Tugo Bike Share: Imagining a Better City Through the Lens of Two Wheels

Exploring your city is just like riding a bike. Even if it’s been months or years since you’ve taken an intentional interest in Tucson, it only takes a bit of muscle memory reactivation to get back at it. Sure you have to tune up those deflated tires, find your U-lock hidden in the depths of the closet, stretch out those tight hammies…but as soon as you feel the wind in your hair it’s like you never took that long, unintended break of dating your city.

But what if this proverbial bike was a real bike with air already in the tires? Enter: Tugo Bike Share. Just like ride shares and home shares (think Uber and Airbnb), bike shares are the new way to explore or simply get around town.


We already have so much stuff, it’s piling up in our garages and our junk yards. So what if instead of buying a bike, we shared one with our neighbors across the city? We grew up hearing phrases like “sharing is caring” but in many ways were told that we should grow up to be self-sufficient and never need to share with anyone. But I think that having full treasure troves of stuff that we only use on occasion is a way of the past. Netflix series like Minimilasm and Tidying Up are hitting home with a generation that is disillusioned by the broken promises of our consumer society. Happiness studies have affirmed the Notorious words of the 90’s that the more money we come across the less satisfaction we see.

And it’s not just a personal problem. Our physical world needs rest from the endless production that has been exasperating its rich resources and polluting its fresh air. We have one planet Earth, yet if everyone consumed at the same rate as Americans- we would need 3 to 5 planets worth of resources to keep up (The Story of Stuff Project). But again, we only have one world. So a bike share doesn’t only help our city but is one important way that we can move towards more globally sustainable lifestyles.  


Energy is an all-important resource that we often hear about. There are finite energy sources and renewable ones like the sun and the wind. But there’s another source of renewable energy that we all possess, just waiting to be tapped. Free energy that is not only self-sustaining but actually increases as we use it. When we walk, bike and the like- we burn calories instead of fossil fuels. We simultaneously protect our air and counteract the effects of dozens of Estrella donuts. That’s what I call having our tres leches and eating it too.

Riding bikes offers intangible benefits as well. Exercising and enjoying sunshine is vital for mental health, especially if we work inside all day. It also gives us the gift of seeing. When we slow down and slough off the large metal barrier that our cars tend to be, we see our neighbors, new local businesses, a person in need. Seeing is the first step to engaging our city.


One local non-profit works hard to promote this type of engagement. Living Streets Alliance seeks to envision streets as “living public spaces that connect people to places and to each other.” A great example of their work is the now colorful and inviting intersection of 6th Avenue and 7th Street right outside of Exo Coffee. There is a Tugo station on one corner and public tables and chairs across the way. I sat at one of those tables as I spoke with Kylie Walzak, the lead program manager at Living Streets Alliance. Reflecting on our car-centric roads she proposed, “we’ve forgotten how to imagine what else streets can be for.” Kylie helped me see that when we accept the status quo we lose sight of a more beautiful vision for our city. This rich potential of a more connected city is an important reason that the City of Tucson decided to bring in the Tugo Bike Share.

I got to sit down with Nick Grzebienik and Yolanda Jordan, the GM and Marketing Lead for Tugo, to learn more about their hearts to love Tucson through their work. In Yolanda’s words, “Tugo is a whole new way to see Tucson.” And this is just as true for someone visiting for the first time as it is for a native. Visitors are able to experience what Tucson is all about- amazing neighborhoods punctuated with wonderful restaurants and businesses embedded in a beautiful sprawling desert landscape. All of those things are more fully appreciated on two wheels than four. And while we whole-hearted welcome our winter visitors and part-time residents- imagine if more of that seasonal traffic was re-routed to our bike lanes.


Bikes can do wonders not only to alleviate car traffic but also to protect against endless sprawl that is etching away at our desert landscape. Cities thrive when the urban core is accessible and engaging. Each one of the 330 Tugo bikes across Tucson is a bright yellow opportunity to navigate the city in a new and simpler way. And they take the notion of being accessible seriously. There is a $5 yearly membership available to Tucsonans who qualify for financial assistance which makes up nearly a fifth of their members. That is over 3 times the average for other cities with similar programs. This is a huge benefit for our neighbors who may have limited access to transportation.   

In the wake of an actual Tucson winter there’s no better time to get out and meet some neighbors, discover new places, or simply jump on Tugo to go to work. No bike pump needed!


Written by Teena Dare.

Teena lives in Tucson, Arizona and loves to capture the passions of others with words. Find more of Teena's work at www.shakingspirits.com.

Photography by Rycardo Bia and Yolanda Jordan.

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