Beyond Equity — A Strategy for Developing Critical Leadership in Transportation

Emergency Response Grantees: How These Cities Served Essential Workers

by Farrah Daniel, Better Bike Share Partnership Writer

In May, The PeopleForBikes Foundation (PFB), as part of the Better Bike Share Partnership, made Emergency Response Grants available to nonprofit or city-owned shared mobility operators to support operating or program costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 this article, we’re covering 3 of them:

Fort Worth

Fort Worth Bike Sharing (FWBS) offered free monthly memberships to essential workers, which included (but wasn’t limited to) those who work in the health care industry. To ensure reliability for those workers, FWBS even added more docks to stations closest to them. Their goal with this initiative was to provide a healthy, safe way for healthcare workers and essential employees to get some fresh air and de-stress. Here’s what else they did: 

  • FWBS reached out to the grocery stores located near their stations to offer memberships to those employees as well.
  • Installed hand sanitizer dispensers at 12 of their most popular stations to help decrease the spread of the virus for their users as well as provide safety measures for riders and the general public when hand-washing stations are not available.

For FWBS, it’s been their hope to provide an open-air form of transportation for those who need it. 

We saw that we had the opportunity to provide a safe way for people to care for their mental and physical well-being during this time,” says Executive Director Jennifer Grissom. “We knew we would have to work hard to keep our bikes and stations sanitized but felt that the benefits of riding were needed in our community.

Omaha

In April, Heartland Bike Share provided local healthcare workers with free annual Heartland B-cycle passes that come with a year of unlimited 1-hour trips  — a membership that typically costs $100. The decision to provide annual memberships was an intentional decision meant to serve healthcare workers as much as possible since the end date of COVID-19 is unclear. 

  • In the short term, the pass will provide transportation and stress relieving healthy activity
  • In the long term (after the need for social distancing has subsided), the passes will allow healthcare workers a meaningful, active way to connect with their families and loved ones who they couldn’t see during the crisis
  • Plus, to receive a pass, healthcare workers were only required to email HBS directly to get signed up — this cut out the need for workers to go through their institution, allowing more people to access these services.
  • HBS heard from healthcare workers who shared the variety of ways they planned to use the system: Some talked about how they wanted to use the system for transportation as they felt the risk of riding the bus was too high; others said they were looking forward to the stress-relieving benefits of biking; all of them were excited and grateful for the passes.

Execute Director Benny Foltz said, “We wanted to ensure that Omaha’s Healthcare workers who have been on the frontline of this crisis had access to reliable transportation and recreation that they could use while staying appropriately socially distanced […] We know how bikes build community, and we hope that the healthcare workers who took part in this program will be able to use their pass to ride with friends and family when it is safe to do so.” 

HBS gave away 352 passes to Healthcare workers in April, and riders took 300 trips. 

Pittsburgh

Local stay at home orders and mandatory closure of all non-life sustaining businesses have Pittsburghers making drastic changes to their daily lives. As a transportation option that avoids mass transit, Healthy Ride has remained open and available to the public while operating under modifications to daily operations that emphasize sanitation, staff and rider safety, and social distancing amongst essential staff and customers. Here’s Healthy Ride’s take on COVID-19 emergency relief work in Pittsburgh: 

  • Healthy Ride leveraged its website, blog, newsletter, virtual meetings and social media to deliver important information about the steps Healthy Ride is taking to ensure that customers remain safe, and communicate what riders can do to keep themselves safe while using a shared resource.
  • Healthy Ride promoted the availability of free bike share ride time to essential workers through the pre-existing partnership with the Port Authority of Allegheny County. When an individual connects their ConnectCard to their Healthy Ride account, they automatically receive free, unlimited 15-minute trips that can connect them to more than a dozen life-sustaining resources and work sites.
  • They also prioritized enhanced sanitation and rebalancing at life-sustaining bike share locations, like hospitals, pharmacies and grocery stores. 

We’re always trying to find new ways to support the Pittsburgh community, and the current health crisis has revealed new opportunities for us to do that,” says the Director of Marketing & Community Outreach, Erin Potts. 

BBSP has offered us a wonderful opportunity to expand these options, to think about how we can make Healthy Ride memberships even more affordable for essential workers, how to safely connect more people to the ConnectCard program that gives all riders unlimited 15-minute trips through touch-less pass linking, and find new ways to educate riders on how to ride safe during this time.”

Ridership Increases or Decreases

How did COVID-19 affect ridership for these systems? Let’s see. 

Fort Worth

Jennifer Grissom, Executive Director: “We’ve been busier than ever. It’s been a challenge because busy [equals] not always distancing properly. We’ve been lucky to work with community leaders and other organizations to make a big push for riders to ride responsibly.”

Omaha

Fiona Kennedy, Heartland B-cycle Community Manager: “Our system has seen steady use throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Before COVID-19, we saw consistent commuter behavior in our system, but as more people started to work from home we saw a sharp uptick in recreational use. As many of us are spending so much time in our homes, getting outside has become even more important. Heartland B-cycle allows people to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. We were already seeing an increase in trips compared to last year before COVID-19. 

In April, we had a 74% increase in trips compared to April 2019. We believe this was due to the increase in recreational trips due to COVID-19 and the fact that, since last April, we have implemented over 90 electric pedal-assist bikes into the system. Since their implementation, the electric pedal-assist bikes have increased ridership for our system overall. We believe that we are on track to exceed our ridership numbers from last May as well if we get good weather. Since COVID-19 has increased recreational riding in our system as many people are working from home, our ridership is very weather dependent right now.”

Pittsburgh

Erin Potts, Director of Marketing & Community Outreach: “Ridership has fluctuated since COVID-19 began affecting our region. As has our wildly unpredictable Pittsburgh weather. While ridership has decreased overall, we’re seeing some interesting new patterns — lots of rides on weekday afternoons, weekend ridership is healthy so long as the weather is favorable, and some of our “essential stations” have seen increased rentals and returns. While overall ridership has decreased, we’re seeing consistent ridership and learning new patterns as our riders adjust to new routines.”

COVID Observations

Can you share one or two observations about your bike share program during this experience and how people have responded to it?

Fort Worth

Jennifer Grissom, Executive Director: “We have had so many people mention that they’d forgotten how fun it is to ride a bike. To see them experiencing joy during this strange time has been worth any extra work. We have been able to offer essential workers free 6-month memberships and offer a few free days to the whole system if the rider showed us they supported a local small business. We have observed day after day the strength and compassion that is present in our community. It’s pretty neat to see that from a bike share provider perspective. “

Omaha

Fiona Kennedy, Heartland B-cycle Community Manager: “We have been really uplifted by the support for Heartland B-cycle we have received during this crisis. As people were transitioning to work from home, we weren’t sure what to expect as we had consistent commuter behaviors throughout the winter for the first time in program history due to our electric pedal-assist bikes. It has been great to see how people are using the system to get fresh air and exercise.”

When we first decided to give out free Annual passes to Healthcare workers, we did not know how many people would take advantage of the offer. We were blown away by the fact that 352 people signed up for the passes. The fact that many have started using their passes right away shows to us that we managed to fill a need in our community.

Pittsburgh

Erin Potts, Director of Marketing & Community Outreach: “Healthy Ride has remained operational for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. With such a large part of the city staying home, people are craving the outdoors more than ever. We’re seeing more recreational ridership throughout the week, often from stations connected to trails and parks, and people are seizing every opportunity to get outside.”

— — — — — —

Next up, we’re sharing how Boston, MA and Buffalo, NY  served the essential and healthcare workers in their cities. 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