BUSINESS

The Latest Sign of Bike-Share's Social Equity Problem

05/04/2015 08:46 am ET | Updated May 04, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

This article originally appeared on Citylab.

Bike-share has a promising role to play in city transit networks, but its inability to reach low-income users has become an unsettling problem—and it's a problem that appears to be growing. Take the latest member survey from Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C. (spotted by Mobility Lab). Half of the roughly 3,500 survey respondents reported having six-figure incomes

That 50-percent share of members making $100,000 or more is up from 45 percent in the 2012 survey, which itself was up from 39 percent from the 2011 survey. And $100,000 isn't exactly the best dividing line between rich and poor. Only 16 percent of CaBi members are reporting incomes below $50,000 a year in the latest survey.

That $50,000 threshold seems to be something of a tipping point for bike-share use across North America. Previous research has found that bike-share membership is underrepresented among people making under $50,000 in the Twin Cities, Salt Lake City, and Toronto, but overrepresented among residents making more.

There's still time to correct bike-share's social equity problem, and progressive systems do seem to be pushing for necessary reform. Count Capital Bikeshare among them. As Sarah Goodyear reported in January, Arlington County, Virginia, is trying out ways to help residents pay by cash to use CaBi, to help reach populations without bank accounts.

But a far bigger problem would seem to be station location. If bike-share operators don't place stations in low-income areas, then it gets harder to make the case for these systems as true components of the transit network. They still might hold great value as an amenity, but their claim on public street space meant for everyone gets harder to stake.

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