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Originally published Monday, November 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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UW campus to plug in electric bikes

You're a University of Washington medical student and you need to run an errand at University Village, but you rode the bus to school and...

Seattle Times staff reporter

You're a University of Washington medical student and you need to run an errand at University Village, but you rode the bus to school and it's a long walk from the university health-sciences campus to the shopping center.

Beginning next fall, the university will have a solution: electric bikes.

In what's touted as a first in the country, the UW will partner with a Boulder, Colo., company to provide electric bikes for students and faculty members across campus.

"This is an organic process," said Joshua Kavanagh, director of the UW transportation department. He said he learned about the innovative things going on with the Boulder company, Intrago, and pursued a business relationship.

The result is that the UW and Intrago are set to launch their electric-bikes program in the fall quarter. Forty bikes — which can be pedaled or ridden as electric scooters — will be spread across campus and available to be checked out. Each bike can go 25 miles on a charged battery, more if it's pedaled. And the bikes won't be restricted to campus.

Under the plan, there will be four stations spread across campus where the bikes can be charged, 10 at each station. "We'd really like to see this take off and grow as much as people want it to," Kavanagh said.

He sees it as a way for students and faculty members to get from their bus stops to where they're going, run errands during the day and get across the vast campus for classes.

The program is being partially funded by a $200,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation as part of a $1 million trip-reduction program.

According to Kavanagh, the UW has made efforts to persuade students and faculty not to drive to campus, and the majority of the university community uses an alternative to driving alone: 23 percent walk, 21 percent take the bus, 10 percent use a car pool or van pool, 8 percent bike, and only 33 percent drive alone during peak commuting time.

In 1990, the UW issued 6,440 single-occupancy parking permits; last year that number dropped to 3,794. In that same period, the price of parking has risen from $72 per term to $254 for a term pass.

The difficulty has always been that "last-mile" service, Kavanagh said: getting students and faculty from the bus stop, or the car-pool drop-off, to their ultimate destination. "In overcoming hurdles to get people to leave their cars at home, the solution Intrago has come up with is incredibly innovative and is really going to be helpful to us," he said.

He compared it to a bike-sharing system in Paris, which has stations where bikes can be shared.

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Under the UW plan, which is still in the works, the users, who would pay a yet-to-be-established fee, would go to a bike station, present a key and enter a PIN to unlock a bike. When the ride is over, the bike could be returned to a docking station.

The UW doesn't know yet where the stations will be located, but they likely will be on the edges of campus, Kavanagh said.

"When people have personally powered vehicles at their destination, they're more likely to use the benefits of a transportation program," said Mitch Magdovitz, director of business development for Intrago. "We want to build upon the success of a robust transportation-management program. People will know they have a local vehicle once they get [to campus]."

Intrago, which started in 2005, is invested in providing "green" transportation, Magdovitz said.

The UW doesn't know what the bikes will look like and said it is investigating three prototypes.

Magdovitz said while there's been a lot of interest in the electric bikes, the UW will be the company's first launch. Magdovitz said an electric bike could cost from $1,000 to $6,000.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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