Photo by Eric Gilliland on Flickr.

Bike sharing represents a great opportunity to provide a low-cost transportation option for low-income and minority communities, which historically have low automobile ownership rates and high dependency on transit. However, access to bike share systems by these communities has been limited in the US because of the high one-time membership costs and requirements to have a credit card to check out a bike.

Boston and DC have implemented programs to which have helped to increase access to bikeshare. Officials from both jurisdictions shared these strategies at a webinar on social equity and accessibility for bike sharing programs, organized by the US Department of Transportation and National Center for Transit Research at the University of South Florida.

Darren Buck, from the Federal Transit Administration, also talked about on how the federal government is striving to identify ways to both increase funding for bike/ped issues as well as increase access to programs such bike sharing help bikeshare operators and municipal overseers identify sources of funding for their systems.

How Boston is promoting equity

Daisy De La Rosa, Project Director with the Boston Public Health Commission, explained that her commission was able to use a federal Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant (part of the Recovery’s act funding) to subsidize 600 memberships for low income/minority residents around the Roxbury area of Boston.

While the percentage of minority users of Hubway is still very low (3% Latino, 5% Asian, 1% African American) and there is still lots to be done to increase ridership, they have been doing lots of outreach work and bike education around the low income areas that Hubway serves.

Credit card accessibility was not much of an issue to Hubway users, said De La Rosa, contrary to what we keep hearing about in DC, but aggressive marketing and outreach is important. Further, through existing partnerships with local CBO’s, community leaders and word of mouth, they have been able to reach and sign up many new members qualifying for $5 yearly subsidized memberships.

Additionally, the Public Health Commission has met constantly with reps from Hubway to advocate for relocating a few stations closer to underserved minority and low income areas and closer to supermarkets, which could be a great solution to food deserts. Lastly, Ms. DelaRosa stressed on how important it is for bike sharing marketing campaigns to target their message differently for different communities and to continue to educate the public about the different transit options they have.

How Washington is promoting equity

Chris Eatough, BikeArlington Program Manager, talked about how the program continues to be at the forefront of innovative initiatives for reaching out to minority communities. And while minority/low income ridership remains low in this area, CaBi is reportedly doing a better job at reaching out to different communities.

For example, BikeArlington (CaBi’s implementing office in Arlington) has been meeting with members of the Latino community about Arlington’s Strategic plan and its call for phasing in Capital Bikeshare.

The Bank on DC program offers access to both a checking account and CaBi to people without bank accounts. CaBi’s new

payment installment program divides the yearly membership cost into 12 payments of $7 — just $9 higher than the $75 you would pay through a one-time payment.

Finally, while stations might not reach every single neighborhood in our area, and geographic equity might not be completely feasible due to the financial implications it may represent, CaBi continues to be the most geographically diverse system in the US, said Eatough: CaBi stations in the District have been placed in each of the 8 Wards giving access to many more people.

To summarize, there are a few things that programs can continue to do: emphasize educating the community at large about biking in general; use targeted marketing strategies that center around low-income and minority populations, and create market initiatives such as subsidies and amortized payments.

Finally, programs could even take away the security deposit requirements, just as Minneapolis’ Nice Ride just did, which would remove the extra hold CaBi places on an account, tying up funds. By creating targeted opportunities campaigns, programs can continue to enhance the brand and make bikeshare available to a broader spectrum of the community.

Mauricio Hernandez is a transportation planner at a consulting firm in Silver Spring and a recent graduate of the University of Maryland’s Community Planning program.