Next Wave of Bike Share Systems to Reach Broader Communities

As bike sharing systems expand across North American cities, the question of equitable access to active transit has come into sharper focus.

Written by:

As bike sharing systems expand across North American cities, the question of equitable access to active transit has come into sharper focus.

“We say and we believe that Capital Bikeshare is a transit system,” said Chris Holben, Capital Bikeshare project manager for the District of Columbia Department of Transportation. “We want our transit system to be available to as many residents of the city as possible. We know the benefits of it: environmental (gets people out of cars); health (it’s a mode of transit that allows you to be active); economical (people are saving upward of $800 a year in transit costs); and it’s fun.”

Darren Buck’s master’s thesis in urban and regional planning at Virginia Tech, “Encouraging Equitable Access to Public Bikesharing Systems,” identified seven ways that bike share systems can better serve low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Buck’s research narrowed in on equity of use and programs that lower access barriers in current and planned bike share programs in the US and Canada.

For example, Montgomery County, Maryland, will use bike sharing to help service workers negotiate a reverse commute that is poorly served by transit. Montreal’s BIXI system partners with a youth program to train and hire its mechanics. Kansas City B-Cycle is working on Safe Routes to School grants to improve bicycle facilities for its riders. Although Buck’s research revealed an encouraging variety of programs, there is still much more to be done. “Regardless of size, of business model, of community, they are all trying to do something,” he noted.

Capital Bikeshare has allied with Bank On DC, an organization that offers debit cards to the “unbanked.” The program includes reduced fees and monthly installment payments for low-income members. San Francisco’s planned bike sharing system may be accessed in the future through a regional transit card that can be loaded with cash, further reducing barriers.

However, a focus solely on employment hubs when choosing sites for bike share stations can shut out entire communities. Brian Drayton, a member of the League of American Bicyclists Equity Advisory Council, noted: “A single mom who has to stop by the store then pick her kid up from school would have a completely different need, to carry groceries and her child. One of the things that bike share is missing is the diversity of bikes.” Drayton suggests including hubs in neighborhood bicycle shops as add-ons to traditional bike share systems: “Once you get embedded in a community, you know that you’re part of the community. People are borrowing a bike from a person, not a machine.”

Several bike share programs have approached Buck, wanting to use his research to support grants to increase access equity. He said: “This leaves me quite optimistic that the next wave of bike sharing systems will reach many more communities.”

Laura McCamy is a San Francisco Bay Area writer, artist and bicycle activist. She is a former Alameda County Bicycle Commuter of the Year and currently chairs her town’s Bike/ Ped Advisory Committee and volunteers with the East Bay Bicycle Coalition.


  • Leslie

    I wonder if Atlanta’s Bike Share system will ever reach-out to the lower income communities. Oh… Never mind. I just remembered that Atlanta doesn’t have a Bike Share system.

  • Shannon

    In terms of focusing on areas of employment or not, it’s worth noting that at least parts of the Montgomery County bikeshare program focus on community hubs as well. In addition to major employment areas, Rockville (a town in Montgomery County) is also placing them at community centers, shopping areas, and public transit stops.

Autumn Gear Guide

Find inspiration in our Gear Guide that will keep you out on your bike through wind or rain.

Download Now