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Electric bicycles roll into Westwood, giving students new transportation option

Wheels electric bicycles come with a foam seat, 14-inch wheels, integrated Bluetooth speakers and swappable replacement parts. Users access the bikes with a mobile application similarly to Bird and Lime scooters. (Elise Tsai/Daily Bruin)

By Milan Mohanty

March 5, 2019 11:54 p.m.

Students can now get around Westwood with electric bicycles.

Wheels electric bicycles allow users to access and ride the vehicles using a mobile application, similar to Lime and Bird electric scooters. The bikes come with a foam seat, 14-inch wheels, integrated Bluetooth speakers and swappable replacement parts, according to the Wheels website.

Wheels does not require users to have a valid driver’s license to operate its vehicles, unlike electric scooter companies, which are dictated by California law to require users to have valid licenses or learner’s permits.

UCPD Lt. Kevin Kilgore said the bikes are considered electric vehicles and must be used on the far right of the street in order to keep traffic flowing, similarly to electric scooters.

As of Jan. 1, Californians over the age of 18 are no longer required to wear helmets while riding electric scooters due to a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.

Kilgore said Wheels bikes cannot be used on Bruin Walk, dismount zones or wherever pedestrians walk on campus.

He added UCPD will manage the Wheels bikes and enforce traffic laws like they do with other electric vehicles.

“The rules of the road apply to everyone,” Kilgore said.

The design of the Wheels bikes makes them safer than other electric vehicles, according to the Wheels’ website.

However, Kilgore said he does not think Wheels bikes are necessarily a safer option than scooters.

“I don’t think that one (vehicle) is more dangerous than another,” Kilgore said. “It is going to be a concerted effort by people who are operating them to ensure rules, regulations and laws are followed to mitigate dangerous encounters.”

Wheels did not respond to request for comment.

Kilgore added he thinks students get into accidents with electric vehicles due to many reasons, but do so most often because of improper use.

“I think it’s a variety of things. Sometimes it’s the cause of other vehicles don’t see riders, operators who utilize bikes incorrectly, it could be a pedestrian who didn’t see an operator using bikes illegally and then stepped out right in front of it,” Kilgore said. “There’s a whole array of matters that could play into the reason for these accidents.”

Head injuries are the most common injuries that result from electric scooter accidents, comprising 40 percent of all injuries, according to a UCLA study. Following head injuries, fractures comprise 32 percent of injuries, and cuts, sprains or bruises comprise 28 percent.

Oliver Hou, a transportation engineering associate for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, said LADOT plans to manage the bikes with mobility data specification, a system in which mobility providers are required to share real-time data, such as the location of bikes, with LADOT.

Some students said they were curious to try the new electric bikes.

Jenny Chung, a first-year mathematics/economics student, sprained her ankle in a electric scooter accident in February. Chung said she is unlikely to ride an electric scooter again, but was open to the idea of using Wheels bikes.

“It seems safer – bikes in general are just safer and have more control than scooters in my experience,” Chung said.

Patrick Gardner, a fourth-year psychology student, said he uses Jump, Uber’s electric scooter, often and was interested in trying Wheels bikes as another option.

“It’s a weird, interesting market and I’d like to try all of them, especially the ones that seem more unique, to get a firsthand glimpse at new transportation technology,” Gardner said.

Gardner added he was not sure if the bikes were more safe, but was interested in trying them.

“I don’t know, I’d have to try them,” Gardner said. “I know they have Bluetooth speakers so they’ll be more lit.”

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Milan Mohanty
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