Bikeshare Equity Framework

[Are you there, Blog? It's me, Darren. I know it's been awhile, because of a 100-year storm of personal, professional, and scholarly timesuck. But I know you wouldn't want to miss this post for anything!]

Increasing access to bikesharing for low-income communities, and groups disproportionally underrepresented in bicycling, is a bit of an obsession for me lately. And happily, others are interested too (unlike my previous side-project, a banjo-adaptation of “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”).

Some time ago, the Denver Post ran an article centered around the objection of Councilman Paul Lopez to the lack of stations accessible to his largely Latino constituency in SW Denver:

Lopez said the stations are needed in areas that are the least healthy in the city. His district has a high rate of obesity and diabetes, and he said residents should be given every type of encouragement to exercise.

“If it is truly about behavioral change, make it available where it is really needed or where it will have impact,” he said. “Is this truly, truly about the issues and behavioral change or is this just for looks?”

Soon after, the paper penned an editorial, that expressed the sad financial reality, that in the interest of remaining sustainable, Denver Bike Sharing had little choice but to site stations where they were projected to produce the most operating revenue, and that was regrettably not in Mr. Lopez’s district. I had the chance to speak with Parry Burnap, Denver Bike Sharing’s director, soon after, and we agreed that if there was a positive to be taken from the episode, it was that the need and desire for bikesharing expansion to neighborhoods where the total benefit would be highest had been publicly and evenhandedly highlighted.

Then, a few days ago, GridChicago had a great rundown of plans for the new Chicago bikesharing system to ensure that it is (gosh, I hate this headline though), “Bike share, not white share.” From the closing paragraph:

“My number-one priority is getting a membership that reflects the diversity of the city,” [CDOT deputy commissioner Scott] Kubly assures them. “Since we’re using public dollars, it’s important that the folks who are using the service reflect everybody in the community. It’s a challenge but we’re going to crack it.”

That’s where I hopefully can help out, with my forthcoming final grad school project on the topic. I blasted out a survey, asking both deployed and planned North American bikesharing entities to complete a short survey on how they are working to promote equitable access to their systems. I received responses from twenty systems (THANK YOU ALL OF YOU!!), and I’ll have the full report done in less than two weeks (hooray!). The responses validated what I will describe here – seven categories of stuff that bikesharing systems are doing, and can do, to promote equity. And yes, some are more important, or harder, or more expensive, than others.

Station Siting – This question asked bikesharing system managers if they were planning to ensure that some stations are located in areas primarily serving low-income communities. Examples might include conscious placement of stations adjacent to affordable housing, or prioritizing expansion to minority neighborhoods disproportionately underrepresented in bicycling.

Financial Assistance – This could be a partnership with a nonprofit agency providing bank accounts and debit/credit cards to low-income “unbanked” citizens, installment payment plans, subsidies for low/moderate income users, and relaxing security deposit requirements.

Safe Places to Ride – Bikesharing gets ridden more often near bike facilities, but socioeconomically-disadvantaged neighborhoods are significantly underfunded for these facilities. What is the bikesharing system doing to press the powers-that-be to bring bike facilities to those neighborhoods, to help ensure bikeshare gets ridden safely and more often?

Membership Media – Having a subsidized credit card to get a bikeshare membership is great. But most people already have a transit farecard. Perhaps a common payment card could not only lower a barrier, but could be one big step toward fuller integration of bikesharing with the public transportation system.

Community-Specific Marketing and Outreach – Or, efforts being made to introduce low-income and minority groups underrepresented in bicycling to bikesharing. By targeting marketing and outreach specifically to low-income communities, or by targeting marketing and outreach to the concerns and communications channels of minority communities underrepresented in bicycling, bikesharing systems might be able to activate latent demand for system use in these communities.

Overcoming Bicycling Barriers – The bikesharing system can make resources available that could help lower psychic barriers to bicycling and bikesharing use among low-income and minority groups underrepresented in bicycling. Examples include making helmets and basic bicycle instruction easily available.

Providing Economic Contribution to Communities – Bikesharing can provide some intrinsic economic benefits to all communities, such as reducing the personal costs of travel for users, and generating more trips overall that result in additional economic activity. However, this question asked bikesharing systems about ways in which the operations are directly contributing to the economic well-being of low-income communities. Examples might include recruiting employees from low-income communities, locating operations in places easily accessible to low-income neighborhoods, and partnering and subcontracting with community-oriented nonprofit agencies.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll have the full report, with details on what different systems are doing, discuss patterns of who’s doing what, etc etc. But in the meantime, what did I miss?

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10 Responses to Bikeshare Equity Framework

  1. Wilbur says:

    Unfortunately BikeShare in Arlington has largely been an overlay public transportation system for the most wealthy (both in terms of money and in terms of public transportation infrastructure). While I like BikeShare, I find it problematic to have a government sponsored transportation system that engages in what is known as redlining. To me, the low hanging fruit is simple: the next set of Arlington stations gets deployed along Columbia Pike.

    In Washington DC, contrast bikeshare deployment between NW and SW – the density of stations, even in the office building business districts, is disparate.

    • bikepedantic says:

      Final report will include full survey response from Arlington. The recently-released TDP does outline how/where they’ll be expanding (and i think includes a rationale for their initial round of siting as well), I’ll leave it to others to assess the extent that the next round of expansion will bring other communities in.

  2. bikesharephiladelphia says:

    Making the use of bike share as easy as possible, no matter the socio-economic level of the user, is the way to promote equitable access. First as mentioned, using existing transit fare cards with an affordable additional bike share charge plus identification linkage would add convenience without a burdensome change in the way personal finances are managed. An other way could be to link a bike share subscription to mobile communication payment. Mobile telephones are now the norm for all socio-economic levels. Either add the cost of the bike usage to the pay as you go option, as long as there is identification linkage, or add it as a regular monthly plan feature.

    The other part is to portray bike share usage as a glamorous activity through advertising. Make it “the way” to get around town. If Kate Middleton does it, there must be something to it! There is no better example than to look to Miami Beach, one of the more successful bike share systems. The promotion of the system tells it all.

    • bikepedantic says:

      mobile open-payment is definitely very promising, but nobody seems to be in a rush to be the first…

      DecoBike was one of my respondents, and they certainly are successful in absolute terms. But is general marketing (“portray bike share usage as a glamorous activity through advertising”) an achievable or effective means for bringing in the communities would benefit most from bikeshare? A question for future research to look at effectiveness of all this stuff. But there are certain considerations I have outlined that have to be considered as well, a primary one being siting. I cannot evoke Kate Middleton if there’s no stations where I live and work

  3. andreahamre says:

    An added consideration to the Station Siting factor. Consider not only where low-income, minorities, under-served households are living, but also where they are working. Brookings did an in-depth report, Missed Opportunity, assessing job access by transit and made important distinctions between transit access at home and transit access to jobs. This reasoning could be applied to bikesharing as well.

    “About one-quarter of jobs in low- and middle-skill industries are accessible via transit
    within 90 minutes for the typical metropolitan commuter, compared to one-third of jobs
    in high-skill industries. This reflects the higher concentration of high-skill jobs in cities, which
    are uniformly better served by transit. It also points to potentially large accessibility problems
    for workers in growing low-income suburban communities, who on average can access only
    about 22 percent of metropolitan jobs in low- and middle-skill industries for which they may
    be most qualified.”

    http://www.brookings.edu/about/programs/metro/jobs-and-transit

    • bikepedantic says:

      Yes! I included worksite siting as a prompting in my questionnaire. Rockville, MD was one of my responders, and through their grant funding from the now-defunct JARC program, that’s an explicit consideration in their siting plan. And that report is already in my lit review (I promise, Ralph)!

  4. Ericka C says:

    I think another reason it’s important is to increase economic opportunity in the most disadvantaged communities. I feel like I’m starting to sound like the “I-couldn’t-afford-a-car-woman,” but I think it bears repeating that some people can’t afford cars. (I seriously went to law school with people who felt that even the poorest American could afford every necessity.) Also, the apartments closest to metro stations are the most expensive. Improving biking opportunities could mean increased access to jobs and cheaper housing for the people who need it most.

    • bikepedantic says:

      Worlds colliding! Yes, please step into my realm, Ericka. bikesharing, bicycling in general, and active transportation even more in general, can potentially save people buckets of money, which is one of several huge reasons that people give the issue a lot of thought and attention. Here in DC, 48% of Ward 8 households don’t have access to a car, and are reliant on a chronically-underfunded bus system. And while ‘smart growth’ and ‘transit oriented development’ (putting more people in walking/biking range of mainline transit) try to assure affordability, it’s tough. I could go on for hours, and often do…

  5. Pingback: Encouraging Equitable Access to Public Bikesharing Systems | bikepedantic

  6. Pingback: Invisible Cyclist Rides Again | Invisible Cyclist

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