students and staff to bike to campus and to encourage active transportation. We want people to get to campus in whatever way that makes sense for them, whatever makes them feel safe. But we think that riding bikes is a good way to go.

Miller: So what kind of services do you offer to make it easier, to encourage students or staff to do that?

Penner: Sure. So, we do a lot of things that a normal bike shop does. We sell bikes, new and used, along with parts and accessories. We offer a 15% discount to students and staff as well. We do full-service repair so anyone can drop off their bike for us to fix. And then we also do some teaching too. So students and staff can come in and work on their own bikes and there’s a mechanic on duty to help them out with it, give them any advice or teach any kind of maintenance that they want to learn.

Miller: A kind of DIY fix-it job or teach a person to fish and they’ll ride their bike for life, to mix a metaphor.

Penner: Exactly, yeah, it’s kind of a mix of both of those things. So, not everyone wants to learn how to work on their bike so we offer that drop off service as well.

Miller: Claire, how far away from campus do you live?

Hinkley: I’m about six miles away in NE.

Miller: What are the various ways that you have gotten around over the last year plus?

Hinkley: Yeah, I mean, I have a car. I like to go hiking so I kind of need that. But I’ve found it a little bit tricky to drive down to campus. Partially, gas is really expensive. Parking on campus is too expensive for me. I have a graduate assistantship and so I need to be on campus during the day. And then my night classes mean that a day pass for the parking garages on campus is like $14, which is a lot. So I’ve experimented with parking somewhere for free and walking, kind of a long distance. I’ve taken the bus, and then last year I did ride my own personal, non-electric bike to campus a few times.

Miller: A few times, but it seemed like the six miles and the night time, it made it so it was less of a pleasant option for you?

Hinkley: Yeah. If I didn’t have the night classes, I would do it during the day. But honestly, I’ve been hit by a car before in Portland on my bike. I just don’t love biking at night, especially downtown. It felt a little unsafe for a number of reasons.

Miller: What went through your mind when you heard about this e-bike program?

Hinkley: I was stoked. I mean, I’d been trying to not drive as much as possible, reduce my carbon footprint and save money and I figured that an e-bike might feel faster and more motivating to get me to ride a bike to campus, and also just being able to go fast at night, have a lot of lights. Yeah, I was really excited about the idea and it has felt a lot safer and been really good so far.

Miller: Daniel, how popular was the non e-bike rental program that you’ve now done for a number of years?

Penner: So we started that program pretty early on in our existence. And we started with about 10 bikes to start with and then we, since last year, we’re up to about 100 bikes and pretty much every term, we have most of them rented out. So it’s been pretty popular.

Miller: But how does that compare to the popularity of the e-bikes?

Penner: Well, I think most of it is because we only have 25 so far. So there was a lot of excitement right out the gate and we have, pretty much within two weeks, we had them all rented out.

Miller: What do people get along with the bike?

Penner: They come with lights, a helmet. We provide a super sturdy lock and then we give access to one of our secure bike parking rooms on campus. So you use your ID card to get in. It’s covered, so you keep your bike dry. And then only people who have purchased a permit or have a rental bike can get into those spaces.

Miller: So everything you need basically to become a bike commuter.

Penner: Yeah, we also provide the maintenance on it too and if they are interested in learning how to work on it, we’ll work with them on that too.

Miller: Claire, is that something you’re interested in learning in addition to getting your MFA in creative writing? Do you also want to learn how to take care of a bike?

Hinkley: Oh man, totally. I really wanna try bike packing. I want to bike out to the coast. So yeah, this has been a thing that I’ve been meaning to learn for a long time and I think I have to do it before I’m not a student anymore and don’t have access to the resources here.

Miller: Daniel, can people take these rental bikes and do whatever they want with them? I mean, could Claire go bike packing to the coast in one of the PSU e-bikes?


Penner: She can. Yeah, we don’t ask questions about what they do with them.

Miller: Daniel, have you found that e-bikes have been encouraging people who might not otherwise have considered biking. I mean, we heard from Claire that she did bike somewhat but this has been handier because it’s faster, especially at night. But are there people who you think have been drawn to this program who otherwise wouldn’t be biking?

Penner: Definitely. Yeah, we see one of the barriers to riding bikes to campus or anywhere is the distance or mobility issues or just fitness in general. So there tends to be a drop off in ridership, over three miles or definitely five miles. That distance just makes riding a regular bike a little bit of a barrier. So yeah, I think e-bikes definitely help bridge that gap.

Miller: Claire, it seems like you’re sold on e-bikes as a technology.

Hinkley: It’s great. I wasn’t expecting it to be so fun. It’s extremely fun to ride and go really fast and not feel it as much. And you still do feel like you’re getting some exercise and get to be outside and breathe in the air. It’s way better than driving. I love it.

Miller: What does it mean to you to have access to an e-bike and lights and the locker, and everything else that comes with this for $45 for the term?

Hinkley: I mean, to be honest, it’s a game changer for me. I’m experiencing some car issues right now that I just can’t afford to fix and I happen to have this e-bike. So I’m fine. I can still get to campus and get to my job and go to the grocery store, take care of everything I need to for a really affordable price. I’m super grateful that I got one.

Miller: Daniel, so I mentioned that this was based on funding or a grant that came from PGE. How did this come to be?

Penner: Yeah, the grant is from PGE through the Oregon DEQ’s Clean Fuels Program. And I didn’t start the grant, but kind of took over halfway through and we were able to launch the program this fall.

Miller: What happens when the money runs out?

Penner: So, the funding that we received paid for everything. That’s the 25 bikes plus all the accessories that they needed. So it’s all spent. Everything has been received. So we’re all good to go with what we have.

Miller: You can keep these until they break down, basically?

Penner: Exactly. Yeah.

Miller: Is this just available for students or could staff also take advantage of the program?

Penner: Our rental program is just for students right now.

Miller: The ones who you figure could benefit the most.

Penner: Right.

Miller: It seems like getting the word out wasn’t an issue because these all were snapped up pretty quickly. But how have you been spreading the word about the program?

Penner: Yeah. So, in addition to having the information on our website, we send out a newsletter to our students and staff, post on Instagram, things like that. But we, pretty much immediately after the first email, we got tons of responses for interest in it.

Miller: Would it be possible to expand the program? It seems like there might be a lot more interest than just 25 bikes.

Penner: Yeah, definitely. So we also facilitate memberships to Biketown For All. So I’m sure you’ve seen all the orange bikes that are around Portland. Those who qualify for financial aid can get free memberships for those, which are great for short trips. And then, yeah, we’re gonna use this year as kind of an experiment to see how everything works with these bikes and then hope to expand in the future.

Miller: Claire, what would you say to fellow students about programs like this?

Hinkley: Yeah, so as an undergrad, I definitely didn’t take advantage of all the resources that are available to students. And so coming back to grad school last year, I was like, I really wanna try to do every single thing, take advantage of every single resource that’s available to me because then you graduate, you’re not a student and those go away. And so I would just really urge my fellow students, especially undergrads who might not quite be aware of everything that’s going on to just sign up for all the newsletters and take advantage of all of these awesome resources because they’re really special and they don’t last that long.

Miller: Don’t leave money on the table.

Hinkley: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Miller: Daniel, is this kind of program something that other colleges or universities do or is this somewhat unique to PSU?

Penner: I do think a lot of universities have some kind of rental program. I don’t know if there’s anything to this extent. We’ve really pushed this program and tried to grow it over the years.

Miller: Have you joined the e-bike Revolution?

Penner: I did, yes. I moved a little bit further from campus, about six miles away and on good days it’s fine. But if it’s raining or you’re just not feeling amazing, an e-bike makes it so much more enjoyable. You can get to work or school without sweating, and you can get any kind of workout you want.

Miller: Daniel and Claire, thanks very much.

Penner: Thanks so much.

Hinkley: Thank you.

Miller: Daniel Penner is a supervisor for the Bike Hub at Portland State University. Claire Hinkley is in her second year of her MFA program in creative writing at PSU and she is one of the people who has snapped up, for $45 for the term, an e-bike.

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