Building Equitable Bikeshare Takes More Than Location

A recent article in Slate (published December 18th) touts dockless bikeshare as an equity-solution based on the free-floating nature of the technology. Dockless technology does have the potential to expand bikesharing to new areas, and bikeshare’s membership-based industry organization, the North American Bikeshare Association (NABSA), is excited by this promise. However, NABSA and its members know that building bikeshare equitably takes a lot more than dropping bikes off in an underserved neighborhood. We know this, because our member bikeshare systems have been working on equity for the past six years.

Equitable bikeshare isn’t just about having or not having stations. It’s much bigger than that; it’s about community engagement, operations, rebalancing, pricing, payment options, customer service, and prioritizing access for all. If there is one thing bikeshare systems in North America have learned over their years of working on making bikeshare equitable, it’s that it doesn’t happen all by itself.

An equitable bikeshare system is one where bikes are consistently and reliably available– and in working order– in underserved areas, where technology is not a barrier to access,  where language and messaging is not a barrier, where costs are transparent and accessible, and where people know that bikeshare is for them, and is useful to them.

That’s why an entire initiative exists– The Better Bike Share Partnership– to support these efforts across the US. The Better Bike Share Partnership is a national initiative that has partnered with many NABSA members to develop and implement the programs that put equity into action. “Since 2014, The Better Bike Share Partnership has been about creating and supporting programs where people of all races and all incomes can say, ‘Bikeshare is for me. Bikeshare is for my community.’” said Waffiyyah Murray, Better Bike Share Partnership Program Manager.  “The goal is to understand barriers to using bikeshare, breaking them down, and sustaining it.  Location is one barrier, price is a barrier, but it’s more complex than that.”

Better Bike Share work has included ambassador programs, subsidized and free memberships, cash-based payments, and more. To put equity into action, systems need to have a community engagement plan, an operations plan that includes consistent service to low income neighborhoods, customer service in a variety of languages, partnerships with other transit and housing authorities, classes and outreach, diverse hiring and so much more.

Even at an unsubsidized rate, station-based bikeshare systems tend to already be low cost. For example, Charlotte BCycle’s annual membership rate is $65/year. If you use bikeshare daily, you’re only paying $.20/day.

The North American Bikeshare Association as well has been committed to equity since its inception in 2014. NABSA members are leading the way, and every year the NABSA Annual Conference showcases bikeshare equity best practices– the first integrated cash payment system with Indego in Philadelphia, subsidized memberships at Hubway in Boston and Charlotte BCycle, the Divvy for Everyone program in Chicago, partnerships with homeless services at Capital Bikeshare in DC, community partnerships in NYC, along with many others. NABSA members are dedicated to equity.

Samantha Herr, Executive Director of the North American Bikeshare Association says, “NABSA stands by its Code of Conduct and Values—including Safety, Community First, Cooperation, Customer Focus, Transparency and Equity.  We are glad that the newest entrants into the bikesharing field in the US and Canada bring this same intentionality to their work.  Over the past three years NABSA has actively participated and supported efforts to bring the benefits of bikeshare to a more diverse audience. We are pleased to be partnering with the Better Bike Share Partnership for our annual conference in Portland OR.”

For 2018, NABSA is partnering with Better Bike Share Partnership to maximize our impact at the joint NABSA and BBSP conference in Portland OR this September. This conference will highlight the strong work that bikeshare operators across the country are already doing to break down racial and economic barriers to use bikeshare. We look forward to learning what opportunities dockless bikeshare can provide to our communities, and what plans dockless providers have to incorporate community engagement, encouragement, and advocacy in their programs

“There is still a lot of work to be done to make bikeshare more equitable, but in the past three years, we believe that the bar has been set, and we plan to hold dockless providers to the same standard we hold ourselves. We look forward to sharing and learning more in Portland, this September,” said Murray.