Bike share programs’ support of transit constrained by FTA funding rules

By Mary Ebeling

The benefits to transit riders of having bike racks on buses and trains and bike storage at transit stops are well known. New bike share programs offer another opportunity to provide better access to public transit, bridging the important “last mile” between trip origins and destinations. In the U.S., however, Federal Transit Administration funding for the installation of bike-sharing stations adjacent to transit services has stalled, in part due to funding eligibility rules. Currently, FTA funds may pay for planning and construction of the bike share station itself, but not the purchase of actual bicycles. Bicycles can be purchased using FHWA funding, however. FTA and USDOT officials have acknowledged the need to change eligibility rules to embrace the rapidly growing demand for bike share, but as yet no changes have been made.

FTA defines bicycle improvements within three miles of a transit facility as having a de facto “physical and functional relationship to public transportation.” FTA also agrees that “bicycle sharing systems provide meaningful access to public transportation.” Consistent with FTA, USDOT’s policy strives to “incorporate safe and convenient walking and bicycling into transportation projects.”  To fully support this goal, USDOT should provide support and guidance to FTA and assist in crafting a policy statement allowing funding for full integration of bike sharing into transit projects.

International experience with bike sharing facilities adjacent to transit stations provide successful examples of how this infrastructure can help form a smooth transition between modes, and get more people using transit. Cities in China and the UK embrace the synergies of linking bike share with transit to increase ridership and improve the transit rider experience. Transport for London even incorporates bike share information on their website.

The labyrinthine federal funding process currently limits financial assistance for bike-share stations near transit, although Denver and Washington, DC, demonstrate how successful bike share near transit can be. Denver Bike-Share, the nonprofit that operates Denver B-Cycle, partners with the Denver Regional Transportation District to place bike-share kiosks adjacent to bus stops or light rail. Washington Metro Area Transportation Authority has created a process to identify locations where high demand for connecting bicycles with transit exists and assists in installations of bike-share stations to help bridge the first and last mile between transit and a rider’s final destination. Currently, when projects like these seek federal funding, they must coordinate between FTA Title 49 and FHWA Title 23 processes to assemble a full grant package.

FTA’s grant programs, as part of an overall USDOT program, should be able to provide financial assistance to purchase bikes for bike-share stations. With greater flexibility in funding, many existing FTA capital funding formula programs (e.g. 5307, 5309) could also be used to purchase bicycles, but the guidance allowing this to happen has not yet been written. Until then, many U.S. bike share programs seeking to locate adjacent to transit will experience unnecessary delays working with a cumbersome combination of FTA and FHWA funds.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst with SSTI.