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Bike Share Equity and Access

by Eric Vaughan | Dec 13, 2013
The equity of US bike share systems is in the news. Learn how Kansas City B-cycle approaches this issue here in KC.

You may have heard on NPR or read in other media about issues of equity and access related to bike share in many cities. We wanted to provide a summary of how these issues are relevant in Kansas City, and how we address them here at Kansas City B-cycle powered by Blue KC.

NPR 12/12/2013: Shifting Gears to make bike sharing more accessible.

Equity and access are central to our mission
Kansas City B-cycle is the only bike share system in the world that is owned and operated by the local advocacy organization. BikeWalkKC started bike share to be a catalyst to get more people on bikes and get more places for people to ride. Equitable access to this new transportation system is a core part of our work.

Phase 1 includes many census tracts with income levels below national, state, and local averages, as well as poverty levels above those averages. Many parts of the Phase 1 area mirror the city’s overall racial makeup. While Downtown is perceived by some as a gentrified, affluent, and white part of Kansas City, the reality is that it is quite diverse in terms race, income, and other demographics.

Bike share funding and business models
Like most cities, Kansas City has a nonprofit bike share model. However, we are unique in that we are the only nonprofit bike share system that started with zero tax dollars and operates with virtually no public funding. Most cities have used a mix of local city funds and federal grants to fund the capital startup and part of the ongoing operations. Kansas City B-cycle started with 100% private funds and receives only a very small corporate membership from Jackson County government. We do not yet receive tax dollars from the City of KCMO.

This means that we must be even more careful than most cities to locate bike share stations where they get the most usage and generate the most revenue. It also means that in the future, public funding will have to be part of the mix if we are to provide the most equitable access possible.

Bike share is a form of public transportation, and ultimately must be a public/private partnership to be successful.

Current usage
Even though our current coverage area is quite diverse, our user profile does seem to mirror national trends of white and upper income users. However, our demographic data is derived from self-reported customer surveys that only reach people for whom we have email addresses. We know that  our surveys miss the short-term and single-use customers for whom we do not have contact information.

We already accept debit and stored value cards, in addition to credit cards. Several customers have stored value cards from plasma donation centers, work-release centres, and probation services for ex-offenders. Unfortunately these cards have a high rate of unsettled transactions, meaning we ultimately must write off much of their user fees. We continue to allow these payment cards as part of our commitment to provide an inclusive and accessible service.

Transit integration
Bike share is a powerful complement to public transit, helping to solve the “first and last mile” challenge of transit trips by extending the reach of existing transit routes. We have a strong partnership with the KC Area Transportation Authority, including the co-location of bike share stations at the KCATA’s 3rd & Grand and 10th & Main transit centers.  27% of B-cycle users are regular transit users, with 20% of our customers using bike share to get to and from transit.

Outreach efforts
We regularly conduct outreach to underserved populations with proximity to our current stations, to help address cultural barriers to bike share usage.

  • Advertising in publications that serve the African-American and Latino communities.
  • Spanish language versions of instructions and interactive screens on every bike share kiosk
  • Building partnerships with other nonprofits and social service agencies that serve communities with unmet transportation or public health needs.

Future efforts
Kansas City B-cycle is committed expanding access to bike share. We have received a $32,000 grant from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City to develop our equity and access plan. With the Foundation’s support, we will explore best practices in other cities, build a coalition of stakeholders, engage residents of underserved neighborhoods, and explore the best ways address the physical, financial, and cultural barriers to bicycling and bike share in lower income and/or minority neighborhoods. Our initial scope will include the Westside, 18th & Vine, and Old Northeast neighborhoods. A final plan will be published by fall of 2014, and will be the basis for future efforts to seek funds for new bike share stations in underserved neighborhoods.

BikeWalkKCKansas City BCycle is a program of BikeWalkKC.
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