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Bike Sharing

So How Equitable is the Citi Bike Expansion? Actually, It’s Not Bad!

12:01 AM EDT on July 24, 2019

Last year, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg rode Citi Bikes to herald a coming expansion. Well, planning is finally underway. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

"Equity will be central to everything we do in this expansion."

That was Citi Bike's Head of Micromobility Policy Caroline Samponaro, touting the expansion of the popular bike share system last week — a four-year rollout that will slowly expand Citi Bike to The Bronx, Upper Manhattan and more parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

But is equity truly central? Certainly, the Citi Bike rich will get richer — Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Bushwick, Jackson Heights and other well-off neighborhoods will get more or new access to the system — but the less-fortunate will also get a much bigger seat behind the handlebars.

New data obtained by Streetsblog show that by the time the system finally grows to 40,000 bikes by 2023, 67 percent of Housing Authority tenants will live within its footprint, up from 39 percent today.

Citi Bike expansion zone, 2019-2023.
Citi Bike expansion zone, 2019-2023.
Citi Bike expansion zone, 2019-2023.

And that's far better than the city population overall. Currently, only 23 percent of New York City residents live in the Citi Bike footprint. By 2023, that number rises to 50.1 percent.

So at the end of this round of expansion, roughly half of all New York City residents will lack Citi Bike access — but only 33.3 percent of NYCHA residents will be outside the zone.

By one measure, however, the expansion isn't perfectly equitable: The expansion is speeding up for the general population and slowing down for NYCHA residents. Currently, 1.96 million New Yorkers live in the Citi Bike zone — and 2.32 million more will get new service thanks to the expansion, a jump of 118 percent. But for NYCHA residents, the population of would-be members is currently 158,000. Expansion will bring the system to 111,000 more — a jump of 70 percent. Both trendlines are up, but the line for the general population has a steeper slope up.

Access is one thing — but membership is another. Even though close to 160,000 NYCHA residents have Citi Bike docks within walking distance, only 3,400 are currently taking advantage of the system's so-called Reduced Fare Bike Share memberships, which cost $5/month for unlimited use of the system.

That's $60 a year — a little less than a month of unlimited use of the subway and bus system under the city's Fair Fares program for NYCHA residents. It's a bargain — and it's flexible (there's no yearly commitment) — yet only 2.1 percent of NYCHA residents who live in the current Citi Bike footprint are taking advantage.

The ones who are taking advantage are using the system to the fullest; according to Citi Bike, reduced fare bike share riders take about twice the number of monthly trips as traditional members.

So the key is marketing. Also last week, the Lyft-owned Citi Bike announced it would spend $300,000 on grants to local community organizations to help "grow a culture of bike share in the new expansion areas."

"Reduced fare bike share membership is life-changing, so we are making sure that we are reaching those residents to make this transportation system accessible and equitable," Samponaro added.

Working through community organizations such as Bed-Stuy Restoration is a good move because it connects Citi Bike directly to potential customers.

"We show people how it works and we take them on a ride or get them a free helmet — it makes a big difference in raising the comfort level," said Tracey Capers, chief program officer with Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration. "As Citi Bike is normalized, people get to see other people like them on bikes. And then we market it more. We had a campaign called 'Biking Your Way to a Bigger Bank Account,' for example.

"Citi Bike's expansion is going to make a big difference," she added.

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