6 Ways to Correct Bike Share’s Social Equity Problem


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For years, bike share programs have shown sharp divisions along race and class lines.

Bike share stations are often located in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. Whiter, wealthier individuals are far more likely users than those of color.

That’s why cities are working to improve equity of bike share programs.

In fact, 60% of bike share systems had specific programs to address equity, according to the National Scan of Bike Share Equity Programs from the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC).

But these systems rarely set or tracked outcomes on equity.

Below are six ways to correct bike share’s social equity problem, based on examples from the TREC report to help bike share systems move toward equity and from Shared-Use Mobility Center’s list of efforts to improve equity of bike share programs.

1. Improve Equitable Geographic Coverage

“Decisions about where bike share bikes, stations and service areas should be placed, along with operational factors around balancing the bike fleet, are inherently decisions about who should have physical access to bike share,” according to the TREC report.

Siting Stations in Low-Income Communities in San Francisco (15.2% Latino). To improve coverage, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency requires that at least 20% of the docking stations in its bike share system be located in low-income communities.

Prioritizing Lower-Income Neighborhoods in Charleston, S.C. (3.0% Latino). In collaboration with local advocacy groups, the City of Charleston adds bike share stations to lower-income neighborhoods and prioritizes rebalancing at these stations.

Philadelphia bike share

Station Report Cards in Philadelphia (14.5% Latino). The bike share system created a Station Report Card to grade each station on ridership, equity, and financial sustainability metrics to determine where to locate new and relocate existing stations.

Service Area Representative of Diversity in New Orleans (5.5% Latino). The bike share’s service area is representative of the ethnic and economic diversity of the city, rather than the tourist and wealthy corridors, which would have been the easiest path to ridership and profitability.

Siting Stations near Community Services in Aspen-Basalt, Colo. (8.9% Latino). The bike share program places stations in or near lower-income neighborhoods, as well as near relevant community amenities and services for Latino populations, such as the English in Action Office.

But how do cities determine priority areas?

Researchers in Baltimore recommend using a population density base index to determine equity in supply of bike share infrastructure and to identify where bike share stations should be located to benefit the most people and those with the greatest need.

Like many cities across the country, Baltimore’s bike share is not balanced across the city.

Researchers developed a Bike Equity Index (BEI) by compiling population density of five indicators: elderly, youth, zero car households, minority, and poverty.

“Considering population density provides a better scenario for planning purposes, particularly because density around bike share stations is an important determinant of ridership,” according to the researchers.

They looked at supply of bike share stations and level of traffic stress (LTS), which measures comfort and connectivity of biking. LTS is determined based on lanes, speed limit, parking availability, presence of a centerline, intersections, and the type and width of bicycle lanes where they exist.

They found that areas with low need face an oversupply of bike share while areas of high need face an undersupply. They also found that 15% of Baltimore residents live in block groups with high need and low stress.

Bike share infrastructure prioritization schematic.
Infrastructure Prioritization Schematic. Black dots=existing bike share stations. White dots=future bike share stations. Orange=priority area for infrastructure or traffic calming. Green=bike share ready. Yellow=secondary priority area.

“Block groups with high need and low stress (shown in green) are prime for bike share investment,” according to researchers. “Conversely, block groups with high need and high stress require bike infrastructure (e.g., bike lanes) or traffic calming before implementing bike share (shown in orange).”

“Equity efforts that incorporate station siting attempt to place/expand bike share services to underserved neighborhoods; facilitate better connections with existing public transit options; increase access to other stations, bikes, and destinations; and ensure that station placement locations are attuned to community needs and concerns,” according to the TREC report.

2. Address Financial Concerns

“Even when someone has physical access to a bike share station or bike, other barriers, such as the actual and perceived cost of using the system, may need to be addressed,” according to the TREC report.

Moreover, 28% of Americans have little to no relationship with a bank, thus cities need to consider how to serve unbanked or underbanked populations.

$5 Annual Pass in Chicago (29.0% Latino). 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.

Month-to-Month Option in Philadelphia (14.5% Latino). The bike share system launched a month-to-month payment option to reduce the high entry cost associated with full-year commitments. Partnership enables consumers to sign up or make online purchases using cash at participating 7-Eleven or Family Dollar stores.

Tucson Bike ShareBundling Bike Share and Transit in Portland (9.7% Latino). Called the “Transportation Wallet,” Portland allows individuals to purchase memberships that include transit options and bike share and provides a discount over purchasing the two separately.

Zero Membership/Registration in Pittsburgh (3.1% Latino). The bike share system raised funds to pay for 500 annual memberships to be distributed through partner organizations, including a housing agency, food bank, and tax preparation assistance programs. They are developed low-cost fee structure that mirrors transit and doesn’t require an annual membership or registration cost.

Subsidized Membership in Birmingham, Ala. (3.7% Latino). The bike share system subsidizes annual membership for lower- and middle- income groups for $15, down from $75.

Discounted Membership in Cincinnati (3.7% Latino). The bike share system offers discounted memberships to lower-income individuals who a have a combined household income at or below 200% of the federal poverty limit.

“There’s no amount of engagement and providing bike share at whatever price that can overcome if people don’t feel safe riding their bikes to where they live,” said James Davies of Bublr Bikes.

3. Address Safety and Comfort Concerns

Safety is a major concern for low-income and minority communities, as well as for women and LGBTQ populations.

“Part of the problem is bike-share companies don’t see individuals,” said Charles Brown, a transportation expert at Rutgers University. “They haven’t done an ideal job in increasing the awareness of bike-share among minorities. Unfortunately, this results in many minorities wondering if the system is intended for them.”

Brown found that the biggest barriers to bicycling among black and Latino survey respondents include personal safety concerns and traffic safety fears.

Cities need to consider different traditions, languages, and cultures of minority groups in those areas.

Organized Rides in Charlotte (14.0% Latino). The bike share system launched Queen City Joyrides, a program that provided support, funding, and support for locally sponsored rides in areas and with communities that have not historically been represented in biking. They also played an organizing role for the local Open Streets 704 event, which aims to bring public input into reshaping street infrastructure and make it safer to have multimodal options on Charlotte streets.

Community Bike Rides in Tucson, Ariz. (43.2% Latino). In partnership with Living Streets Alliance, a non-profit promoting safe and vibrant streets, the bike share system organizes free community bike rides to a variety of locations throughout Tucson. Rides are on low-stress routes, noncompetitive, and no-drop.

Updating Bike Plan in Oakland, Calif. (26.9% Latino). When developing its new bike plan to bring the majority of residents within ¼ mile of a safe bike route, Oakland Department of Transportation prioritized listening to those who faced the “greatest vulnerabilities and disparities in the transportation system.” The agency teamed up with five local community groups to facilitate engagement with disadvantaged communities and currently serve as up-to-date sources of information on new programming opportunities and regulations for their residents.

Advocating for Safe Infrastructure in Milwaukee (18.8% Latino). Finding that residents’ top barrier is not feeling safe riding in their neighborhood, this bike share system shares survey results with the city, and directs and encourages residents to contact the appropriate policy and decision makers to request safe bicycle infrastructure.

While programs like bike safety education and group recreation rides on trails can ease safety concerns, protected bike lanes connecting to destinations and public transit are crucial, particularly in historically disadvantaged communities.

4. Address Barriers Related to Physical Limitations

Only 10 of 70 cities indicated that they had adaptive bikes in their systems, according to a national survey.

These include BIKETOWN in Portland, Bublr in Milwaukee, Blue Bikes in New Orleans, CoGo Bike Share in Columbus, Ohio, LimeBike Ithaca in Ithaca, N.Y., mBike in College Park, Md., MoGo in Detroit, PeaceHealthRides in Eugene, Ore., and Pedal Corvalis in Corvallis, Ore.

Adaptive bikes in MilwaukeeAdaptive Bikes in Detroit (7.6% Latino). In 2018, Detroit’s bike share system incorporated 16 different types of adaptive bikes – including recumbent bikes, hand tricycles, and tandem bikes – into its bike share fleet. They host demonstration days throughout the summer to allow prospective riders to try out the various types of bicycles.

Adaptive Bikes in Portland (9.7% Latino). Portland partnered with local bike shops to help make sure that the adaptive shared-use bikes and equipment are available, properly fitted and well maintained. It works like a subsidized rental program.

Adaptive Bikes in Chicago (29.0% Latino). In the City of Chicago’s 2019 agreement with the bike share system, they were required to continue operating a summer youth jobs program, extend the program allowing people to pay with cash at locations around the city, and continue to focus on hiring ex-offenders and veterans. Additionally, they are 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.”

5. Transit Integration

“Integrating bike share and public transportation systems aims to address equity issues through lowering barriers to system use through pricing structures, payment methods, easing bike to transit trips for transit captive populations, and facilitating greater connectivity,” according to the TREC report.

Bike Share Incorporated into Transit Fare Card in Los Angeles (48.6% Latino). Los Angeles incorporated bike share into their transit fare card system; however, funds stored for transit cannot be used for bike share and vice versa. Users qualified for the transit agencies reduced-fare program also qualify for the bike share’s reduced-fare program.  

Bike share near transit in DC
Bike share near transit in DC. Source: mariordo59 on Flickr

Free Bike Share With Transit Pass in Pittsburgh (3.7% Latino). 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 bike share system and are allotted 15 free minutes.

Bike Share Stations Overlap with Bus Routes in Milwaukee (18.8% Latino). Roughly 80% of bike share stations overlap with existing bus routes in Milwaukee. Through the program, buses announce when stops are connected to bike share stations; bikes are co-branded; users have an integrated access pass; and the transit app display stops with bike stations.

Transit and Bike Share Discount Program in Tucson, Ariz. (43.2% Latino). Those who qualify for the transit agency’s discount fare program are also pre-qualified for the bike share’s discount fare program. Low-income residents, seniors, Medicare card holders and people with disabilities can add a year-long membership to their transit fare for $5.

Among the 74% of systems with current equity efforts, 33% had programs with a primary focus on transit integration, according to the TREC report, and grant and foundation funding provided the primary funding for 40% of those programs.

6. Improve Marketing, Information, Education and Facilitation

“One barrier to accessing and using bike share is simply signing up to become a member, creating a rider account, and getting started using the system,” according to the TREC report.

Partnering with LISC in Chicago (29.0% Latino). Through the Chicago Department of Transportation, the bike share system worked with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) at five Financial Opportunity Centers to train LISC staff to accept applications and provide one-stop, in-person enrollments for community members who qualify.

Community Events in Cleveland (11.6% Latino). The bike share system staff attends open-street and other community events with iPads and system information to allow people to try the bike share bikes and enroll, focusing on traditionally underserved areas.

“Learn to Ride” Classes in San Francisco Bay Area (15.2% Latino). The bike share system partners with three bicycle coalitions in the Bay Area to sponsor quarterly “learn to ride” classes, targeting adults who either have not ridden a bike in a while, never learned to ride a bike, or have not developed the confidence, skills, and know-how for riding in an urban environment.

Ambassadors in Philadelphia (14.5% Latino). The bike share systems established local residents as ambassadors who work to organize classes and group rides near stations in underserved communities, bringing these educational opportunities to underserved populations who face the greatest barriers to accessing bike share. Ambassadors training program includes bilingual training. Ambassadors increase awareness, serve as resource, and lead community rides. The Ambassador toolkit is available here. The bike share system also organized a four-week class combining digital literacy curriculum with helping residents learn about how to use bike share.

How to use bike share in Spanish. Source Tucson Bike Share
How to use bike share in Spanish. Source Tucson Bike Share

Spanish-Language Program in Aspen-Basalt, Colo. (8.9% Latino): To increase ridership among Latinos, the bike share system provides and distributes marketing materials in Spanish and runs “Movimiento en Bici,” a Spanish-language program to help residents sign up for the system and learn (or relearn) how to ride a bike. Other education programs are done in spaces such as libraries because they provide a safe, comfortable and convenience place for the Latino community.

Prescribe-A-Bike Program and Outreach in Boston (19.7% Latino). The City of Boston, the Boston Medical Center, and the bike share system teamed up to create a prescribe-a-bike program to address health disparities, fight obesity, and increase the overall health of Bostonians. The program specifically targets Boston residents, age 16 or older, receiving public assistance or with a household income of no more than 400% of poverty level. To spread the word, they reached out to hundreds of community organizations, held events, produced flyers, and conducted group classes. The bike share system in Boston also offers in-person and call center assistance in Spanish as well as marketing materials in five languages in addition to English (Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Haitian-Creole).

Expansion Events in Indianapolis (10.2% Latino). Prior to Indianapolis’ 2019 summer expansion of its docked bike share 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.

Bike Prescriptions in New York City (29.1% Latino). In conjunction with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the bike share system launched a prescribe-a-bike program, allowing doctors at the Bishop Walker Health Center to prescribe bikes to patients, which includes a one-year membership and a helmet. To promote the program, Interfaith Medical Center and the DOHMH center in Bed-Stuy created a group of ambassadors to attend community events, host classes, facilitate bike safety classes, and conduct nine community rides.

Bike Champions in Atlanta (4.3% Latino). A coalition of organizations in Atlanta, including the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, and Relay Bike Share, teamed up to produce a manual for training bike share champions to engage community members around bicycling and bike share with a focus on creating authentic, responsive, and culturally competent outreach practices.

Youth Ambassadors in Detroit (7.6% Latino). During their six-week ambassadorship, Youth Ambassadors learn how to maintain bikes and stations, rebalance bikes in the system, and tackle administrative responsibilities. Additionally, the Youth Ambassadors assist with putting together projects and events that are aimed at engaging and introducing their peers with the bike share system, coordinate group rides with local organizations, and assist with gathering intercept surveys.

“When outsiders make decisions without community engagement, the battle for equity is well on its way to being lost,” said Ethan Goffman with Mobility Lab.

Find out if the bike share system near you is promoting equity.

Share these approaches with bike and health advocates and leaders to start or support bike share equity programs in your community.

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