California’s carbon cap could create permanent funding for bike share equity

by Michael Andersen

For all the concern about bike sharing’s equity challenges, its most fundamental problem is simple: money.

In a capitalism, no resource — bicycles or blue jeans or anything else — gets shared automatically. If the public wants everyone to have equal access to something, it has to spend money to make that happen. But most U.S. bike sharing systems are almost completely unsupported by taxpayers, so it’s been hard to find money for bike share equity programs.

In California at least, that could be about to change, thanks to the statewide system designed to make it more expensive to emit climate-changing pollution.

The cap-and-trade program run by California’s Air Resources Board has raised about $1 billion per year for utility rate cuts, clean transportation, affordable housing and water conservation. Last month the ARB enlarged one of its sub-programs, “car share and mobility options,” from $2.5 million to $8 million and expanded it to include bike sharing.

That was a victory for biking advocates, according to a Next City report from late July:

“For about a year now we’ve been advocating for bikes to be included in ARB’s clean vehicle subsidy and incentive bucket,” says Jeanie Ward-Waller, California Bicycle Coalition’s policy director. “We’re glad to see bike-share pop up in the funding plan.”

Ward-Waller says she expects the funds will be used to expand existing bike-share systems into low-income communities, help subsidize low-income memberships or even get a new system off the ground. …

There’s no guarantee any bike-share proposal will get funding, but Ward-Waller says CalBike is “recruiting cities and partner organizations to apply so we can get more bikes out on the street and really prove concept.”

It’s great news that this new bike-sharing support would likely prioritize marginalized Californians. And it makes perfect sense — equity is the aspect of bike sharing that actually needs public subsidy. Its other aspects seem to already be working with private money, more or less.

California’s cap-and-trade program, which launched in 2012, faces an uncertain future of its own. But if it survives as Gov. Jerry Brown has pledged it will, this looks like good news for California cities who want bike sharing to be open to  everybody.

Top image: a San Jose State University student at the Bay Area Bike Share launch. Photo: Richard Masoner.

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