Latest Veo e-bikes bring new cycles of opinions and potential impacts

By JP Legarte, Investigative News & Longform Editor

Veo, a bike-share system previously known as VeoRide, remains a central part of the university and overall Champaign-Urbana community, providing students and other users a way to quickly go from one place to another.

According to Shea Belahi, Veo operations manager for Champaign-Urbana, Veo first came to the C-U community in 2018 when the company offered pedal bikes as a mode of transportation. The following year, the use of e-bikes was approved.

In April 2022, the cities of Champaign and Urbana allowed the integration of Cosmo-e e-bikes, the new version of e-bikes, into the overall area. However, the use of these Cosmo-e’s on campus remains in limbo as the University continually considers current policies that limit the types of bikes allowed on campus.

Belahi delineated the benefits that the Cosmo-e’s can bring to both the greater community and students and faculty.

“As far as the Cosmo-e’s go, we can repair them super fast,” Belahi said. “They are throttle driven, so people that even have some disabilities are able to ride the vehicles if they can’t pedal.”

Belahi even mentioned that people in the community have used the Cosmo-e’s not only for going from one place to another but also for leisure, citing the fun that people can have since the Cosmo-e’s are throttle driven.

When considering the environmental impact of the Cosmo-e’s, Belahi returned to Veo’s ultimate goal of reducing the number of cars and trucks on the road and committing to a future that involves real, sustainable transportation.

“Our (bikes) are battery-driven, so we have people that go out every week or every day of all hours of the day and swap batteries and relocate vehicles from low ridership areas back to high ridership areas,” Belahi said.

Belahi also compared Veo’s Cosmo-e’s and additional services to existing modes of transportation that are popular among the community.

“The more modes of transportation the better,” Belahi said. “The bus is great. Not everybody has the time to spend an hour on the bus waiting … It’s cheaper than Uber or Lyft. Again — keeping yourself out of cars and getting outside into nature.”

Jack Reicherts, chairperson for the Student Sustainability Committee, offered his thoughts on Veo’s impact on campus as well as the company’s connection to greater conversations of sustainability and accessibility.

He noted that for Veo to contribute positively to campus sustainability, whether that be through the Cosmo-e’s or other available bikes, there has to be divestment from passenger vehicles to bikes, explaining that the impact of Veo wouldn’t be as strong if the only users are those who already just walk around campus.

According to Reicherts, the aspect of accessibility involved both pros and cons since the abundance of available bikes can also become physical obstacles for certain populations.

“I certainly think there is something to be said for how having bikes all over the place around campus is going to increase the accessibility of bikes,” Reicherts said. “Having bikes all over campus can also mean that I have bikes in the middle of paths. It could mean I have bikes in the middle of wheelchair ramps.”

In Reicherts’ perspective, the impact of Veo greatly hinges upon the reasons that students choose to utilize its services in the first place.

“Having Veo competing with the existing transportation modes like buses — I don’t know if it’s necessarily a matter of (students having) to choose one or the other or having one thing takes away from the other thing,” Reicherts said. “It depends on why students are using Veo. Are they using them instead of cars? Are they using them instead of walking? Are they using them instead of buses? It all depends.”

However, when comparing Veo to buses, Reicherts emphasized that the buses are free to students and can go into integrated no-ride zones, which can mean greater accessibility for some students and limited routes for others.

Sarthak Prasad, sustainable transportation assistant at the University, discussed how Veo and its services connect to the Illinois Climate Action Plan, or iCAP, the University-signed 2008 commitment to be carbon neutral no later than 2050.

Prasad specified that the plan advocates for active modes of transportation, which include bikes.

“We want to promote active modes of transportation,” Prasad said. “We want to encourage walking. We want to encourage biking. We want to encourage riding the bus, and we want to encourage ride sharing, whether it be bicycles or carpool or taking a shuttle like a Peoria charter instead of driving alone. The main objective here is to reduce single-occupancy vehicles.”

In addition, Prasad expanded upon the relationships among the university, Veo and the cities of Champaign and Urbana.

“There is a contract — concession agreement — with the company that they have to abide by to be able to operate on campus,” Prasad said. “We continue to support affordable bike sharing in the community as part of the intergovernmental agreement between the university and Champaign-Urbana.”

Prasad described the university’s current policies surrounding the types of bikes allowed on campus and the restrictions that affect the implementation of the new Cosmo-e’s already being used in the greater C-U community.

“Conventional bicycle share and Class 1 e-bikes that are the electrical assist bicycles — they are allowed on campus property, on university-owned property including on-campus bike lanes and pathways to be able to operate,” Prasad said.

“The bike-share companies are only allowed to operate bicycles and not motorized e-bicycles or e-bikes. What I mean by motorized e-bikes are bicycles with throttle assist, so if you can move your bicycle with just throttle only, we are not allowing that at this point.”

In other words, since Veo’s Cosmo-e’s are throttle driven, as referenced by Belahi’s earlier comments, they remain restricted from use on campus property.

“Our position has been the same for motorized rental bicycles or scooters because of our pedestrian safety concerns,” Prasad said. “Our campus is not built — or our infrastructure is not built — for the scooters, and again, as I’ve said before, the safety of our students, faculty and staff is of the highest importance to us.”

For further biking rules, logistics and resources, Prasad noted that individuals can check the bike.illinois.edu website and email [email protected] with any questions they may have.

While the future use of Cosmo-e’s on campus remains in limbo, Belahi emphasized that Veo still desires to advance their modalities with the university and that the voices of the students are very important to this potential advancement.

“Having more student voices too is crucial to … helping the university make decisions based on the opinions of their students,” Belahi said. “We all have to work together with the best interests of who we’re serving in mind.”

Belahi also discussed fostering partnerships with businesses, individuals or park districts in the cities to create more opportunities for the community, such as allowing actual scooters and organizing a community ride.

Reicherts stressed that conversations between Veo and the individuals that its services affect are essential to ensuring that the impact remains positive and that needs are truly met.

“I think that it’s important that projects like these try and communicate with those who are most affected and actually get input from their stakeholders so they can hopefully, preemptively avoid issues,” Reicherts said. “I think that’s really important, and I think that that probably happens to some degree already.”

 

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