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Annual bikeshare conference brings focus to equity, integration, and growth

By Adam Russell – November 17, 2016
Last week, the North American Bike Share Association brought together bikeshare systems from across the continent to Austin, Texas, for its third annual conference. BikeArlington program manager Henry Dunbar, who manages Capital Bikeshare in Arlington County, Va., attended the conference, and reports back that three major themes dominated the presentations.

A growing mode

Though NABSA itself has only existed since 2014, the rapid growth and spread of bikeshare systems is a major trend. Not only are major metropolitan systems expanding exponentially (see: Bay Area Bikeshare’s tenfold growth from 700 to 7,000 bikes with its Ford partnership), but smaller systems are also taking off. The growing variety of models and technologies is allowing small cities, campuses, and towns to find the kind of bikeshare system that fits their needs. This speaks, also, to the broad understanding from cities that bikeshare is a necessary part of the transportation options for their residents and visitors.

Accessibility a priority

As they grow, however, bikeshare systems have struggled with equity issues, finding fair ways to provide accessible service for low-income and minority communities. Now, systems and cities are determining what matters most when reaching out to residents. Often, this means thinking beyond the assumptions of how people engage with biking and transportation.

“Systems are learning that partnerships with existing organizations is the way to bridge barriers into low-income communities. You have to make that extra effort and show people how it works,” said Dunbar.

Affordable housing organizations, for example, can be key to reaching low-income residents because they already know them and their staffs. In Arlington, Capital Bikeshare partners with local non-profit Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing. Bicycling organizations like Get Women Cycling in New York City are working to connect interested residents to Citi Bike.

Part of the transit portfolio

Lastly, as cities see growing bikeshare systems as key pieces of their transportation-options toolkit rather than recreational curiosities, more are looking into ways to better integrate them into their transit systems. One key way to do so is through combining the fare systems into a single platform, removing a key barrier and simplifying the fragmented transit landscape.

Speaking to TechCrunch last week, NABSA president Nicole Freedman laid out the goal. “You’ll see all of the modes intertwine. And that will be made possible by better tech that allows a single payment for all systems.”

Unfortunately, there exists a number of obstacles to this, which range from bureaucratic hurdles to political impasses to technological gaps. In just the D.C. region alone, there are five jurisdictions with Capital Bikeshare, with WMATA’s SmarTrip system setting the standard for transit payments for the foreseeable future.

One low-cost way forward for some systems could incorporate phone apps into the payment and unlocking mechanisms. B-Cycle, which operates bikeshare systems in dozens of cities in the U.S. (including Austin), allows users to receive unlock codes through the standard B-Cycle app.

Of course, the nature of these challenges differs depending on regional needs, bikeshare technology, and other factors. But NABSA’s Austin gathering demonstrated how bikeshare systems across the U.S. are taking their collective challenges head-on, by finding ways to grow and become more accessible and useful for people.

Photo: Austin B-cycle bikeshare (NACTO, Flickr, Creative Commons).


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