Bike share isn’t equitable. Let’s change that.

by: April Corbin, PeopleForBikes equity writer

In North America, 2013 was the year of bike sharing. Now, we are working to make 2015 the year of equitable bike share.

The benefits of a bike share program are numerous. It can inexpensively bridge the “last mile gap” between a commuter’s primary public transit and their final destination. It provides visitors an exciting new way to explore a city. It gets people who might not otherwise ride onto bicycles. It encourages physical activity. It is environmentally friendly.

Yet one problem has plagued bike share systems: Report after report has shown that the demographics of users do not reflect the cities overall. Members are disproportionately white and affluent.

The PeopleForBikes Foundation has joined forces with the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) to help change that. We are calling it the Better Bike Share Partnership, and it’s a grant-funded collaboration whose mission is to increase access to and use of bike share in underserved communities.

We think the timing is right.

“In the past 10 years bike share has gone from a kooky idea to a new reality to an essential part of the transportation network in many cities,” says Kate Fillin-Yeh, the bike share program director at NACTO. “As cities look to balance their transportation priorities and budgets, there has been an increasing demand for information on how to get the most out of bike share systems and how to make bike share benefit the most people.”

The focus in Philly

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and City of Philadelphia partnered with PowerCorpsPHL, a local workforce development program, to clean up a local park and share info on bike share on MLK day.

The City of Philadelphia hasn’t yet joined the bike share boom of the past five years. It plans to this spring, with what officials hope will be the country’s most socially equitable bike share system.

More than half of all Philadelphians living below the poverty line live in the service area city officials have mapped out for bike share. It is these residents who could most benefit from a new affordable transportation option that connects them to jobs, healthcare, amenities and services. “We have an obligation to create a system that works for those citizens,” says Andrew Stober, the chief of staff in the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities.

The Philadelphia bike share system is scheduled to launch in April 2015. The grant will fund 20 stations in underserved communities there. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is working in those communities to engage its residents, with a special focus on getting youth and their families involved in promoting bike share.

“To me what is most exciting is that we are going to be a living laboratory for figuring out how to do things better,” says Stober. “We’ll experiment, and we’ll be able to learn from those.”

Beyond Philadelphia

The City of Brotherly Love isn’t the only place where people are making efforts to expand to underserved communities. That’s why the Better Bike Share Partnership is equally focused on supporting, documenting and analyzing the similar equity efforts across the country—and maybe even the world.

NACTO will be collecting and disseminating best practices on bike share, including equity strategies. PeopleForBikes’ role is to administer $900,000 in grant funding over three years to bike share operators, cities and local nonprofits across the country to develop and implement strategies that increase bike share in their own underserved communities. Academic research will also be funded by the partnership.

PeopleForBikes is also managing a storytelling effort to better communicate the approaches, achievements and challenges of the grantees in real time. We will share those on the blog you are currently reading, as well as through photos, videos and social media. “We in the bike movement sometimes struggle with sharing our successes, our failures and what we learned from them,” says Alex Doty, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. “There are just so many independent groups doing things. There aren’t enough places where it all comes together.”

The Better Bike Share Partnership will begin to change that, because bike share can (and should) be for everyone.

The Better Bike Share Partnership is a JPB Foundation-funded collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the PeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Story tip? Write april@peopleforbikes.org