What’s Keeping People From Using Bike-Share? New Study Breaks It Down by Race and Income

Meet 10 cities that are great for biking. Photo: Darren Burton/Indego via Better Bike Share Partnership/Flickr
Meet 10 cities that are great for biking. Photo: Darren Burton/Indego via Better Bike Share Partnership/Flickr

Low-income communities and people of color view traffic risk, high prices, and the potential for crime and harassment are the biggest barriers to bicycling and using bike-share in their neighborhoods, according to a new report from researchers at Portland State University.

By surveying people who don’t already use bike-share, the authors hope to get a better sense of what stands in the way of ridership. “Most of the studies of bike-share users in the past have been based on membership information, coming from the rolls of people who have already signed up,” said Portland State research associate Nathan McNeil. “We wanted to talk with the people who weren’t already using bike-share.”

Researchers got responses from 1,885 residents of specific neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Brooklyn. The analysis compared four demographics: lower-income people of color, higher-income people of color, lower-income white people, and higher-income white people.

The top barrier to bicycling in general was traffic safety, with 48 percent of all respondents citing it as a problem. Concern about dangerous traffic cut across demographic lines: 44 percent of low-income people of color cited it as a big barrier to riding a bike, as did 50 percent of high-income people of color, 53 percent of low-income whites, and 49 percent of high-income whites.

There was more variation when people were asked about barriers specific to bike-share. For low-income people of color, the most frequently cited obstacle was being on the hook “if anything happens to the bike.” For all other groups, the biggest reason for not using bike-share was, “I just prefer to use my own bike.”

Just four percent of survey respondents had tried their city’s bike-share program. Within that, there were variations. Among all low-income residents, 2 percent had tried bike-share, compared to 5 percent of higher-income people of color and 10 percent of higher-income white people.

Although few respondents had used the bikes, there was widespread support for bike-share. Three quarters said they had seen people like them using the system and agreed that it “is useful for people like me,” while 11 percent expected to join within the next 12 months — results that didn’t vary by race or income.

The survey did find that lower-income residents are more likely to see bike-share as a marker of gentrification — 27 percent of lower-income people of color said bike-share “will make it more expensive to live in the neighborhood,” nearly double the percentage of higher-income white residents. In addition, people of color were more likely than white respondents to have concerns about being a victim of crime or a target for police harassment when riding bike-share.

What is the biggest barrier to using bike-share? New research looks at concerns from white, non-white, high-income and low-income people in three cities. Image: TREC/PSU [PDF]
Often, people just haven’t heard enough about bike-share to feel comfortable using it. This lack of familiarity is especially common among people of color and low-income residents, researchers found. “People that are unfamiliar with the system may not have a sense of how it could or would work,” said McNeil. “Some of the misconceptions that, to us, are more significant, are not knowing about some of the discounts that are available.”

Steps as simple as direct, face-to-face communication — instead of relying on websites or kiosks — can be very effective at getting the word out. Talking to someone at a bike-share outreach event made people more likely to use the system. “It was the more in-person types of interactions that appear to correlate with whether people are intending to use bike-share,” McNeil said. His research team will soon be releasing another report that goes into more detail about outreach methods.

The researchers are writing a trio of reports on bike-share equity: a survey of bike-share operators was released in May [PDF], the survey of residents in areas with bike-share was released last week [PDF], and a survey of people who participated in programs aimed at encouraging bike-share use will be released later this summer.

The work is funded by the Better Bike Share Partnership, a collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, and PeopleForBikes, a bike industry group. It’s also supported through the National Institute for Transportation and Communities, a federal transportation center based at Portland State.

43 thoughts on What’s Keeping People From Using Bike-Share? New Study Breaks It Down by Race and Income

  1. A beater used bike can be had for $25 in most urban environments. There is no way a bike share can compete with those economics.

  2. Honestly the cost portion really depends; NYC’s bike share system costs $163/year. Montreal’s system (which uses the same bikes) costs less than half that, at $69.

    An average NYC citi bike user takes about 80 trips per year, so that’s just over $2/ ride; not the best cost proposition unless you really use it a lot.

  3. Interestingly, the relaunched Bike Share program in the San Francisco Bay Area (Ford GoBike) offers eligible low income individuals $5 first year annual membership fee with up to 60 minute per ride privileges. They also provide more choices for enrollment than the standard enrollment, like visiting a location to sign-up and no credit card required.

    Cost wise, a great deal. But I can understand that people don’t want to be in trouble for a lost bike fee if the bike is improperly docked.

  4. There are multiple ways in which a bike share can and does compete with a beater bike.

    1) With a bike share, you don’t need to lug the bike up flights of stairs and store it in your home. Many people, myself included, just don’t have the space for a bike.
    2) With a bike share, you don’t have to worry about bike maintenance. No matter what goes wrong with the bike, it’s not your problem. Last time I owned a bike, I spent a hell of a lot of time making adjustments and fixes to the brakes, gears and chain – and flat tires were a PITA. Plus many people just don’t have the space to work on a bike.
    3) You don’t have to carry a bike lock or chain with you
    4) It doesn’t matter where you park your bike, because no matter where you end up, there’s likely to be another bike station nearby. Sometimes I will bike to a location in the city and my subsequent activities on foot take me far away from where I parked up. If it was my own bike, I’d have to make my way back to where I’d originally parked instead of just going to the nearest bike share station.

    I realize you could come up with a similar list of ways in which owning a beater bike is better, but I’ve heard them all before and evaluated them and the bike share still works out better for me.

  5. How many of these “average NYC citi bike users” are key holders, and how many are the occasional users who pay for trips with a card? Because I’m pretty sure the average key holder makes more than 80 trips a year. I bet I make close to 1000.

  6. I literally took the current number of yearly membership holders, and divided by a typical number of trips on a normal spring day, then multiplied by 365. The number may actually be slightly lower given winter, so here we go:

    As of Dec 2016, there were just under 14 million total trips for that year, and 200,000 yearly members. Even if you attribute all trips to the yearly members (ignoring the one day passes, etc.) that’s only 70 trips/person per year.

    As for 1000 trips per year? It’s great that you’re riding the bikes 3 times per day, but you’re an outlier.

  7. Helmet laws may keep some people (usually young) from using them. Countries without such laws would be more successful.

  8. The problem with averaging things out like that though is that you don’t really get a sense of how the rides are distributed. For instance, I bet there are a hell of a lot of people who, like so many gym members, buy themselves a Citibike membership with good initial intentions but who take a few rides only to drift back into their old habits within a few weeks. Perhaps they’re lazy, or got rained on a couple times, or miss their morning subway coffee. I would happily exclude all of those people from the equation.

    Ten trips a week is probably far more representative of the average *active* user. And that works out at around $0.31 a ride.

  9. all true, but you likely have a steady job. ( I use citibike )

    I am just focusing on the article’s subject

  10. NYCHA residents and members of certain credit unions can get Citi Bike for $5 a month, or $60 a year. A credit or debit card is still required, though.

  11. I like that the bikes in the picture have more storage than the bikes used for Divvy and Citibike. Is it enough for grocery shopping?

    In Milwaukee, there is an option for a $3 Bublr ride. Usually I use my own bike. Occasionally a bikeshare would be useful, but buying a 24 hour pass for $10 is too much when I was only planning on doing one ride. Frequently an uberpool is cheaper than that. I would use Divvy more often if I could purchase a single ride.

  12. That’s nice and all, but at the current cost, even if you can easily afford it, it’s still not a great value unless you use it a whole lot.

    I can afford a $60 steak dinner, but that doesn’t mean I’ll choose that route, when cheaper options are available,

    As somebody who doesn’t work in manhattan, I’d love to be able to use citibike when I’m there for fun, but my per ride cost would likely be somewhat more expensive than an equivalent metrocard.

  13. You can get better numbers by looking at Citi Bike Monthly Reports:


    According to the latest report, from May, there were 1,333,493 trips made by 128,438 annual members, which comes to an average of 10.38. There were 189,756 trips by casual members, or 12%. You could pull the numbers from the last 12 months of reports for a pretty good average for the year.

  14. Beater bike: $25
    Adequate bike lock: $50

    You’re already at $75 (not to mention when you have to replace the beater, because it’s a beater), when some others have commented, low income discounts can be had for as little as $5, while even in some cities full price is only $99.

  15. I’m having a slow day, so I did the math as I outlined below, based on the City Bike monthly operating reports. In past year up to May, annual members made an average of about 9.5 trips per month, or 114 trips a year. At $163 + tax per year for an annual membership, that comes to $1.55 per ride. Ride more than ~twice a week, and your cost per ride goes down even more. I’d call that a value.

  16. I can’t account for what you personally value; of course there are people who won’t ride a bike at any cost. But comparing prices, if you ride more that about once a week, Citi Bike is cheaper than the subway, the next cheapest transportation option other than walking, which makes it a money saving proposition (assuming you buy individual fares, and not a monthly Metrocard).

  17. How do you figure? Once a week gets you to 52 rides… a yearly membership is $163 + tax (about $177). That’s about $3.40/ride. A single ride on the subway is $2.75.

  18. About once a week, meaning approximately, I’m talking round numbers. I already said somewhere that 60 rides a year about equals a subway ride, so if you want to be picky, you’d have to ride 1.15 times a week.

  19. my lock was bought at target for $14

    more than adequate for a beater bike

    your argument is valid for many people, so I kinda agree

  20. The top barrier to bicycling in general was traffic safety, with 48 percent of all respondents citing it as a problem. Concern about dangerous traffic cut across demographic lines: 44 percent of low-income people of color cited it as a big barrier to riding a bike, as did 50 percent of high-income people of color, 53 percent of low-income whites, and 49 percent of high-income whites.

    There was more variation when people were asked about barriers specific to bike-share. For low-income people of color, the most frequently cited obstacle was being on the hook “if anything happens to the bike.” For all other groups, the biggest reason for not using bike-share was, “I just prefer to use my own bike.”

    And that’s the crux of why bike share systems are a waste of money for almost all American communities, especially if funded at the government level. Bike share doesn’t do very well in Copenhagen or The NLs because people already have their own bikes and it is easy and safe to use it. Most Americans do already own a bike, even those lower on the income scale, but they lack access to a safe place to ride it. American communities have miles to go on the infrastructure front, so if there’s money available for biking, it should absolutely go into infrastructure over bike share until American communities are getting better bike-friendly scores than Dutch ones. That is doubly relevant if the argument for bike share is that “we need to see a demand for biking before we can invest in infrastructure”, yet there is already a contingent in the community that is bouncing along on sidewalks and clinging to curbs as they ride. Access to bikes isn’t the problem.

  21. Basically, and low-income individuals often already own them. They don’t need a bike, they need a safe place to ride it, lock it, and repair it. Put the money slated for bike share into those programs instead and leave bike share to support itself.

  22. I presume you’re not familiar with beater bikes? They work even if the wheels aren’t exactly true, if they squeak, etc. Besides replacing a tube here and there and maybe tightening the brakes up, they don’t need (or get) much maintenance. And few people buying beater bikes buy the $50 locks. I’ve seen countless bikes locked up with $2 worth of ornamental chain and a lock from the 99 cents store. It helps that they don’t have anything fancy on them like the name CANNONDALE, SPECIALIZED, etc. and remember to take your light.

  23. I can’t help but think that bike share is a program that mostly appeals to urban professionals, in terms of using it for transportation, at least. If you’re taking public transport to an urban center, and need a convenient way to get around town once you’re there, it’s a great model. But most lower income folks’ lives don’t look like that.

    If going to work means heading to the industrial section of town where the roads are narrow, there are no shoulders, and “traffic” consists of 18 wheelers – biking starts to look significantly less appealing – and most of those areas aren’t exactly filled with amenities let alone bike share stations. Similarly, if you work a schedule that requires you to either arrive before dawn or leave after dark (VERY common for lower income people) biking is much less attractive. You also might work a job that has a very inconsistent schedule… or one where you don’t generally know what time you’ll get off work. There’s also the fact that many lower income jobs are blue collar careers that require you to haul a bunch of equipment around (think cleaning supplies, shovels, etc.) – plus the fact that if you spend your work day doing hard physical labor like putting on a roof or something, riding a bike home starts to seem less like a refreshing bit of exercise, and more like adding to an already exhausting regime.

    I’m not knocking bike share or bike commuting. I just think that before you start asking questions like “why don’t poor people like our programs?” it might be a good idea to walk a few days in their shoes, and get a sense of what they’re really up against.

  24. I agree with what you’re saying, but I’d point out that stats show that low-income individuals actually bike to work more than the general population, despite all the issues you’ve mentioned. Plopping down a fancy set of bikes doesn’t do a thing to fix the problem that the study was kind enough to confirm is a huge barrier to cycling in general: traffic safety. However, plopping down those bikes isn’t cheap and then efforts to make them “equitable” cost even more money. While that’s a noble goal, it’s rather backwards to put money into putting out a set of bikes for people who already have bikes and are riding them in the unsafe conditions instead of putting money into just fixing the conditions instead.

  25. Or, with $163, one can buy a usable bike and a lock and ride it for a couple years. Someone spending $163/year in tubes has exceptionally bad luck.

  26. Interesting stat about low income folks already biking to work more than the general population. I totally agree with you about prioritizing infrastructure over bike share. As a member of said low income community myself, the whole bike share concept has always mystified me. Why on earth would I pay such sums of money to rent a bike when I can buy a beater for $20? And the whole “maintenance cost” issue is a total non-starter as far as I’m concerned. Maybe that makes sense if “maintenance” for you means taking your bike to a shop and paying someone to work on it for you, but the reality is that a $5 pump, a flat kit, a bottle of chain lube and a small investment of time will solve 95% of your bike maintenance needs. I guess I just think that bike share is mostly something that appeals to people for whom convenience is paramount – and that really doesn’t describe most of us in the low income world.

  27. That Target lock would not last long in many cities. I see many a disabled Target type lock on bike racks and no bike.

  28. Um… seriously folks – if the bike is a $20 beater, most bike thieves aren’t gonna waste their time with it – the lock only needs to be adequate for discouraging some kid from grabbing it for a joyride. Besides… would you really pay more for the lock than the bike? My beater bike is actually fairly nice, but I use it all over one of Denver’s poorest neighborhoods with nothing more than a cable & a combination lock that I’ve owned since the 1980s – never had a problem.

  29. Someone tried to steal my wooden crate from my bike. I lock my bike in the lockers at the train station, and each time I see bikes missing everything from wheels to seats to handlebars. And sometimes it is down to a frame.

    The cheap lock may work for an hour, but if you need to park your bike in a spot without foot traffic or overnight – be surprised if it is intact the next morning.

  30. Interesting points – I suppose issues are different everywhere. I would never consider leaving a bike outside for an extended period of time. I guess I still think that the public money spent on bike share could be better used to create safer bike parking or other infrastructure that would benefit all riders, not just those who can afford the convenience of a bike share program.

  31. I have a bike, and I just joined our local bike share (since it is finally expanding in a way more useful to me). From my perspective – there are places where transit is not the best option, but the bike ride would be easy. Or times when I didn’t plan to ride my bike. For example, I take the bus to work, there are only 2 bike racks on it and they are usually full by my stop.

    Bike share allows me to use a bike on the other side of my commute – without risking the lack of space to bring my own bike.

    I used my local bike share for the first time this weekend – I got off the train in one area, and realized I didn’t have the time to walk to my next destination 1.25 miles away. All of the transit options were over $2. I grabbed a bike, went my quick journey and dropped it off at my destination.

    There are spots downtown in my city where the transit options suck, but it would be a simple bike ride. Bike share is for these uses.

  32. Bike share can help serve as catalyst for better infrastructure. It helps to get more people biking. NYC’s explosion of infrastructure also coincided with the Citibike launch.

    Also, plenty of people would like to bike but don’t have space to store one. Many of my fellow renter friends have this problem. I lucked out and found an illegal spot in my building – and no one complains. There is no way I’d have space in my apartment for a bike! And I don’t have any outdoor space.

    Also – you never leave your bike outside for an extended amount of time? What if you bike to work? Where would you leave your bike then?

  33. Well, I think your comment really illustrates what different issues people face. I don’t really consider storage space to be much of an issue – even when I lived in a 200 sqft apartment, there was plenty of space to just lean my bike up against a wall behind the couch – but I am a bit of a minimalist.

    I work from home now, so commuting isn’t an issue for me, but before that, I never had a job where I got off work before 10pm, so I would never have considered commuting by bike – that plus the fact that there was a hill with a 15% grade between me and the place I worked! But even with that – I would have arranged a spot inside to store my bike, or I wouldn’t have done it.

    But more to the point, I think the issues faced by people living in a dense urban environment are just different from those faced by folks in less populated areas. Here in Denver we have bike share, but I mostly see it as a “trendy” thing designed for people living downtown (ie people with lots of money). Our city council rep keeps fighting to try to get a bike share station out here in the barrio, but I think it’s an incredible waste of time. I mean, what good does one bike share station do? I’d have to walk 2 miles to get to it, and the nearest other station would be about 10 miles away!

    Anyhow, I’d much rather see our public funds going toward making biking safer for everyone. I’m not against bike share, I just think that the model really doesn’t work for everyone.

  34. Yes, I’m not saying that bike share has no place in society at all. The ability to quickly grab a bike is great, especially as an extension of transit. But I take issue with massive amounts of money going into bike share when infrastructure needs are still so high, especially when the stated reason is to “build support for improvements” even though those without options have been biking around the community for years (e.g. LA Metro wasn’t sure where they’d get $12mn for a rail-trail in the heart of the low-income area of town that would have too many benefits for biking to list here, but they easily found $50mn to throw at a bike share system going into the quickly-gentrifying downtown). Given how the ridership demographics of bike share usually turn out, that’s a massive slap in the face to the community.

  35. I don’t think bike share is meant to work for all, and I am not happy with the way it has been implemented in my city. I won’t use it a ton near home – the nearest stations are about 1/2 mile a way. And the stations are aligned along a single corridor as it heads north into the city. It also doesn’t cover anywhere remotely close to the section of the city with the lowest income. But it does offer an easy way to travel from transit to other parts. Our city has poor east to west transit coverage, particularly in the North where bike share is concentrated. So it will be a good option.

    I personally do not find riding late at night to be a barrier – where I live is pretty well lit, and there is some infrastructure, but it is also mostly a grid with plenty of quiet residential streets. So day or night is about the same for me.

    I think it is important to note that in many places, not much in terms of city funding is used for Bike Share – and it isn’t part of the general fund. They are using sponsors and environmental and health funding.

    I think the biggest benefit is visibility. For example San Francisco got a lot less scary to bike in when the bike share arrived. I think the cars just got more cautious. I am hoping for the same for Oakland. Right now there is a perception that no body bikes, and adding more cyclists can help with that.

  36. Or, with the NYCHA discount, with $120 you get bikes you can use for a couple of years, without having to worry about storage or maintenance or theft. And you can pay just $5 a month with no big payment up front. And clearly lots of Citi Bike users don’t own bikes, and don’t want to, and choose to pay the annual fee indeed. Different people have different needs, and more choices mean more people on bikes.

  37. Bike share is bike infrastructure; it gets more people on bikes. Perhaps bike share isn’t a high priority everywhere. But if it gets more people on bikes, it has succeeded as infrastructure. In places like New York, DC, Boston, Chicago, or Minneapolis, it clearly has done that. And it drives a virtuous cycle. People who otherwise wouldn’t have ridden a bike start ride riding, and they demand better infrastructure, and more infrastructure gets built, and yet more people get on bikes.

  38. Dear Streetsblog,

    When you write an article on bikeshare, please ask commenters to say whether or not they themselves use bikeshare. That way readers can more easily distinguish useful comments from nonsense.

    The reason I ask this is that using bikeshare completely changed by ideas about bikeshare. Sometimes bikeshare is an alternative to using my own bike, like when I use bikeshare if I am likely to get into a social situation that has me travelling with others for part of my trip home. In that case, bikeshare is good for my social life. Often, bikeshare is an alternative to transit, as when I take transit downtown and then take bikeshare from point to point within downtown. In that case, bikeshare is much more convenient than dragging along my own bike (bike on bus or train) or waiting for a bus when the trip is under 2 miles. Sometimes I use bikeshare along with my own bike, so I can ride with a friend (a legal gray area, but fun). Again, good for my social life.

    All this is a lengthy way of pointing out that people who think that owning a bike is a good substitute for bikeshare don’t know what they are talking about. If all commenters on articles like this said whether or not they themselves used bikeshare, interesting patterns might emerge in the comments. Maybe we’d all learn a bit more from this excellent blog.


    A Reader.

  39. When in a service business it is important to know why people buy or do not buy. So you lost me on sentence one. Keep your day job, public relations is not your forte.

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