For both transit agencies implementing bikeshares and operators managing the systems, the goal of such a system is to establish an affordable, financially-sustainable bikeshare system that increases mobility and equitably serves the community. Unfortunately, due to a number of geographic, cultural and physical factors, many bikeshare systems do not equitably serve different populations.
For example, just how great is the disparity in bikeshare usage between socioeconomic groups and races? Much of that depends on the market in question, but some of the biggest bikeshare systems in the country faced significant criticism for not sufficiently serving populations that stood to benefit the most from the new mobility option. For example, in Chicago, only 2% of the city’s bikeshare system’s memberships were held by black residents in 2017, despite the fact that African Americans comprise 30% of the city’s overall population (Greenfield, 2018). And Chicago is not alone: Washington D.C. is approximately 50% black, but in 2015, only 3% of Capital Bikeshare memberships were held by black residents (Schneider, 2017).
Some of this discrepancy has to do with bike placement. For example, a 2016 study of the seven biggest bikeshare systems in the country found that in most markets, people making over $100,000 annually were more likely to live within 0.3 miles of a bikeshare station than people making less than $20,000 – as were people with a college degree when compared to those without one (Jaffe, 2016). However, even the discrepancy in geographic access to bikeshare does not completely explain the relative lack of use among minority and disadvantaged communities.
A great deal of research has been conducted to determine what specific barriers are preventing bikeshare use in these communities. A 2016 study from Rutgers University determined that fear of traffic collision, robbery and poor road conditions were the biggest concerns for black and Hispanic respondents (Brown et al, 2016); however, others suggest that it is the lack of information on discount programs, safety, and concern regarding liabilities and hidden fees that are of greatest concern for residents of low-income, minority neighborhoods (Huth & Salem, 2018). Another study found that low-income residents and people of color were less likely to have exposure to bikeshare though their family and friend networks, or through their person experiences; however, their biggest hurdle to using bikeshare was that the bikes were simply located too far away (McNeil et al, 2017a).
Separately, for people with physical disabilities, bikeshare systems could serve as a much-needed mobility mode to complement paratransit service; however, in most cities, adaptive bikes that meet the needs of people with disabilities have yet to be included on a large scale.
However, many city agencies and community organizations are exploring ways to address these barriers in order to ensure that local bikeshare systems are as equitable as possible. Below are some of the ways different cities are working to address different obstacles. Another excellent resource from the National Association of City Transportation Officials and Better Bikeshare Partnership is the Strategies for Engaging Community report, released in 2018.
Efforts to Address Barriers related to Geographic Coverage:
San Francisco, CA: 20% of bike docks required to be in low-income communities | To improve coverage, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency requires that at least 20% of the docking stations in its bikeshare system – Bay Wheels, operated by Motivate – be located in low-income communities (SFMTA). This course of action places the burden on the operator to ensure that any future expansions are not confined exclusively to wealthy areas already blessed with abundant mobility options.
New York City, NY: 2019 dockless bike pilot in select Burroughs | New York City established a pilot program in the summer of 2018 allowing several dockless providers to operate in select New York boroughs. This pilot program provides bikeshare access to several communities that previously did not have access, but it did not require the heavy up-front capital investment needed to bring the more expensive docked system to those areas.
Chicago, IL: Requires 25% of e-scooter fleets be redistributed nightly to priority areas during pilot | During its four-month pilot project permitting 10 different scooter companies to operate on the city’s west side, Chicago requires that at least 25% of all scooter fleets be re-distributed to two “priority” areas within the operating zone, as those areas were deemed to have the highest need for mobility options.
Efforts to Address Barriers related to Safety and Comfort Concerns:
Basalt, CO: Free Spanish-language bike classes | WE-cycle, the bikeshare system in Basalt, Colorado, runs “Movimiento en Bici”, a Spanish-language program intended to increase ridership among Latinix residents. The program helps residents sign up for the system, and overcome language barriers related to use; recently, it has also begun offering classes for adults who want to learn (or relearn) to ride.
New York City, NY: Citi Bikes collaboration with Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation for initiative to increase bikesharing use, knowledge | In an effort to increase ridership in Bedford Stuyvesant – a predominantly black community in New York City – Citi Bikes and NYCDOT partnered with the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in 2015. Together, they developed ads featuring Stuyvesant residents who used Citi Bike, and they placed the ads in subway stations, on local buses, and in select newspapers. As a result, bikeshare trips increased by 70% in Bedford Stuyvesant in July 2016 as compared to July 2015, and membership increased 56% from March 2015 to December 2016 (Meyer, 2017). Highlighting locals who use bikeshare – as well as their reason for signing up and explanation of how they utilize the system – can help others view the system as more approachable. The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation is also working with other partners to reach out to SNAP participants and public housing residents to increase awareness of bike programming.
Oakland, CA: SPUR equity bike plan development process | In Oakland – as in much of the country – many residents resent bikeshare programs as harbingers of gentrification, or perhaps as band-aids placed over the bullet wounds of pot-holed and neglected streets. As a result, when developing its new bike plan to bring the majority of residents within ¼ mile of a safe bike route, Oakland DOT chose to first prioritize listening to those who faced the “greatest vulnerabilities and disparities in the transportation system” currently (City of Oakland, 2019). The agency teamed up with 5 local community groups to help facilitate engagement with the disadvantaged communities in East and West Oakland, and they held 60 community events to gain feedback and comments on their plan. This type of community engagement not only helps to ensure that underprivileged neighborhoods receive the type of mobility service that best suits their needs, but it also helps to increase community trust in and awareness of the bikeshare programs themselves. These 5 community groups are now well-positioned to serve as up-to-date sources of information on new programing opportunities and regulations for their residents.
Indianapolis, IN: community engagement events held in targeted communities prior to expansion | Prior to Indianapolis’ 2019 summer expansion of its docked bikeshare system, the city chose to host several community engagement events to inform residents about the expanding services. For example, in neighborhoods that were in the expansion areas, events included food, free helmets, childcare, learn-to-ride classes, and group rides. The goal was to increase awareness before the docks showed up. Importantly, these events were held in community areas, rather than in green spaces, to better acclimate new riders to biking on streets with cars.
Philadelphia, PA: Indego Ambassadors program to increase awareness, serve as resource| Philadelphia’s Indego bikeshare system has an ambassador program that manage to create community engagement events and spearhead awareness initiatives. Ambassadors are local residents, and they serve as a trusted resource in their communities. They are also tasked with informing Indego staff when events in their neighborhood are coming up that might benefit from Indego presence, and leading community rides. The Indego Ambassador toolkit is available here. Sometimes Ambassadors are also asked to do a “social media” takeover for the bikeshare system as a whole, making the system feel more personalized and familiar for residents.
Efforts to Address Barriers related to Financial Concerns:
Chicago, IL: Offers $5 annual passes for low income residents | Chicago now offers a $5 annual passes for low income residents, as well as those receiving SNAP, WIC, or public house assistance. The enrollment costs are tiered annually, with the fourth year membership costing $79. Importantly, docking stations in disadvantaged neighborhoods display information on these membership opportunities. Furthermore, Chicago’s “Divvy for Everyone” program also allows people to sign up in person and pay with cash at locations around the city.
Philadelphia, PA: Indego partnership with PayNearMe that enables consumers to make online purchases using cash at select retail chains | With this partnership, bikeshare riders in Philadelphia can sign up for cash memberships online. They then receive a barcode that they can either print out or load onto their mobile phone, and a cashier at a participating 7-Eleven or Family Dollar scans the barcode and accepts the cash payment.
New York City, NY: Free helmet distribution events | In conjunction with Vision Zero, NYCDOT has held events where they distribute helmets for free to attendees of all ages. For both those who (mistakenly) believe that a helmet is required to use bikeshare, and for those who cannot easily purchase one, free helmet distribution events can help address those concerns. They can also serve as opportunities to answer other bikeshare related questions, and to promote awareness of programs designed to support ridership among disadvantaged populations.
Portland, OR: Bundled membership offered to multiple transit options, including bikes | Called the “Transportation Wallet”, Portland allows individuals to purchase memberships that include transit options and bikeshare, and provides a discount over purchasing the two separately.
Pittsburg, PA: Permits 15 minutes of free bikeshare use after use of the public transit system | In Pittsburg, after riders use their fare card for a ride on public transit, they can then use that same fare card to retrieve a bike from the Healthy Ride bikeshare system. They are then allotted 15 minutes of free bikeshare use. This action is designed to allow public transit riders to use bikeshare for first-last mile travel, ensuring that both public transit and bikeshare complement one another.
Source: MoGo, Detroit
Examples of Effort to Address Barriers related to Physical Limitations:
Detroit, MI: Adaptive MoGo program | In 2018, Detroit’s MOGO bikeshare system incorporated 16 different types of adaptive bikes – including recumbent bikes, hand tricycles, and tandem bikes – into its bikeshare fleet. In conjunction with Programs to Educate All Cyclists (PEAC), MoGo hosts demonstration days throughout the summer to allow prospective riders to try out the various types of bicycles available for use. Bikes can be reserved through the online MoGo platform.
Portland, OR: Adaptive BIKETOWN program | Unlike Detroit where adaptive bikes are incorporated into the larger bikeshare fleet, Portland chose to partner with local bike shops for its adaptive bike program. Bike shops help make sure that the shared-use bikes and equipment are available, properly fitted and well maintained.
Oakland, CA: Adaptive bikeshare pilot | Oakland, CA launched California’s first adaptive bikeshare program with a six-month pilot from May to November of 2019. Its partner for the pilot is the Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Program (BORP), which is a 501(c)3 that supports people with disabilities through sports and recreation programs. Bikes are available from a single location in Oakland.
Washington D.C.: Released request for input for adaptive bikeshare program | In winter of 2018, Washington D.C.’s District DOT released a request for input to the community regarding an adaptive bikeshare program. Although the deadline for entry ended in March 2019, the survey is still available.
Chicago, IL: Requires implementation of adaptive bikeshare in 2019 agreement with operator | In the City of Chicago’s 2019 agreement with Motivate to continue operating the local bikeshare system, Motivate was required to continue operating a summer youth jobs program, extend the “Divvy for Everyone” program, and continue to focus on hiring ex-offenders and veterans. Plus, Motivate is now required to “develop a pilot adaptive bike sharing or rental program, based on reasonable feedback from surveys and focus groups with representatives of the disability community and affected partners, within six (6) to twelve (12) months after the Effective Date. Such program may (i) be a stand-alone program staffed by personnel that will facilitate rental of adaptive bicycles (i.e., non-self-service), (ii) use the Divvy Marks, and (iii) operate in coordination with third parties, such as bike stores or the Chicago Park District.”
For all of the avenues for addressing barriers to bikeshare usage shared above, none are effective without the corresponding community engagement and awareness efforts. Programs and policies are only beneficial if they are used: for example, according to the Washington Post, a 2014 program intended to cover the bikeshare membership costs for 200 qualifying low-income residents in Washington D.C. had only distributed 20 free memberships in its first nine months. Unless the targeted communities have reliable sources from which to find out about low-cost memberships and free helmet programs, or about bike laws and liability risks, or about adaptive bike availabilities, then system usage will remain unequitable.