Big Red Bikes

A free bike share program open to all Cornell students and employees...

innovation icon

Big Red Bikes is an Innovation goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Continue support for the Big Red Bike sharing program.

Goal: Assess opportunities to expand and improve the bike share program and promote bicycling as a commuting alternative.

Big Red Bikes Poster (provided)
Big Red Bikes Poster

Big Red Bikes is Cornell University’s student-run bike share program. It is open to all current students and employees who register for the program, with no membership fee or fees for use. The bike share fleet includes 30 bicycles that are available for use from Spring Break in mid-March until Thanksgiving Break in late November. Registered users can check out a bike at Mann Library, Uris Library, or at Appel Commons, a student residence community center. The bikes must be returned to one of these three locations by closing time on the same day.

During the 2012-2013 fiscal year, Big Red Bikes were checked out over 1,600 times by 742 active users. User surveys indicate that usage is primarily recreational. Thus far, the bike share has little or no positive effect in changing employee or student commuting behavior, or in increasing bicycling as a commuting alternative.

Transportation Services serves as sponsor and provides a staff advisor for the program. Transportation Services currently contributes $10,000 per year for a vendor hosted bike share management database and web interface, provides offseason and out-of-service storage for the bikes, and allocates $5,000 annually to hire student employee(s) to oversee maintenance and safety checks for the bikes. Cornell Outdoor Education contributes administrative and logistical support to manage and assist the student employee(s) with bike share operations. University Libraries and the Appel Commons Service Center contribute administrative support – checking the bikes, keys, and helmets in and out, as well as alerting student organization officers about user registration issues, and maintenance or safety issues reported by users.

Partial funding for the program comes from a Student Assembly fee of $1 per undergraduate. Facilities Services finance personnel provide administrative support for the Big Red Bikes operating account, under Transportation Services oversight, through which the Student Assembly funding is received and disbursed. In addition to Student Assembly funding, the program has also received private gifts from alumni and other individuals.

Students working in Big Red Bikes have a unique opportunity to impact Cornell’s campus as part of an innovative business practicing social entrepreneurship. Several active members of the organization have designed and completed class projects and independent study plans related to their involvement in development, management, and improvement of the bike share program. Former student officers report that their leadership and collaborative experience with the program proved invaluable as they sought employment and transitioned to the workplace.

Challenges to sustaining and expanding the program include:

  • The current volunteer model for performing daily safety checks and basic maintenance is inadequate. Funding for a more appropriate model for safety checks and maintenance has not been identified.
  • The current check-out and check-in system does not adequately protect against theft and loss of bikes and other equipment.

Next Steps

  • Investigate the New York City bike share program, and other examples of bike share programs to discover options for improving security and accountability that may be financially sustainable at a scale appropriate to the campus.
  • Support student leaders in exploring options for a more sustainable program of bicycle safety inspections and maintenance.
  • In the context of development of the Bicycle Master Plan, examine and assess relative costs and benefits of the program and recommend changes or improvements.


Future success hinges on student involvement and commitment, institutional commitment and funding, evaluation of program benefits, integration of program goals into the larger Bike Master Plan.