College of Engineering and Community Partners Launch Ride 4 Smilies Program in Fort Smith
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Left to right: Reese Brewer, executive director of the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization; George McGill, Mayor of Fort Smith; and Suman Mitra, an assistant professor of civil engineering at the U of A, try out the bikes available through the RIDE 4 SMILIES bike-sharing project.
FORT SMITH, Ark. – City officials, planners and U of A researchers gathered Thursday in North Fort Smith for the official launch of Ride 4 Smilies, a low-cost bike-sharing service being rolled out to areas where the majority of residents report not having a vehicle or access to reliable public transportation.
“We are thrilled to offer our residents the opportunity to experience the many benefits of cycling,” said Fort Smith Mayor George McGill. “Whether it’s picking up a few items at the convenience store or just taking a spin and enjoying the outdoors, bike sharing is a healthy way to travel.”
The partners established eight stations with shared bikes accessible using an app called Movatic. After downloading the app and creating an account, residents can scan a QR code on the bike, ride it where they need to go, then come back and lock it at the station.
Initially, one-hour rides will be free to encourage participation. Over time, researchers will test pricing and incentive strategies to develop a sustainable revenue model that balances profitability and affordability.
Supply chain issues have delayed the delivery of e-bikes, so the program will start using traditional bikes until e-bikes arrive.
Reese Brewer, director of the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the group is eager to hear how the Smilies bike-sharing pilot program can provide the diverse communities north of Fort Smith with reliable, equitable and healthy transportation choices.
“The program should reflect the neighborhoods it will serve,” she said. “Rather than placing brand new, sparkling Smilies bikes in pre-determined locations, we intentionally sought out public feedback to indicate where the Smilies bike share would best meet the needs of the community. partner with the community and find the best bike sharing model and structure that changes lives.”
The project is funded by a $1 million National Science Foundation grant to the U of A College of Engineering. The study is titled Shared micromobility for affordable and accessible housing.
In addition to Brewer, the co-principal investigators are Suman Mitra, assistant professor of civil engineering at the U of A; Sarah Hernandez, associate professor of civil engineering at the U of A; Rogelio Garcia Contreras, director of the social innovation program at the U of A Walton College of Business; and Elizabeth McClain, wellness manager at Arkansas Colleges of Health Education.
Mitra said he was thrilled to see the Ride 4 Smilies program launch after months of planning, research and data collection. He thanked the project team for their hard work over the past six months.
“I hope this bike share program helps those who need it most. We have tried to develop an inclusive and sustainable program tailored to the needs of Fort Smith residents,” he said. “As a researcher, I appreciate the opportunity to work with this great community. In the coming months, we will be developing models and collecting user data to assess the impact of the program on the livelihoods of the community. local community so that we can improve the system based on their needs and preferences.”
Other partners in the project include bike-sharing provider Tandem Mobility, the City of Fort Smith and bike store Champion Cycling. More information about the program can be found on the project webpage or on Tandem Mobility’s Ride 4 Smilies page.
From left to right: Vuban Chowdhury, master’s student in civil engineering; Jeff Dingman, Deputy Director of Fort Smith; Suman Mitra, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering; Anindya Debnath, PhD in Civil Engineering. student; Doug Reinert, Director of Parks and Recreation Fort Smith; Reese Brewer, executive director of Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization; Stacy Willinger, transportation planner for the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization; Elizabeth McClain, Wellness Director of Arkansas Colleges of Health Education; and Isaac Salazar, Arkansas Colleges of Health Education Community Outreach Coordinator.