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Bike Sharing

Why Isn’t Bike-Share Reaching More Low-Income People?

Earlier this week, Denver's B-Cycle bike-share system came under fire for allegedly side-stepping low-income neighborhoods. The accuser was City Council Member Paul Lopez, and his complaint was not something that system operators necessarily deny: There aren't many stations in low-income neighborhoods.

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The broader claim -- that bike-share isn't serving the populations that might benefit most from it -- has dogged nearly every system in the country. And at its core there is some truth: American bike-share systems aren't doing a good job reaching low-income and minority populations, according to a recent FHWA report.

Only 1 percent of Boston Hubway users are black. In Washington, DC, only 3 percent of Capital Bikeshare users are African-American, according to CaBi's annual survey [PDF]. Denver's B-Cycle users are 81 percent white and only 21 percent have annual household incomes of less than $50,000, according to the Denver Post.

These are statistics that bike-share cities are painfully aware of. And every locale has adopted different methods to reach disadvantaged groups. Denver and Boulder work with the local housing authorities to make memberships available to residents of public housing. Hubway offers subsidized memberships to anyone with an income less than 400 percent of the poverty rate. Minneapolis's Nice Ride requires no deposit to be held on the user's credit card.

But with many of these programs, success has been limited. One issue is siting -- that was the point raised by Council Member Lopez in Denver. B-Cycle has only one station in west Denver, where much of the city's Hispanic population resides. "That truly says something," he told the Post.

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