College of Engineering, Community Partners Launch Ride 4 Smilies Program in Fort Smith

Left to right: Reese Brewer, executive director of the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization; George McGill, Fort Smith mayor; and Suman Mitra, U of A assistant professor of civil engineering, try out bicycles available as part of the RIDE 4 SMILIES bike sharing project.
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Left to right: Reese Brewer, executive director of the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization; George McGill, Fort Smith mayor; and Suman Mitra, U of A assistant professor of civil engineering, try out bicycles available as part of 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 deployed in areas where the majority of residents report not having a vehicle or access to reliable public transportation.

"We are excited to give our residents the opportunity to experience the many benefits of cycling," said Fort Smith Mayor George McGill. "From picking up a few items from the convenience store to simply taking a ride and enjoying the outdoors, bike sharing is a healthy way to travel."

The partners have established eight stations with shared bikes that can be accessed 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 return and lock it up 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 electronic bikes, so the program will begin using traditional bicycles until electric bikes arrive.

Reese Brewer, director of the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the group is eager to learn how the Smilies bike-sharing pilot program can offer diverse communities in north Fort Smith reliable, equitable and healthy transportation choices.

"The program must be reflective of the neighborhoods that it will serve," she said. "Rather than placing brand new, sparkling Smilies bikes at pre-determined locations, we intentionally sought out public input to guide where the Smilies bike-share would best meet the community's needs. Our primary goal is to partner with the community and find the best bike-share model and structure that changes lives."

The project is funded through a $1 million National Science Foundation grant awarded to the U of A College of Engineering. The study is titled Shared Micromobility For Affordable-Accessible Housing.

In addition to Brewer, co-principal investigators are Suman Mitra, U of A assistant professor of civil engineering; Sarah Hernandez, U of A associate professor of civil engineering; Rogelio Garcia Contreras, director of the Social Innovation Program at the U of A Walton College of Business; and Elizabeth McClain, chief wellness officer at Arkansas Colleges of Health Education.

Mitra said he is pleased to see the Ride 4 Smilies program go live after months of planning, research and data collection. He thanked the project team for their hard work during the past six months.

"I hope this bike-share program will help the people who need it most. We have tried to develop an inclusive and sustainable program tailored toward the needs of the Fort Smith residents," he said. "As a researcher, I appreciate the opportunity to work with this great community. In the coming months, we will develop models and collect user data to evaluate the program's impact on the livelihood of the local community. We will also ask for feedback from the community so that we can improve the system according to their needs and preferences."

Other partners on the project include the bike-share provider, Tandem Mobility, the city of Fort Smith and bike shop Champion Cycling. More information about the program can be found at the project webpage or Tandem Mobility's Ride 4 Smilies page.

Participating partners in the research program stand next to share bicycles
Left to right: Vuban Chowdhury, civil engineering master’s student; Jeff Dingman, Fort Smith deputy director; Suman Mitra, civil engineering assistant professor; Anindya Debnath, civil engineering Ph.D. student; Doug Reinert, Fort Smith director of parks and recreation; Reese Brewer, Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director; Stacy Willinger, Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization transportation planner; Elizabeth McClain, Arkansas Colleges of Health Education chief wellness officer; and Isaac Salazar, Arkansas Colleges of Health Education community outreach coordinator.

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