Capital Bikeshare struggles to draw low-income users, despite outreach efforts, station siting in low-income areas, subsidies, and efforts to include people without bank accounts. Photo: DDOT, via ITDP
Washington’s Capital Bikeshare is one of the biggest and most well-established bike-share systems in the nation. Its annual fee of just $75 buys you unlimited free half-hour trips. The system now has 2,500 bicycles at 300 stations in the District and the nearby suburbs.
It’s an incredible money-saver, especially for the 50 percent of users who report driving less and the 60 percent who report taking fewer taxis since joining bike-share. But if it’s such a thrifty transportation choice, why are only 8 percent of CaBi members low-income, compared to 45 percent who live in households that earn more than $100,000?
CaBi’s trouble attracting low-income users is not exceptional. Other transportation services based on the idea that people can economize by accessing a fleet of vehicles instead of buying their own — think bike-share, car-share, and ride-share services — have failed, for the most part, to draw people who stand to gain the most by saving on transportation costs.
Transportation eats up a disproportionate amount of low-income people’s household income — 24 percent for people earning between $5,000 and $30,000 per year. And low-income people tend to face longer commute times than wealthier residents. Transit options between their homes, which are most often in cities, and their jobs, which have in recent years sprawled out to the distant suburbs, are often lacking.
Shared transportation options can provide solutions when transit alone is deficient. But by and large, poor people are not taking advantage of those solutions. The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy looked at the barriers to widespread adoption of these options by low-income people and some possible solutions in a new report, “Connecting Low-Income People to Opportunity with Shared Mobility.”
Here’s how some services have bucked the larger trend and provided transportation for people on a wider range of the income ladder.