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SOCIAL JUSTICE ON TWO WHEELS: WHY BIKE-SHARE IN THE U.S. MUST BE MADE ACCESSIBLE TO LOW INCOME AND DISADVANTAGED COMMUNITIES

Sara Maurer

March 11, 2014 Urban Studies 167 The Automobile, the City, and the Future of Urban Mobilities Professor Frederic Stout Winter Quarter 2014 Stanford University


2 Sara Maurer Professor Frederic Stout Urban Studies 167 11 March 2014 Social Justice on Two Wheels: Why bike-share in the U.S. must be made accessible to low income and disadvantaged communities To Begin This is not an attack on cars in America. For sure, there is no shortage of criticisms of cars: that they are dangerous, polluting, oil-sucking, traffic-congesting incubators of social isolation. But this is not an attack on cars in America. While there is truth to those claims, it would be untrue (and unreasonable) to claim that cars, in all their popularity, offer no advantage to the people who use them. Cars are popular in large part because of the link between mobility and opportunity: the more easily you are able to get around, the greater your chances are to find a job, build social connections, and generally live life on your terms, and in a country set up for car travel, cars tend to allow the greatest access to opportunity. So this, instead, is an examination of an alternative mode of transportation, a mode that has the potential to mitigate the social and economic inequality that exists in large part because of unequal access to mobility. That mode is bicycles. The recent rise in U.S. cities of bike-share programs –systems of bike stations that allow people to check out, ride and re-dock bikes for short rides– is an opportunity to address the advantage gap that currently exists between those who have the greatest access to effective transportation and those who do not. But the mere introduction of


Maurer 3 bike-share programs will not bridge the gap, because the way in which bike-share programs are implemented and integrated into urban places has as much potential for widening socioeconomic gaps as it does for decreasing them. U.S. bike-share programs right now are not set up to be accessible for low-income groups: they are set up for the educated, the well-off, and the tech-savvy. If they continue like this, bike-share will be another mode of transit where, just like with cars, those with access to that means of transportation are at an advantage and those without, at a disadvantage. That is why here I hope to discuss the advantage gap that exists in terms of mobility: why mobility is so important for equal opportunity, what the potential of bikeshare programs is, what barriers to entry exist for low-income people currently, and what improvements people are discussing. But most of all I hope to drive home that because of the importance of mobility for socioeconomic opportunity, we must make bike-share systems accessible to more people than middle-aged yuppies and green living enthusiasts. Bike-share must be accessible to as many people as possible so that, far from worsening inequality, it can fulfill its potential to help low-income communities overcome the mobility gap that currently exists. The Mobility Advantage In this context, being mobile does not mean moving around all the time. It means having the ability to get to where you need to go in a relatively timely manner: easily making a trip to the grocery store, getting in your car and driving to the doctor’s office, being able to fly to an interview in a different state, not having to decline a job that others could take because of limited transportation. Mobility plays a role in why some people are poorer and some are richer, and specifically influences a person’s chances of


4 improving their situation. Why? Because the more mobile you are, the more opportunities you have access to. A main factor having to do with mobility, one that has huge implications for a person’s ability to improve their socioeconomic status, is access to jobs. The number of accessible job opportunities in U.S. metropolitan areas is significantly lower for public transit users than for car users,1 simply because cars are often more convenient. The time it takes public transit users to get to work tends to be a lot higher than the time it takes people who are able to drive.2 This goes back to mobility: the jobs you can apply for and obtain are a lot more limited without a reliable and far-reaching means of transportation. Indeed studies have found that having access to a car increases a person’s chances of being employed and significantly facilitates a person’s transition from welfare to employment; that mobility led to more work hours for welfare recipients with a work requirement and enabled people to find better-paying jobs.3 So is this an argument in favor of cars? Not at all- it is an argument in favor of mobility. It just so happens that within the U.S.’s current auto-oriented system,4 cars often give the most mobility. Our greatest take-away, then, is that mobility plays a huge role in equality: in job access, socioeconomic opportunity, and quality of life. In the Washington, D.C. area alone, lowincome residents commute an average of four more hours a week than higher income 1 Mizuki Kawabata and Qing Shen, “Job accessibility as an indicator of auto-oriented urban structure: a comparison of Boston and Los Angeles with Tokyo,” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 33.1 (2006): 115 – 130. 2 Mizuki Kawabata and Qing Shen,"Commuting Inequality between Cars and Public Transit: The Case of the San Francisco Bay Area, 1990-2000." Urban Studies (Routledge) 44, no. 9 (2007): 1759-1780. 3 Tami Gurley and Donald Bruce, “The effects of car access on employment outcomes for welfare recipients,” Journal of Urban Economics, 58 (2005): 250-272. 4 Mizuki Kawabata and Qing Shen,"Commuting Inequality between Cars and Public Transit: The Case of the San Francisco Bay Area, 1990-2000." Urban Studies (Routledge) 44, no. 9 (2007): 1759-1780.


Maurer 5 residents living in the same neighborhoods.5 Mobility actually gives us the luxury of time: high mobility helps us buy what we want, where we want; it helps us get to work, get together with other people, save commuting time that can instead be spent on friends, work, family, or personal growth; it gives us exposure to more people and more places and more experiences. The Promise of Bike-share Bike-share programs represent a new kind of mobility that is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., with New York City and Chicago both introducing major systems in 2013 and cities like Austin, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and San Diego planning to launch programs in the near future.6 These programs give people in urban areas the flexibility to check out a bike at a station, cycle to their next destination, and return the bike to any other station. Typically after purchasing an annual, monthly, 72hour or 24-hour pass, users have an unlimited amount of free 30-minute trips, after which overtime fees kick in. So what is advantageous about bike-share and cycling in general? Bike-share, as a means of transit that is meant to be available to the masses but is still a form of individual transportation, is notable because it allows people to get directly from point A to point B in a way that mass transit does not. Buses and trams and subways have timetables: there are waits and delays and you are not necessarily traversing the most direct route to get to where you want to go. However a successful bike-share system in which there is a high density of bike stations gives people the possibility of taking a direct route to where they 5 Adonia Lugo, "Bike Share Equity and Local Projects." League of American Bicyclists. 5 March 2014 <http://www.bikeleague.org/content/bike-share-equity-and-local-projects>. 6 "Infographic: Bike sharing sweeps the U.S." People for Bikes. 2 March 2014. <http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/infographic-bike-sharing-sweeps-the-u.s>.


6 need to go, with rarely any wait times unless a station is empty or the destination station is full. Those factors –direct route, no wait time– are some of the biggest advantages of the car over public transit. With bike-share, the idea is that those advantages can be enjoyed at a much lower cost, both to wallet and environment. That is why bike-share has the potential, in theory, to allow disadvantaged communities the mobility benefits that car-owners enjoy. For example, the historically disadvantaged demographic of lowincome inner city residents could be well served by bike-share because of this. Right now, poor inner city residents in the U.S. are often dependent on public transit to get around, and so even though they are centrally located, they are still at a disadvantage compared with car owners when it comes to accessing jobs.7 An effective bike-share program has the potential to bridge that advantage gap. So What’s Stopping Us? For all the potential, a bike-share system capable of bridging that gap does not yet exist. As of now, numerous barriers prevent low-income users from taking advantage of what bike-share has to offer, which can be seen in the reality that the typical bike-share user today is white, young, male, and wealthier than the average American.8 A meager 0.5% of the users of Citi Bike, New York City’s bike-share program and the largest in the country, are low-income riders, a percentage that is typical of the rest of the U.S.’s major bike-share programs.9 Location is a contributor: most bike-share stations are concentrated in city centers and commercial areas, while low-income and minority areas are 7 Qing Shen, “Location characteristics of inner-city neighborhoods and employment accessibility of low-wage workers,” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 25 (1998): 345 – 365. 8 Joel Rose, “Shifting Gears to Make Bike-Sharing More Accessible.” 12 December 2013. National Public Radio. 23 February 2014 <http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/12/12/243215574/shifting-gears-to-make-bikesharing-more-accessible>. 9 Ibid.


Maurer 7 overlooked. One justification for this is that bike-share in the U.S. is young, and at the end of the day these programs are businesses. Paul DeMaio, a consultant with the Washington D.C. bike-share program, says, “systems are forced to go for the lowhanging fruit – the neighborhoods that have the highest density of commercial, of residential, and that are going to provide the most ridership to help pay for the service, and then hopefully catch up with the outlying neighborhoods as quickly as they can.”10 But location is not the only problem: the set-up and even culture of bike-share programs present barriers for the people who arguably could benefit most from them. One barrier is cost. U.S. bike-share programs charge between $60 and $100 for a year’s membership, which can be prohibitively expensive for some riders; although some programs offer monthly payment plans and discounts for low-income riders, these are often not well publicized.11 A day pass can cost between $7 and $10 in the U.S.,12,13 which is high especially when compared with the much more affordable prices of €1.70 ($2.30) in Paris,14 €1.60 ($2.20) in Brussels,15 and 17 Israeli Shekels ($4.90) in Tel Aviv.16 In addition, anyone wishing to use a U.S. bike-share system must have a valid credit or debit card to register, as insurance in case bikes are lost or stolen. Experts call people who do not have a debit or credit card “the unbanked,” and low-income 10 Joel Rose, “Shifting Gears to Make Bike-Sharing More Accessible.” 12 December 2013. National Public Radio. 23 February 2014 <http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/12/12/243215574/shifting-gears-to-make-bikesharing-more-accessible>. 11 Ibid. 12 "Pricing." Citi Bike. 4 March 2014. <http://citibikenyc.com/pricing>. 13 "Pricing." Divvy. 4 March 2014. <https://divvybikes.com/pricing>. 14 "Subscriptions and Fees." Paris Vélib' - vélos en libre-service à Paris. 10 March 2014. <http://en.velib.paris.fr/Subscriptions-and-fees>. 15 "Consult the Rates." Brussels Villo!. 8 March 2014. <http://en.villo.be/Rates/Rates/Consultthe-rates>. 16 "Tel-O-Fun Tariffs." Tel Aviv Tel-O-Fun. 10 March 2014. <https://www.tel-ofun.co.il/en/Tariffs.aspx>.


8 households are much more likely to fall into this category: 8.2% of U.S. households overall and 28% of households earning less than $15,000 are unbanked, automatically disqualifying them from participating in any bike-share program.17 Another potential barrier is peoplesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; perceptions about cycling. American University professor Eve Bratman and her students, studying the predominantly lowincome D.C. neighborhood of Anacostia in late 2012, found that there was a common perception of bicycles as toys, rather than a valid means of transportation.18 Another factor not yet well understood is the possibility that perceptions about what a typical cyclist looks like influence people who do not fit into that image (in other words, anyone who is not male, white, and relatively wealthy). The common perception that only white yuppies are interested in bike-share could put off prospective minority riders who do not see themselves represented among users, and on the flipside might even affect where cities decide to put stations if planners assume that low income areas are not interested in having bike-share stations.19,20 What Can Be Done Current ideas for lowering the barriers to entry for low-income and minority bikeshare users are as varied as the barriers are, but like bike-share itself, these ideas are young and have a ways to go before they translate into an empowered, mobile population.

17 2011 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, 2012. 2 March 2014 <https://www.fdic.gov/householdsurvey/2012_unbankedreport.pdf>. 18 Adonia Lugo, "Bike Share Equity and Local Projects." League of American Bicyclists. 5 March 2014 <http://www.bikeleague.org/content/bike-share-equity-and-local-projects>. 19 Eric de Place, "Race, class, and the demographics of cycling." Grist. 6 March 2014 <http://grist.org/biking/2011-04-06-race-class-and-the-demographics-of-cycling/>. 20 Robin Amer and Chip Mitchell, "Divvy blues: bike-share program leaves some behind." WBEZ 91.5 Chicago. 4 March 2014 <http://www.wbez.org/news/divvy-blues-bike-shareprogram-leaves-some-behind-107893>.


Maurer 9 In addition to trying to expand bike-share locations into low-income areas, some cities are providing subsidized annual memberships for anyone who qualifies as low-income in order to address the cost of membership. But even within these offers there is variation in terms of affordability. Boston’s Hubway offers $5 annual memberships, an extended time window of charge-free bike use, and a free helmet to low-income residents.21 New York City’s equivalent subsidized offer, meanwhile, is $60 for an annual membership.22 The issue of how to provide access to people who do not have a credit or debit card is more complicated, and will require some creativity in order to be addressed. So far one idea is linking membership to a cell phone account rather than a bank account, although this would then require a person to own a cell phone.23 One method being planned by Divvy, Chicago’s bike-share program, and the Chicago Department of Transportation is to partner with community organizations like churches and job-training programs, which would set their own bike usage rules for their members. The city, Divvy, and the community partner would then share the $1,200 liability for a bicycle between them instead of placing it on the individual rider who does not have a bank account or other way of insuring the bicycle. Yet another idea is to link bike-share membership to an all-inclusive transit card, which would also provide access to public buses, trams, trains, subway and bike-share, as has proved effective in cities like Hangzhou, China, home to

21 "Subsidized Hubway Memberships." Hubway. 7 March 2014 <http://www.bostonbikes.org/programs/subsidized-hubway-memberships/>. 22 "Discounted Annual Memberships." Citi Bike. 5 March 2014 <http://citibikenyc.com/pricing/discounted>. 23 Joel Rose, “Shifting Gears to Make Bike-Sharing More Accessible.” 12 December 2013. National Public Radio. 23 February 2014 <http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/12/12/243215574/shifting-gears-to-make-bikesharing-more-accessible>.


10 one of the most extensive bike-share systems in the world.24 However while this may address the need for a bank account, it is unclear how bike-share programs would then deal with the liability for a lost or stolen bicycle, or for overtime fees. In terms of knowledge barriers to bike-share, targeted education and outreach to minority and low income communities have the potential to change perceptions of cycling that might prevent some people from taking advantage of bike-share programs. Education can also include bicycle repair and road safety; Bostonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Hubway, for example, offers cycling safety classes, although one city official described attendance as â&#x20AC;&#x153;low.â&#x20AC;?25 Moving Forward However despite these initiatives, so far most of these ideas are just that: only ideas. The defense frequently given, that bike-share programs are still young and struggling, is only somewhat justifiable when we take into account the inequality of opportunity that currently exists between those with access to mobility and those without, and especially the fact that bike-share has the potential to lessen that inequality, but also to leave the already disadvantaged behind a widening gap of cost and technology as others benefit from all that bike-share has to offer. Bike-share programs cannot delay in making their programs accessible to low income riders; they are the ones that arguably stand to benefit the most from the increase in mobility, by allowing people greater access to jobs, to social opportunities, and to more time to spend as they choose. The longer bike-share programs have these barriers to access, the more bike-share will act as a divider between those able to benefit from the increased mobility, convenience, health 24 Mark Lebetkin, "Best bike-sharing cities in the world." USA Today. Gannett, 1 Oct. 2013. 3 March 2014 <http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2013/10/01/best-cities-bikesharing/2896227/>. 25 Darren Buck, "Bike sharing systems push to reach underrepresented groups." Bikepedantic. 4 March 2014 <http://bikepedantic.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/encouraging-bikeshare-equity/>.


Maurer 11 and social benefits of bike-share, while others are left behind. Many cities are thinking about ways to make their programs more accessible, which is a start. Now, they need to put their thoughts into actions.

WORKS CITED


12 Amer, Robin, and Chip Mitchell. "Divvy blues: bike-share program leaves some behind." WBEZ 91.5 Chicago. 4 March 2014. <http://www.wbez.org/news/divvy-blues-bike-shareprogram-leaves-some-behind-107893>. Buck, Darren. "Bike sharing systems push to reach underrepresented groups." Bikepedantic. 4 March 2014. <http://bikepedantic.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/encouraging-bikeshareequity/>. "Consult the Rates." Brussels Villo!. 8 March 2014. <http://en.villo.be/Rates/Rates/Consult-therates>. de Place, Eric. "Race, class, and the demographics of cycling." Grist. 6 March 2014. <http://grist.org/biking/2011-04-06-race-class-and-the-demographics-of-cycling/>. "Discounted Annual Memberships." Citi Bike. 5 March 2014. <http://citibikenyc.com/pricing/discounted>. "Infographic: Bike sharing sweeps the U.S." People for Bikes. 2 March 2014. <http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/infographic-bike-sharing-sweeps-the-u.s>. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. 2 March 2014. “2011 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households.” Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, 2012. Lebetkin, Mark. "Best bike-sharing cities in the world." USA Today. Oct. 2013. Gannett. 3 March 2014. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2013/10/01/best-cities-bikesharing/2896227/>. Lugo, Adonia. "Bike Share Equity and Local Projects." League of American Bicyclists. 5 March 2014. <http://www.bikeleague.org/content/bike-share-equity-and-local-projects>. Kawabata, Mizuki and Qing Shen. "Commuting Inequality between Cars and Public Transit: The Case of the San Francisco Bay Area, 1990-2000." Urban Studies Routledge 44.9 (2007): 1759-1780. Kawabata, Mizuki and Qing Shen. “Job accessibility as an indicator of auto-oriented urban structure: a comparison of Boston and Los Angeles with Tokyo.” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 33.1 (2006): 115 – 130. "Pricing." Citi Bike. 4 March 2014. <http://citibikenyc.com/pricing>. "Pricing." Divvy. 4 March 2014. <https://divvybikes.com/pricing>. Rose, Joel. “Shifting Gears to Make Bike-Sharing More Accessible.” 12 December, 2013. National Public Radio. 23 February 2014 <http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/12/12/243215574/shifting-gears-to-makebike-sharing-more-accessible>. Shen, Qing. “Location characteristics of inner-city neighborhoods and employment accessibility of low-wage workers.” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Designs, 25 (1998): 345 – 365.


Maurer 13 "Subscriptions and Fees." Paris Vélib' - vélos en libre-service à Paris. 10 March 2014. <http://en.velib.paris.fr/Subscriptions-and-fees>. "Tel-O-Fun Tariffs." Tel Aviv Tel-O-Fun. 10 March 2014. <https://www.tel-ofun.co.il/en/Tariffs.aspx>. "Subsidized Hubway Memberships." Hubway. 7 March 2014. <http://www.bostonbikes.org/programs/subsidized-hubway-memberships/>.

Sara Maurer: Social Justice on Two Wheels  

Sara Maurer wrote this research paper as the final project for the Automobile & The City class, offered Winter Quarter 2014 at Stanford Univ...

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