E-Bikes Meet Equity in Upstate New York

by Kiran Herbert, Communications Manager

In the Village of Ossining, electric bikes are being deployed to create a barrier-free network that includes bike share, lending libraries, and a lease-to-own scheme.

The Village of Ossining, New York. (Photo credit: Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times)


The Village of Ossining, located 40 miles north of New York City on the banks of the Hudson River, is indicative of a lot of other small, more rural communities throughout the United States. With a population of roughly 27,000 people, Ossining faces an incredibly high cost of living, leaving many of its residents underwater with rising housing costs and little in the way of affordable transit options — in fact, the average Ossining household spends 55% of its income on housing and transportation.

Introducing a new method of transportation came about organically. Ossining was working with the holistic planning firm Nelson\Nygaard on a mobility and parking study, the goal of which was to ease some of its downtown parking problems and improve curb management. When that project ended, the village — which prides itself on being a leader when it comes to sustainability — continued to work with the same consulting team, brainstorming ideas for new ways to expand its transportation network over relatively hilly terrain, all without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Those sessions led to the creation of Project MOVER

MOVER stands for Moving Onto Vast E-Micromobility Replication, and the project’s goal is to dramatically expand access to shared and personal e-bikes for all residents. Not only will Project MOVER feature comprehensive support infrastructure, including e-bike charging docks, low-cost lease-to-own e-bikes, reduced fare shared e-bike trips, and additional bike parking but community-led training and marketing are also integral to the plan.

The Village of Ossining and its project lead, EIT InnoEnergy, were recently selected for a grant through the New York Clean Transportation Prizes program administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). One of just 10 projects selected(and one of only four in the electric mobility category), Project MOVER was awarded $7 million and will be eligible to compete for additional funding down the road. 

Project MOVER was designed to deploy e-bikes across three different models. The first is a classic bike share program where people can use a mobile app to find and book a bike, unlock it from a docking station, pay as they use it, and then return it to a docking station to charge. Another is through the use of bike libraries — individual employers or multi-family residences will have fleets of bikes available for their staff or residents to use around Ossining to conduct business or run errands. Finally, the lease-to-own program will allow folks that wish to acquire an e-bike for their exclusive use — and who can demonstrate financial hardship — to enter into a program under which they can lease the e-bike for a short time before transitioning to ownership. 

“We wanted to ensure that e-bikes are not out of reach for anyone in our community, and that is one of the core tenets of Project MOVER,” says Ossining Mayor Rika Levin. “I suspect that most of our adult community members will interact with Project MOVER at several points during the duration of the project.”

Levin predicts that for some, an e-bike will become their primary mode of transportation, while others will use the bikes to connect to recreational opportunities or to run errands when a car is less practical.

“I expect that, even for folks who don’t use the bikes themselves, this program will touch their lives — more bikes on the road, and infrastructure for bikes, makes drivers more conscious of their movements behind the wheel,” says Levin, adding that more alert drivers are always a good thing. 

Crucially, Project MOVER was co-designed with four local nonprofits — Hudson Link, Neighbors Link, Open Door Family Medical Center, and the Interfaith Council For Action — that represent folks often marginalized in community planning processes, including immigrant families, affordable housing tenants, and formerly incarcerated individuals. Ossining is surprisingly diverse for a small town, with a growing immigrant population that includes many low-income BIPOC residents. Not only was it important that this population had seats at the planning table from the outset, but they’ll continue to play an important role as the project is lived out, assisting in everything from the placement of charging stations to equipment maintenance to facilitating educational workshops and helmet giveaways.

“One of the most important issues we discussed in planning this project was not only the ability to pay but also, the ability to make payment,” says Levin, explaining that not everyone has access to a debit or credit card and not everyone feels comfortable uploading their personal data into a mobile app. “Fortunately, we have developed strategies so that even those who are unbanked can use the program, with the assistance of partners like Neighbors Link, who will assist in cashiering services.”

In addition to offering a cash payment option, Project MOVER will accept alternative forms of identification and accept offline bookings. Subsidized and free membership options will also be available. The project’s partners will deploy 1,000 e-bikes and 120 charging stations across four incubator communities, with bikes and stations spread out to connect residential areas with public amenities (schools, jobs, grocery stores, etc.), as well as transportation hubs like the regional train station. Part of the new infrastructure will also include a network of convenient and safe bike “boulevards” between key destinations, and many of the e-bike libraries are being established in partnership with local businesses hoping for increased customer traffic.

“Ossining is a socio-economically diverse community—many of our residents cannot easily afford a personal automobile, let alone the insurance, maintenance, and storage requirements that come along with that,” says Levin, adding that many who do own cars do so at the expense of a higher quality of life. “Pedal-assist e-bikes, readily and affordably available, will be a solution for many Ossining residents, while at the same time alleviating some of our parking woes and improving our health by making our community more walkable. It’s a win-win.”

Project MOVER doesn’t yet have a set start date but there are plans for a soft launch at Green Ossining’s Earth Day Festival in April. Once it’s off the ground, data will be a huge part of the project. The implementation team will track how folks choose to get around, as well as what they might choose differently with more options. Learnings from the initial deployment in the Village of Ossining will be shared through the newly formed Electric Mobility Incubator, a knowledge exchange platform for communities to access deployment blueprints and replicate the project in nearby communities.

The plan is to first expand to the towns of Tarrytown, Dobbs Ferry, and Croton-on-Hudson before scaling to include dozens of communities by 2030 (already, the project team has identified 20 additional municipalities within a 30-mile radius with similar mobility profiles). Hopefully, what the small Village of Ossining is doing with e-bikes will ripple outwards, proving a replicable framework for other underserved, car-dependent communities across the country. 

“I think a cultural shift is coming in which we all, regardless of immediate financial condition, will need to re-consider the practicality of using an automobile,” says Levin. “With gas prices ever fluctuating and climate change in our very midst, we in Ossining are working to change the culture around biking infrastructure and make alternative transportation the norm — and maybe even cool.”

The Better Bike Share Partnership is funded by The JPB Foundation as a collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), and the PeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on LinkedInFacebookTwitter, and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Got a question or a story idea? Email kiran@peopleforbikes.org.