Tyler Orton, 23, has pedaled his way back from a rough start at George Mason University by taking a hobby to the next level.
A former jazz studies major at the university, Orton — who was paying his own way through college — had to take a semester off during the economic downturn. Orton, an environmental advocate with a passion for bicycles, regained his stride when he received an opportunity to pair hobby with salary.
“I’ve worked in bike shops basically since I moved down here” from Erie, Pa., he said. GMU “was looking for someone to help start up the bike program.”
Orton landed a paid internship with the university during summer 2011 to help organize a pro-bike campaign. He now leads the program, serving as GMU’s bicycle program manager.
This fall, GMU rolled out a rent-a-bicycle program called Patriot Bikeshare. The program is paid for by a $36,000 in-house Patriot Green Fund grant. Orton and team members were awarded the competitive grant after pitching their idea to the fund’s committee, which is made up of faculty, staff and students who vote on which projects should move forward.
Patriot Bikeshare offers students, professors, staff and community members the opportunity to rent one of 20 bicycles stationed at four locations on the Fairfax campus: the Johnson Center, Starbucks Coffee in Northern Neck Hall, Shenandoah Parking Deck and the Quad by Krug Hall.
GMU students can buy a monthly pass for unlimited use (two-hour blocks) for $6, with a 95-cent fee for exceeding the two-hour limit and a $1 charge for each additional half-hour of use. Daily subscriptions are $3 for a 12-hour pass.
“This is something we’ve been working on for a while, following the trend of the Capital Bikeshare,” available in the District and Arlington County, said Orton, who is back in school and majoring in environmental and sustainability studies to support his pro-green efforts.
“With the success of the Capital Bikeshare, we thought it would be a success here,” he said.
So far, the number of users to try GMU’s bike-share program has exceeded Orton’s expectations.
“Our goal for the first semester was to have a hundred users, and we’re already three months ahead of that,” he said. “We’ve had 500 usages. . . . Currently, we have 20 bikes, and the intent is to expand as soon as we can.”
Users also said they would like to see the program expand.
“I passed by the bikes on my way to my office. I bicycle for recreation and transportation, so I was interested,” said history professor Zachary M. Schrag, 42, who commutes to campus by car.
“I use the bikes sporadically, mainly between the Johnson Center, near my office, and Northern Neck, which is on the way to the Rappahannock Parking Deck,” Schrag said. “If there were a Bikeshare station at Rappahannock itself, that would save me more time.”
Schrag said the bicycles are easy to use and rent. On the backside of each bike, near the seat, is a three-light panel that indicates whether the bicycle is in use or available to rent. A red light indicates that a bike is in use, yellow that it is locked and green that it is available for rent.
Users have three options for checking out a bike. They can call 703-594-4050 to reach an automated system, text the same number with a user pin and the bike’s information, or use a mobile app, gmu.viacycle.com/m.
The bike-share program is run by the university’s Office of Parking and Transportation.
Users can register for a bike-share pass at gmu.viacycle.com/signup.
“I have always wanted to become a better bike rider, and the [Patriot] Bikeshare is allowing me to bike on campus for a cheap cost, without the stress of managing upkeep on the bikes,” said Mason sophomore Roger LeBlanc, 19, an environmental and sustainability studies major.
LeBlanc lives on campus. “I use the Bikeshare about once a week to get to the vegetable garden on the other side of campus or to go grocery shopping across the street. I have also used it when I’m running late for a class.
“Patriot Bikeshare is a really viable option if you are not ready to buy your own bike, or if you just need a bike for the day.”