If you qualify for need-based services in the District, you can now get a year-long Capital Bikeshare membership for $5 rather than the regular $85 fee. DC’s Department of Transportation hopes the initiative will encourage more people to use bikeshare and make transportation more accessible for the District’s less affluent residents.
DDOT director Leif Dormsjo announcing the new Capital Bikeshare Community Partners Program. Photo by James Huang.
The new Capital Bikeshare Community Partners Program offers qualifying residents significant savings off the regular annual membership fee, as well as a free helmet and introduction to the system.
In addition to the savings, members in the program will also be able to use a bike for 60 minutes instead of the normal 30 minutes before incurring additional ride fees.
“It is critical that those with the most need are able to travel quickly and economically to and from their appointments, jobs, training and classes,” said Leif Dormsjo, director of DDOT, in a statement. “By including need-based Capital Bikeshare annual memberships, we are ensuring that all District residents can use this healthy, affordable and efficient means of travel.”
The program works through local non-profit and social service organizations, including Back on My Feet, Community of Hope, the DC Center for the LGBT Community, Unity Healthcare and the Whitman Walker Clinic. Clients who qualify for those organizations’ services can qualify for the Community Partners Program.
The program is available now to DC residents, and CaBi hopes to expand it to Alexandria, Arlington County, and Montgomery County in the future.
Removing barriers could mean more riders
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) found that paying for an annual membership can be a barrier for lower-income people to using bikeshare systems, in a 2015 report.
The low upfront cost — $5 is less than the cost of three Metrobus trips — will hopefully remove this barrier for low-income residents in DC.
In addition, CaBi’s estimates that members saved an average of $710 each in transportation expenses annually in 2014, in its most recent member survey.
NACTO also found that extensive outreach is important to the success of low-income bikeshare membership programs. In 2014, about 18% of the 12,673 members of Boston’s Hubway bikeshare system joined through the city’s $5 low-income membership program — the highest in the USA — after heavy marketing, according to the report.
A big question for the new program is whether it will expand CaBi’s reach to a more diverse group of users. Bikeshare use has grown regularly in recent years, with monthly trips surpassing 360,000 for the first time in 2015, its data shows.
CaBi trips peaked at around 330,000 a month in 2014 and 300,000 in 2013, according to the data.
However, users are “on average, considerably younger, more likely to be male, Caucasian, and slightly less affluent” than commuters in the Washington DC region based on US census data, CaBi’s 2014 member survey found.
The new community partners memberships should help shift these demographics. However, more will be need to be done, including marketing the program to those who can benefit from it and expanding CaBi’s presence in low-income neighborhoods - there are only 20 docks east of the Anacostia River - to ensure its success.