Philadelphia focus group: Market bike share to ‘team chunk,’ not-hipsters

by: April Corbin, PeopleForBikes equity writer

Enough with the yuppies!

That’s one of the biggest takeaways from a series of focus groups comprised of low-income Philadelphians who were identified as potential bike share users.

While at least one participant in the focus group identified biking as an activity designed for everybody, most of the groups seemed to have a more narrow view of people who bike—young professionals in their 20s and 30s, college students, the environmentally conscious, active people in it for the exercise, and hipsters. The focus group determined that, to get other demographics to embrace this new form of transit, they would need to see advertising and marketing that included people like them.

“Team Chunk—plus sized. Cruisin’, weave blowing. But seriously, to see a plus size—that would be motivation. I could do it,” responded one black female when the subject of marketing and advertising came up.

Another black female said she’d like to see families and little black girls on bikes. Not because she has a family of her own yet, but because she aspires to have that some day.

That people want ethnic, gender and economic diversity displayed in marketing efforts isn’t surprising, of course, says Carniesha Kwashie, the Better Bike Share Partnership grant manager at the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities for the City of Philadelphia, which partnered with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and Temple University to hold the focus group. Still, it was important to see that the focus groups agreed with the organizers that bike sharing could be something that appeals to their demographics.

With the right type of marketing, the focus group suggested, the benefits of bike sharing become obvious.

The focus groups identified several of them. Many saw it as a supplement to SEPTA, the existing public transit system. They envisioned using bike share to avoid congestion or delays on their current preferred method of transit. They—primarily women—also saw the health and recreational benefits.

When it came to reservations they had about using bike share, everything raised by the low-income focus group has been heard before: safety of the bike from theft or damage, safety of the rider from drivers or robbers, bad weather, and the convenience of stations. In short, the concerns are nothing insurmountable.

“We’re really happy that people are excited about it, and they are open to trying bike share,” says Kwashie. “Their feedback is helping shape the design of the program.”

Pricing for Philadelphia’s system hasn’t been finalized yet, but Kwashie says officials know it won’t exceed $20 per month for a monthly pass. Why? Because the focus groups stressed the importance of bike share prices being comparable to SEPTA.

Similarly, how people pay was also important to the focus group.

“They want to be able to pay for bike share where they already pay for services like SEPTA,” explains Kwashie. “Also, paying in cash, debit or online. It’s really important to us to launch with the ability to pay in ways that make sense to our target population.”

Philadelphia is still finalizing its approach, but Kwashie adds that it will be in line with the needs and desires identified in these early conversations with residents.

This emphasis on low-income residents within the bike share market is setting Philadelphia apart. The city hopes to launch the nation’s most equitable bike share system this spring. Bike share systems have typically done a less-than stellar job of appealing to (and being accessibly by) underserved communities. If nothing else, the Philadelphia focus group serves as a reminder that the potential is there.

“It has reinforced a bunch of hunches we’ve had,” says Kwashie of the focus groups. “It supports the direction we’re going in.”

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