Beyond Equity — A Strategy for Developing Critical Leadership in Transportation

Continued: How These Emergency Response Grantees Served Essential Workers

by Farrah Daniel, Better Bike Share Partnership Writer


Courtesy of Reddy Bikeshare

The grant was able to support the work of bike share systems in these 13 cities: Boston, MA; Buffalo, NY; Colorado Springs, CO; Des Moines, IA; Detroit, MI; Fort Worth, TX; Houston, TX; Kailua-Kona, HI; Memphis, TN; Omaha, NE; Portland, OR; Pittsburgh, PA; and Santa Monica, CA. 

At the height of this virus, many bike share systems were forced to shut down, leaving residents without a safe way to commute. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case for every system, including the ones PFB and BBSP were able to support — here are the stories of what did they did to serve their community throughout an unprecedented pandemic. First up: Healthcare and essential workers.

How They Served Healthcare & Essential Workers

Of our 13 grantee recipients, five of them created initiatives to support healthcare and essential workers. In our last article, we covered 3 of them — today, we’re covering the last two:

Boston

Courtesy of Bluebikes

The team at Bluebikes bike share contributed to COVID-19 relief work by launching a  free monthly membership program for healthcare-worker workers. The pilot program was offered through an employer code that hospital leadership distributed to any metro Boston hospital worker, from the cleaners to nurses to doctors and more. 

Here’s why transportation planner Kim Foltz says they chose to support their community with the Bluebikes Essential Worker Monthly Membership Program:

“Bluebikes is an essential part of the transportation network in Greater Boston. As many people are continuing to work to keep our communities strong and healthy, we want to ensure that they have an affordable, reliable way to get to and from work. Bike share is [an] especially appropriate transportation option during a pandemic, as it allows people to maintain physical distance from other travelers. Many of the people who are continuing to work in low-wage jobs often lack the social and economic safety nets that help weather an economic downturn and a public health crisis, like what we are experiencing. We are providing no-cost Bluebikes passes so that their public bike share service helps get them where they need to go without adding to the financial burden.”

Besides free monthly memberships, Bluebikes enhances its cleaning protocol and moved valets to better meet the new need in high-traffic areas near hospitals. Plus, the municipalities of Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Everett and Somerville also created an extensive relief plan that included:

  • Daily communications to residents regarding COVID-19 updates
  • Expansion of homeless services, including increases in funding and establishment of new shelters
  • Moratoriums on evictions
  • Extensions on due dates
  • Creation of community funds for businesses and residents in need
  • Help to apply for unemployment assistance

Buffalo

Reddy Bikeshare was the only operating bike share system in New York State during the COVID-19 crisis outside of New York City — a big responsibility they willingly took on to provide a valuable form of essential transportation. To serve essential and healthcare workers in the Buffalo-Niagara community, Reddy Bikeshare:

  • Equipped all of their bikes with bottles of hand sanitizer for riders to use before and after their trip
  • Placed complimentary hand sanitizers at several high-use stations
  • Increased bike cleaning and sanitation procedures, specifically with high touch surfaces.
  • Deployed additional signage on bikes and at all stations directing users to follow all CDC guidelines
  • Offered 500+ $1 annual memberships to essential and healthcare workers

Throughout the pandemic, it’s been a priority for Reddy Bikeshare to ensure mobility options for frontline workers region-wide. Jennifer White, Reddy Bikeshare’s co-founder and Communications Director, says they’re using this time to “push forward the message that bike sharing is an integral piece of not only a city’s vibrancy, economic development, and the physical and mental health of its people, but it’s holistic transportation landscape.”

As an essential transportation service, Reddy bikes open up opportunities for people in Western New York who don’t have the option of personal car ownership, which is 30% of the city of Buffalo and 20% of Niagara Falls households. 

“The people of the Buffalo-Niagara region need and deserve access to healthy, safe, active and sustainable transportation, now more than ever. Our community is stepping up in big ways to unite and support one another – we are committed to providing our people the means to get around to do so. Together with Independent Health, we are continuing to work hard during these uncertain times to make bike sharing easier and more accessible for those with fewer transportation options. We want to forge more connections that will help us bring bike sharing services to as many of our region’s communities as possible, for transportation, for health, and for enhanced quality of life.”  – Jennifer White, Reddy Bikeshare’s co-founder and Communications Director.

Ridership Increases or Decreases

Boston

Courtesy of Kim Foltz

Kim Foltz, transportation planner: We have not seen an increase in ridership, though the use of Bluebikes has been affected in different ways by the COVID-epidemic. Following the governor’s stay at home order, overall ridership dropped dramatically and continues to be down compared with the same period in 2019. This is consistent with trips by all transportation modes. 

Historically, peak rush hour is the busiest time for bike share in Boston. Members — people who generally live and work in the Boston area — take nearly 80% of Bluebikes trips. With many workers not commuting, trip volume has decreased. April trip volume in 2020 was down more than 70% compared to 2019.

[On the other hand], we’ve provided hundreds of critical workers with free Bluebikes monthly passes, and we are seeing people increasingly turn to bikes for essential transportation during this time. We are providing valet service outside major hospitals in Boston. The Bluebikes station at Charles Circle has become the busiest station in the system, and our stations in the Longwood area are also seeing higher demand relative to the rest of the system.

Additionally, we have seen a substantial increase in people using bikes for recreation, taking round trips near community bike paths. Trips on evenings and weekends are increasing particularly. Ridership in May has steadily increased, with monthly trips down only 50% compared to last year. And trips are growing week [after] week.

Buffalo

Sarah Bradley, a Reddy Bikeshare member

Jennifer White, Co-Founder and Communications Director: We don’t have a true understanding at this point of how COVID-19 has affected ridership. Weather and precipitation is also a big factor that affects our trip numbers, and we’ve only just recently experienced a shift to more comfortable riding weather in the past few weeks (something every Western New Yorker understands!). We’ve seen increased use at certain stations and a decrease in others as patterns have shifted. 

We’re monitoring the demand very closely to determine what changes need to be made going forward to accommodate everyone’s new normal. We’ve just added two additional stations along the Buffalo Metro Rail to support multi-modal riders. Folks can now access Reddy bikes at 11 of the 13 total Metro Rail stations. For now, all we can do is continue to monitor, accept feedback, and critically think about how to make improvements to adjust to the continuously changing ridership. 

COVID Observations

Boston

Kim Foltz, transportation planner: We are struck most by how many new riders there are trying Bluebikes. New riders and non-members made up 30% of rides in April and 39% in May, compared to 21% and 23% in these months last year. In neighborhoods all over the city, people are finding the joys of riding a bike and how easy bike share is to use. As we expand our free pass program to pharmacy and grocery store workers, and employees in small businesses throughout our neighborhood business districts, we are excited to see how people will discover that bike share is a convenient public transportation option.

Buffalo

Jennifer White, Co-Founder and Communications Director: We have received nothing but positive feedback and support from our community about continuing to provide service with a total shift in operating procedures, and for providing the hand sanitizers. Two members come to mind that have relied on Reddy for essential needs.

Rodrick Tyrone Washington, a Reddy Bikeshare member

“I am a server at the Rainforest Cafè and when I’m not working, one of my favorite hobbies is traveling! My partner and I have had the opportunity to travel to many big cities such as Palm Springs, Cincinnati, Ft. Lauderdale and some international locations such as Montreal and Toronto. Throughout my travels, I’ve seen bikes that seem to fulfill the transportation needs of those who don’t have a working vehicle or for those who just want to travel the city via bike. When I saw that Reddy Bikeshare was available in my city last year, I was very excited! Recently, I’ve been having a few issues with my primary means of transportation. Fortunately, there [are] three Reddy bike stations within 1,000 feet of my apartment! During this pandemic, the bike share service has helped me a lot to get back and forth from the store when my Jeep is being serviced. It has also allowed me to travel to my mother’s house who very recently underwent thyroid surgery. Reddy bikes allow me to get back and forth to her house to check on her while also getting in some good exercise!” 

Rodrick Tyrone Washington, Niagara Falls, NY 

“Hi! I’m Sarah, a frequent Reddy bike user. In a car accident in April 2019, I sustained a moderate neck injury which limits the amount of prolonged turning or straining of my neck. After this accident, my mobility dramatically changed. I was unable to carry or lift anything heavy and running was out of the question. I wasn’t ready to drive a car yet after the trauma. So I rely on public transportation to get to work and around the city. My commute to work is about 50 minutes each way. Using the Reddy bike for one leg of my commute saves me a few minutes and allows me to get more daily exercise, which is nice. However, the absolute best part is the comfort of knowing I can reserve a bike and it will be there and I don’t need to lug a bike onto the bus or train. My commute with the Reddy bike is spent enjoying some exercise rather than calculating the best routes around town. Reddy bikes significantly lower my mental load and stress levels. 

The actual bikes are incredibly comfortable for me. On the Reddy bike, I can sit up straight without bothering my neck. I can easily turn my head and get a full visual of my surroundings without any pain or discomfort. I feel safe and seen. The Reddy bikes provide me with a way to safely exercise and to get around the city at will. I am so much more mobile thanks to Reddy bikes. 

Now that the world looks a bit different during this pandemic, I rely on the Reddy bikes to get to the grocery store and pharmacy. I’m so appreciative I have the option of using a bike and lowering the pressure on the city buses during this time. Without the bikes, things would be a lot more difficult. It’s a long walk with heavy groceries. Thanks go out to the staff, who I frequently see cleaning and maintaining the bikes. It’s nice to get exercise while running errands, too. Using Reddy Bikes has made this stressful time more manageable.”

Sarah Bradley, Buffalo, NY

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Stay tuned for the next post about the awesome work our grantees are doing! In the meantime, tell us what you learned from how these cities approached COVID-19! Reach out on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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 FacebookTwitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Story tip? Write farrah@peopleforbikes.org