Equity and bikeshare: My notes from NABSA

I spent last week at the North American Bikeshare Association (NABSA) conference in Montreal, Canada to present some of the findings from our research on equity and bikesharing. On the first day, each member gave a one-minute blurb, sharing highlights of their past year. Several of the systems shared their efforts related to equity. I have not been to NABSA’s conference before, but I assume this is an increase over past years. Also of note is that NABSA now has an equity statement in their Code of Conduct.

Here’s a rundown of what I heard. This is not a comprehensive list of everything these (and other) systems are doing – just what they mentioned in their one-minute that I got down in my notes. (If I got something wrong, please let me know!)

Fort Worth, TX has a 6-month First Mile pilot program that “will provide low-income and transit-dependent members of the Fort Worth community with training and memberships for the Fort Worth Bike Sharing system at low or no cost.”

Chicago’s Divvy for Everyone program (one of that programs we researched) will be launching a new and fun marketing campaign created by local college students.

Hamilton, Ontario claimed to have the first bikeshare equity program in Canada (Everyone Rides Initiative), which launched last month. They will have 15 stations in lower-income neighborhoods and 250 subsidized passes. Recent news story here.

Washington DC’s Capital Bikeshare offers a single-trip fare for $2, in addition to their $5 membership for lower-income residents. (My notes say 30% increase, but I don’t know of what.)

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) is just launching bikeshare with a “preview” phase for California’s capitol region. Their plans are to locate stations first in equity communities.

Bikeshare Hawaii just launched Biki in Honolulu and offers a $20 pass for 300 minutes that should provide more flexibility than an annual membership.

Indianapolis has an EveryBody Rides program that is now working on is encouraging veterans to use bikeshare through reduced-price memberships.

Phildelphia’s Indego system is well known for including equity as a core objective in its operations from the beginning, including station placement and cash payment options. The system’s 2nd Birthday Snapshot highlights some of their success. The portion of monthly pass holders who are Black has increased from 8% to 19% between 2015 and 2016. Overall, people of color make up 45% of the monthly pass holds in 2016, compared to 33% in 2015. Indego was also one of the cities we included in our research.

Portland’s Biketown system now has adaptive bikes, and the Biketown for All program has discounted memberships for lower-income residents. People with an Oregon Trail Card can now sign up on-line. There is also a cash payment option.

Detroit’s MoGo system has a $5 annual pass and a cash payment option. The Access Pass represents about 16% of all non-daily passes (I hope my notes are correct on that).

Derrick Ko, the founder of Spin, one of the new dockless bikeshare start-up companies, also noted the young company’s commitment to equity, first with their $1 per 30-minute ride fare. (Though Heath Maddox from San Francisco later questioned whether $1 fares are a good deal if you ride a few times a day.) Perhaps more notable is a new program the company is testing in Seattle to allow people to use the system without a credit card or smart phone. They plan to roll out the system elsewhere. (Note that the story indicates LimeBike is doing the same.) Our research in Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York found that only 66% of the lower-income people of color living near bikeshare stations had a smart phone, 43% had a credit card, and 70% had a debit card – all rates much lower than higher-income residents regardless of race/ethnicity.

Speaking of dockless bikeshare, which has been in the news a lot recently (here, here, here), at least four of the new start-ups were at the conference: ofo, Spin, LimeBike, and MoBike, and the tension between these new systems and existing providers was evident. A panel on the future of bikeshare featured 12 vendors, including these four. These providers faced questions about how they would ensure ADA compliance and not have bikes blocking sidewalks and other thoroughfares, and statements questioning the quality of the bikes. The provider of Montreal’s bikes (PBSC) was proud that their bikes have been on the streets of Montreal for nine years, evidence of their durability. In response, the head of Social Bicycles (Ryan Rzepecki) questioned whether anyone would brag about having a nine-year-old phone in their pocket. While it was a great one-liner, and the potential for advanced technology in bikeshare is great, I think most would agree that we don’t want to be replacing bikes as often as some people replace their iPhone. I should note here that the company’s handout with the provocative headline “Bike Share is Dead. Long Live Bike Share” recommends that cities that are permitting new bikeshare systems offer alternative registration and payment options beyond smart phones and credit cards. Another questions the start-ups got was about their funding. Who was pouring all this private money into bikeshare. Was it “clean” money? Some of the company reps responded with names of the venture capital firms providing. If you are really curious about this, you can look them up on crunchbase.com, including Spin, and LimeBike, which have far less than ofo‘s $1.29 billion.

Finally, on our webinar about our research, someone asked a question about how our findings might apply to dockless systems. My initial thought was that some of the barriers we uncovered, particularly a lack of information, might be worse with a dockless system. We found that the bikeshare station itself was a major source of information for many residents in lower-income neighborhoods. And, since many lower-income people of color do not have a smart phone or reliable internet access, or friends and family that use bikeshare, it is hard understand how they would easily figure out how to use the bikes without a concerted outreach effort. On the other hand, the possibility of having more bikes in more locations, and at a low-price (at least for the occasional rider), could address some other barriers we found. If the systems can offer an option that doesn’t require a smart phone or credit card, that will help a lot. I’m curious what others think.

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