2017 - Research

Breaking Barriers to Bike Share: Insights on Equity

This research project aims to better understand perceptions and attitudes towards bicycling and bike share, as well as the barriers and opportunities for expanding bike share usage in traditionally underserved neighborhoods, particularly in low-income neighborhoods or neighborhoods with residents who are predominantly people of color.

Key Takeaway:

  • Despite the recent, rapid expansion of public bike share systems in different US cities, evidence shows that people of color, people with lower-income, women, older adults, and people with lower education levels are underrepresented among bike share users. This research project aims to better understand perceptions and attitudes towards bicycling and bike share, as well as the barriers and opportunities for expanding bike share usage in traditionally underserved neighborhoods, particularly in low-income neighborhoods or neighborhoods with residents who are predominantly people of color. Insights gained can inform future strategies to make bike share more attractive and feasible for diverse users.

Results:

Bike Share Owners and Operators:

  • Less than one in four surveyed bike share owners/operators have formal equity policies, though larger bike share systems (over 500 bikes) were more likely to have them.
  • Equity considerations for bike share owners/operators include: (in order of prevalence)
  1. Fee structure and payment systems (i.e., credit card only, debit card or cash options, etc.)
  2. Station Siting
  3. Promotion, Outreach, and Marketing
  4. System Operations, including Employment Approaches
  5. Data Collection, including assessment of user (and potential user) demographics
  • Bike share owners/operators cited perceived price and payment barriers, lack of stations or bike facilities in underserved areas, and lack of knowledge about the system as the top barriers to more equitable bike share usage.
  • Bike share owners/operators report lack of funding and/or staff as main hindrances to the creation and achievement of equity goals.

Current Bicycling and Bike Share Use:

  • Rates of bicycling overall are significantly lower among people of color than white people.
  • Bike share is not a common transportation option for lower-income residents, but station siting isn’t the main reason for differences in membership and usage.
  • A comparison of membership rates with ridership rates suggests that people of color and lower-income residents may be more likely to be casual bike share users, rather than regular members, which is consistent with earlier research. In Chicago and Brooklyn, lower-income bike share riders were more likely to pay monthly, which means they may be paying more on average than higher-income annual members since monthly membership rates are 10-20% higher.
  • For people who have low income and people of color, discount and payment options were significant membership enticements.
  • Both lower-income people and people of color were more likely to use bike share for recreation and job-seeking purposes.

Barriers to Bicycling and Bike Share

  • People of color and people with lower-incomes perceive more barriers to bicycling generally and bike share usage compared to white people with higher incomes.
  • Regardless of race or income, the biggest barrier to bicycling is concern about traffic safety. These concerns may be compounded for people of color who were more likely to cite long travel distances as a barrier to bicycling.
  • Personal safety, i.e., crime, harassment, and police attention, is a bigger concern for people of color.
  • A big barrier for lower-income people is lack of a bike or related gear, such as a helmet, a lock, and lights.
  • Common perceptions of barriers to cycling, i.e., appearance, comfort issues, and social stigmas, are not as prevalent.
  • Bike share can ameliorate many major barriers to cycling, especially for lower-income people of color who cited not having a bike or not having safe bicycle storage as barriers.
  • Two big barriers to bike share for approximately half of lower-income respondents of color are the membership cost and liability costs for bike theft or damage.
  • Regardless of income level, many people felt that needing to use a credit or debit card or a smart phone were barriers to bike share usage.
  • People with lower-incomes were more likely to lack knowledge and have misperceptions about bike share. For example, one common misperception was that helmets were required to use bike share.
  • White people, regardless of income, were more likely to say that they didn’t use bike share because they preferred to ride their own bikes instead.

Attitudes Towards and Perceptions of Bike Share

  • There is significant interest in and latent demand for bike share: Despite barriers to bicycling, over half of lower-income respondents of color agreed that they would like to use bike share more. Most respondents also acknowledged and appreciated that there are greater efforts to increase equity in bike share.
  • Most respondents agreed that the city’s bike share system was beneficial for their neighborhood and the city overall, as well as useful on an individual level for getting exercise, saving money on transportation, and spending time with friends or family.
  • Lower-income people of color were more likely to cite exercise and being able to ride with friends and family as recreational motivations to try bike share.

Implications:

  • The lack of knowledge and misperceptions about bike share underscore the relevance of more targeted marketing, education, and outreach efforts.
  • Given that lower-income people of color were more likely to hold the misperception that a helmet is required for bike share, both mandatory helmet laws and the misperception that mandatory helmet laws exist are barriers to bicycling and bike share for lower-income communities of color.
  • Considering how lower-income people of color are more inclined to use bike share for exercise or social rides with friends, bike share owners/operators can tailor outreach accordingly to attract more lower-income people of color.
  • The fact that many respondents perceived needing to use a smartphone as a barrier to bike share suggests that personal sources of information, such as talking to someone from the bike share outreach program or at a community center, may be more effective in increasing and diversifying bike share usage. Concerns about the “digital divide” that smartphones and apps can create are important for policymakers and practitioners to keep in mind.
  • Bike share owners/operators cannot prioritize equity unless there are dedicated organizational capacity and institutional resources. For instance, they should have a formal organizational equity policy, ensure that there are staff members who are knowledgeable about equity issues, and allocate funding to achieve equity goals.

Methods:

  • The researchers surveyed three groups:
    • Nationwide Bike Share Owners and Operators: The researchers surveyed 56 bike share owners and operators about if and how they incorporate equity considerations, policies, and metrics. 
    • Residents: The researchers surveyed residents in areas targeted by Better Bike Share Partnership (BBSP) efforts in three focus cities: Philadelphia, Chicago, and Brooklyn. The populations in the study neighborhoods were primarily people of color (79-94%) and lower-income (36-61% of households below 150% of the poverty level). Researchers categorized respondents as: lower-income people of color, higher-income people of color, lower-income white, and higher-income white.
    • Riders: The researchers worked with bike share operators in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Brooklyn to email surveys to current or past bike share members in BBSP outreach areas. Respondents were categorized as white higher-income, lower-income and/or people of color who received BBSP-related discounts or benefits, and lower-income and/or people of color who did not utilize BBSP related benefits.

McNeil, N.; Dill, J.; MacArthur, J.; and Broach, J. (2017). Breaking Barriers to Bike Share: Insights on Equity. Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State University.