Housing Complex

Capital Bikeshare Rolls Out Homeless Pilot

The map today.

First, the District Department of Transportation tried to reach the not-so-rich through a partnership with D.C.'s banking program, giving discounted memberships to people who sign up for a debit or credit card. Now, they're partnering with a nonprofit to try helping out more people who could really use some low-cost transportation: The homeless.

Not just any homeless people, though. This takes work: Discounted Bikeshare memberships will only be available to folks who have a 90 percent attendance record at three-day-a-week 5:45 a.m. running sessions and job training sessions coordinated by an organization called Back on my Feet, which has been active in D.C. for two years now. The initial pilot will be ten people, who'll be able to use the transit benefits they receive from Back on my Feet as part of the later stages of the program to pay for $50 memberships (down from $75 per year). That could expand, depending on interest.

Oh, and the program's 150 or so volunteers will also get to buy memberships at the reduced rate.

Three thoughts on this.

One: I've often thought that bicycles are huge assets to homeless people, as the most efficient way to travel between appointments, jobs, and places to sleep (and to all not-so-rich people, as my colleague Alex Baca pointed out so long ago). The problem is, the biggest men's shelters are far away from the urban core and not well-served by bike lanes—801 East is up a giant hill at St. Elizabeth's, and New York Avenue is, well, on very bike-unfriendly New York Avenue. Perhaps, with paying customers, it'll be worth it for DDOT to put Bikeshare stations where homeless people need them most.

Two: Call me red, but I'd love to see a graduated pricing scheme for all levels of income. If you're on TANF, or receive food stamps, or live in section 8 housing, a Bikeshare membership is another great way to save money and time, but $75 is a big up-front cost. Just as Bikeshare stations are now a community benefit in development projects, perhaps they could also be a form of entitlement.

And three: Bikeshare discounts as a way of encouraging volunteerism could obviously scale through partnerships with all sorts of non-profits, starting with the District's own volunteerism outfit, ServeDC.

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  • Chris McNally

    Or, let them earn bikeshare credit by returning bikes to locations where they are needed. My friend came up with this idea. Bike share stations could use LCDs or other remote controlled signs to indicate that bikes are needed elsewhere, and offer a bounty if you take the bike there. One could earn a yearly membership in a few weeks.

  • Mario

    Good idea, Lydia. My only concern is what reduced-cost members would be charged if something happens to the bike on their watch. I'm not implying homeless people are less responsible, rather, CapBikeshare charges $1000 for a lost or stolen bike. Could be a huge problem if either happens to someone on a low income. I'd prefer homeless folks just earn credits towards a bike of their own. Then we could cut some of the red tape and folks might actually enjoy a bike that isn't so heavy and goofy, not to mention they'd have access to it 24/7. Of course maintenance costs, locks, etc would drive up the cost of having a personal bike, but they should have a choice rather than shoehorned into a good but far from perfect system.

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  • walter washington

    make sure you hose down those bikes afterwards!

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    1. WRT Chris McNally's point, this came up at an FTA workshop on bikesharing just yesterday. But it's kind of a b.s. idea. Most of the places where bikes need to be moved are miles apart, and moving one bike at a time doesn't have much impact. If the homeless person now has to walk back miles to the original point, it doesn't seem that useful to me.

    2. Lydia, your paragraph: Two: Call me red, but I'd love to see a graduated pricing scheme for all levels of income. If you're on TANF, or receive food stamps, or live in section 8 housing, a Bikeshare membership is another great way to save money and time, but $75 is a big up-front cost. Just as Bikeshare stations are now a community benefit in development projects, perhaps they could also be a form of entitlement.

    is f*ing great. My business will put it in the RFP responses we make for bikesharing contracts elsewhere.

    Thanks.

    3. However, note that a program in Denver where they gave free bikeshare memberships (paid for by other sources) to people in public housing, they had about 1/3 takeup of the total number of memberships, and of those people only 1/4 actually ever used the bikes.

    But I think the issue is more fundamental. People of all demographics--not just low income--need more assistance to shift to bicycling as a transportation mode. So we need to integrate and deliver more programming, not just focus mostly on infrastructure, in sustainable transportation planning(not just biking, walking and transit too) .

    4. wrt the lost bike/charge issue, there are ways to provide indemnification through working with other nonprofits. The real issue is for _all_ of the users to possess and display a high degree of concern for taking care of the bike. So you need that sword over people's heads so they don't just leave the bikes out, not locked into the docks.

    5. WRT Mario's other point about owning a bike being a better option, of course I agree, but depending on one's situation, keeping a bike secure and protected can be very difficult (cf. "Bicycle Thief") and that makes bikesharing a great alternative.

    In any case, wrt the original point, check out this best practice program from the Community Cycling Center of Portland, which is a program that I think should be duplicated in every big city:

    http://www.communitycyclingcenter.org/index.php/programs-for-adults/

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