Bike share offers lessons in providing equitable transportation options

By Chris McCahill

Bikes shares, which now offer expanded transportation options in cities around the nation, have also tested those cities’ abilities to serve their communities equitably. The placement and pricing of these systems are often barriers for low-income communities. Philadelphia’s new system, however, while not a perfect example, improves upon its predecessors and offers important lessons in equitable transportation provision.

Indego, which opened on April 23rd in Philadelphia, is the first bike share system in the country to launch with payment options for non-credit card users (passes are sold for cash at 7-Elevens and Family Dollar stores). Moreover, one-third of its stations are in low-income neighborhoods, providing access to roughly half of the city’s low-income population. As in other cities, those stations still may not be placed densely enough to encourage high ridership numbers, but that could potentially improve as the system grows to include 180 stations that are planned.

That’s where the city’s public engagement process plays a key role.

Extensive outreach has been a key part of the planning and implementation process. The Indego team partnered with groups like Temple University, OpenPlans, and the Bicycle Coalition for Greater Philadelphia to organize focus groups, lead street teams, engage communities, and solicit feedback throughout its process. Their approach, according to representatives from the mayor’s office of transportation and utilities, has been to reach as many neighborhood groups as possible, make thoroughly informed assumptions when necessary, and let the feedback process constantly evolve. This feedback has influenced everything from station placement to marketing strategies.

Although the city’s public engagement process is said to be constantly evolving, the methods already employed could be used for a variety of transportation applications, including the construction of bicycle infrastructure, transit service planning, and road projects. Outreach efforts like this one, which make use of existing data, technological platforms, and face-to-face interaction, are essential in reaching equitable project outcomes.

Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.