The program — a partnership between The Street Trust and the City of Portland — encourages residents living with low incomes to use bike share for free.
In 2022, The Street Trust, a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit that advocates for safe biking, walking, and public transit, launched the Biketown Ambassador Program. The program — a partnership between The Street Trust, the Portland Bureau of Transportation, and Lyft’s Biketown bike share — encourages residents living with low incomes to sign up for a Biketown For All membership. These memberships, which are completely free to those living on low incomes, high schoolers, and those 65 and older, provide unlimited 60-minute trips, as well as $7/month in ride credits and a reduced rate of $0.05/minute for trips over an hour.
By any measure, Biketown For All is a successful program. In 2022, there were 565,000 Biketown trips taken and 202,000 of those trips were taken by Biketown for All equity users. That means that equity riders made up a whopping 35.75% of all trips, which is among the highest percentages we’ve seen from a bike share system.
Still, there are plenty of people in Portland who remain underserved when it comes to transportation and the Biketown Ambassador program was created to introduce bike share as a free, viable option. The program launched with just two people who were hired to do the work of tabling, leading group rides, and generally bringing in new riders with minimal input from The Street Trust.
“We didn’t do as much education training last year,” says Madi Carlson, education and engagement director at The Street Trust. “It was more just getting people on bikes and putting them on a fun ride. That does grow ridership and get more people on bikes, but now we’re giving them more tools to be able to use the system again and again.”
Thanks to a BBSP mini-grant, The Street Trust was able to improve and expand its Biketown Ambassador Program. There are now three ambassadors, all of whom have access to an entire curriculum — created by The Street Trust around helping people access bike share — and have received ride leader training. The curriculum in particular is geared towards setting riders up for continued use of Biketown by helping them understand how to use the system, but also locate the closest stations and routes between stations that suit their needs.
“With this grant, we’ve been able to do so much more,” says Carlson. “The ambassadors still serve as a liaison to the communities we want to serve but they’re now 100% supported.”
Part of the new support includes signing people up for Biketown For All (The Street Trust has a code that makes sign-ups immediately available), helping them download and use the app (the trickiest part), showing them how to find and check out bikes, and leading them through their first ride.
“Having extra hands — and understanding hands — to help with the challenges of just getting an app on your phone and using it is huge,” says Carlson.
The funding has also covered the staff time it takes for Carlson to show up and attend the rides, which adds another layer of support for everyone involved. Of the three Biketown Ambassadors, two are students from Portland State University (PSU), where any student receiving financial student aid is eligible to enroll in Biketown For All. The third ambassador is a member of Multnomah County REACH, which focuses on racial and ethnic approaches to community health. While the PSU ambassadors target students, REACH primarily serves communities of color, including recent immigrants.
In order to ensure that no barriers to use exist, The Street Trust keeps prepaid cards on hand for those who are unbanked (like many systems, Biketown requires users to have a payment method on file). The Street Trust also operates under the assumption that no detail is too small for an intro to bike share ride, including how to adjust one’s seat height properly, how to use your bell properly, and how to avoid fees by parking at a dock and always re-docking before an hour has elapsed. The grant also allowed The Street Trust to purchase 50 helmets, which were given to riders in need.
The Biketown system is comprised entirely of pedal-assist electric bikes and all of the routes are short and in safe areas to ride, helping to ensure everyone has a good first experience.
“Watching people using e-bikes for the first time is my favorite thing ever because they giggle so much,” says Carlson, who supported 19 rides this summer. “A lot of these rides have directly led to more people wanting to do it again.”
Thanks to the additional funding, The Street Trust was able to scale up an already successful program, investing more time and resources in it, and consequently, reaching many more people. Because of its work with Biketown, The Street Trust has won several other grants to support additional e-bike programs across the region, including a Ride-to-Own program and an e-bike library.
“Because of the Biketown Ambassador Program, all of our future programs will have a super solid foundation,” says Henry Latourette Miller, the Street Trust’s director of grants and program impact. “We now have a better sense of what folks who live on low incomes or who are members of BIPOC communities need, what their challenges might be, and what kind of bike rides work best for them.”
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 LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Have a question or a story idea? Email email@example.com.