Cities Fund Student Transit Passes — Why Not Bike-Share Passes Too?

Photo:  Wash Cycle
Photo: Wash Cycle

A few generations ago, nearly half of American kids walked or biked to school. That number has been falling for a long time, as school districts sprawl and fewer parents feel safe letting their children get around on their own. Not only does this reduce physical activity for young people, it also carries high costs as local governments pay to transport more students longer distances.

A recent CNN story looked at the potential for bike-share and other bicycling programs to help kids get to school in cities. High school students haven’t gotten much attention as potential bike-share users, but as former Chicago and DC transportation chief Gabe Klein told CNN, that’s a mistake: “We should absolutely be giving these kids memberships or reduced-fee memberships because it lowers our costs.”

To make it happen, current rules will have to change. The Wash Cycle has a few suggestions for DC, where children under 16 are required to wear helmets while biking and prohibited from using bike-share in the system’s insurance policy:

So one thing we could do is lower the age limit to 15 or 14. We could do it only for DC residents if we’re worried about a bunch of 14 year old tourists tearing the roads up. We could also lower the required helmet age, but that wouldn’t be necessary, just easier and it would encourage more riding. I’m not sure what the science is on helmet benefits as it relates to age.

The second thing we can do is give high school kids free bikeshare memberships. We could make them free only during the times when the Kids Ride free program operates (which, admittedly is “all day, every day (including weekends)”), but it wouldn’t save us much money over just making it free all the time. It will still be cheaper then letting them ride transit for free…

We don’t have to do all of these things. We could give free CaBi memberships to kids 16 and over and not lower the CaBi age. Or we could lower the CaBi age but not change the helmet age. But the more of these things we do, the more we can give students more choices. Choices that will save them time, help them learn and make it easier for them to get to school in the first place.

The other piece, of course, is better street design for cycling. Biking programs for high school students should go hand in hand with Safe Routes to School initiatives that improve bike infrastructure.

More recommended reading today: Modern Cities reports on Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s is trying to increase private investment in transit projects. And City Observatory points out that the Oregon DOT’s own data doesn’t support the agency’s contention that highway widenings are needed to improve safety.

29 thoughts on Cities Fund Student Transit Passes — Why Not Bike-Share Passes Too?

  1. Not a bad idea, though for most bikeshare systems you need a credit card linked to the account in case the bike isn’t returned or damaged, so it may be necessary for a parent’s cad to be used almost like a ‘cosponsor.’

  2. If more than a few students want to use this they aren’t going to have anywhere to dock.

  3. If it’s a student, it’s easier. You just encumber their student account and hold their grades/degree – no different than if they fail to pay tuition.

  4. I’m not sure what the science is on helmet benefits as it relates to age.

    The Dutch have done it. The conclusion was that they’re most helpful for people under five and over 65. For everyone else, a helmet requirement would cost more lives in lost ridership than it would save from people bumping their heads.

  5. I think it is better to purchase a bunch of bikes and give them away to kids, along with helmet. Bike sharing requires a financial instrument where the operator can place a financial liability on the user. I don’t think kids are ready for that, and you can’t assume that parents would automatically assume liability. If kids have their own bikes, the situation would be simpler. If they break it, they will have to pay for fix or replace it, if they don’t want to do it, then they don’t get to ride.

  6. Why bikeshare? Why not try to get them a bike? Most people’s growth spurts end around junior high, and I don’t know the exact cost of years of a bikeshare membership, but wouldn’t a scholarship fund to buy a used bike make sense? Ideally you could trade in a smaller bike that would be given to a younger student as you age, which would mean you get the smallest bikes that one would grow out of sooner for cheaper.

  7. Also note that “most helpful” still doesn’t imply that they’re necessary, or should even be recommended, for people under 5 or over 65. The helmet fetish we see in the US and a few other countries like Australia has cost dearly in terms of mode share and people just too afraid to cycle.

  8. Slightly off-topic – but I’ve been thinking about bike-share fleets being used by city/agency officials. In L.A., city staff will drive from one downtown location to another – or take the local DASH shuttle (which city staff ride free) – but they don’t take bike-share… Any other cities/government agencies use their local bike-share systems?

  9. It’s for the same reason more people do not commute to work by bicycle. Office dress codes, close working proximity among employees, and the lack of facilities to store clothes and clean up.

    A guy in a suit is not going to risk sweating up his clothes between meetings.

  10. This brings up an issue that as a childless adult, I haven’t encountered. Imagine going on vacation, seeing a bikeshare station, wanting to go on a ride with your family…only to find out your 13-year old can’t rent a bike. The age limit seems pretty ridiculous. But then again, the bicycles provided by bikeshare systems are often catered to adult riders. Perhaps a system can pilot bicycles more appropriate to be used by children and study their usage?

  11. people wear suits cycling to work and meetings all over the civilized world. your argument is a red herring

  12. I speak from personal experience…

    The lack of a secure place to park your bike and a place to wash up and change discourages more people from commuting by bicycle than infrastructure.

    For twenty years I worked in Beverly Hills. My commute was only five miles. My morning route had a 200 elevation loss and I would choose the flattest route. At 5:30 in the morning, it was generally cool. The problem was by the time I made it to the office, I was warmed up and ready to drop 40. I was just starting to sweat and frustrated that I had to stop. I was lucky that I had a secure place to store my bike at work, but I had no place to change and clean up. I would roll my suit and place it in a pannier with my dress shoes. (Rolling clothes for travel reduces wrinkles.) I would wipe myself off with baby wipes and change in a mensroom bathroom stall.

    The amount of time I spent prepping myself and my bike before and after was just not worth it for a 5-mile ride.

  13. you obviously were trying to ride too fast. It a common mistake.

    I cycle commuted from Venice to Westwood for 6 years ( also ~5 miles ) in chinos, a blazer, dress shoes, and a tie. No issue at all.

    I daily cycle commute in Manhattan in office clothes as do thousands of others.

    Ferdinand ( below ) doesn’t – because he has a 10+ mile commute.

  14. Trust me I wasn’t hammering it. I averaged about 16 mph, and that was inflated due to the original downhill. I never got out of the 39, averaged an 80 cadence, and a 115 max heart rate. My pacing was dictated by signal timing. As I said, it was similar to a warn-up portion of a group ride. By the time I was at the office, I was ready for a hill climb.

    Of course, going home was the opposite. Then I wanted to hammer it (shower at home), but motor traffic and signal timing worked against me.

  15. 16 mph ???

    that’s slow for Freds but blazing fast for bike commuting.

    lemme’ guess you have 22mm tires.

    Try getting a 50lb commuting bike with 32s or better 35s and riding for a 90 max heart rate.

  16. This is why I am so glad that my ride to work is 10 or 11 miles (depending on which route I choose). If it were any longer, then the travel to and from work would take too much time out of my day. And, if it were any shorter, then I would feel as you did: that the changing of clothes and cooling off is not worth it for such a short ride. Ten miles is the absolute sweet spot for a commute.

  17. “Fred” – I haven’t heard that in years. In my twenties, I was a proud Fred. By my mid-thirties I was a full on converted roadie. I have a mid-nineties 30-lbs Rockhopper that I converted to road use. Slick tires with 46 and 34 chain rings. When I bought my Cervelo, I converted my 18-lbs Cannondale to a commuter.

    So what is the slang term for a bicycle commuter that wears spandex and acts like a roadie?

    As for the 16 mph. Unless I break the law (i.e. jump red lights), that is about as fast as anybody can average in L.A. Westside traffic. I could do a century with 4,000 feet in five hours; but seldom could break 16 mph during the week commuting.

  18. I think you need a full commuter bike with full fenders, mud flaps, rear rack, fold out side racks, no more than 3 speeds internal hub, rear coaster brake, big comfy seat, monster pedals ( no toe clips )
    something you can use to carry luggage and potted plants.

    Set a alarm to blare loudly if you exceed 12MPH. Try and average 8-10 MPH

    🙂 🙂 🙂

    minimum 35mm wide tires

  19. I managed 4 meetings in a single day in London on a trip last month . The only way this was possible was by using Boris Bike. I was in a suit with tie all day. Last year, I presented in a director level meeting in Rotterdam and took a hotel bike from the city center where my hotel was to their HQ a little out of town. Two at the meeting rode back with me that evening for a walk through the Maritime Museum (highly recommended ) and drinks thereafter on a canal. They were doing the ‘NL business sloppy’ dress code but I was in a suit.

    Yes, some conditions make this difficult but to throw a blanket over the entire option as ‘a guy in a suit is not going to do it’ is way off base.

    BTW: I closed on 2 contracts on that day. Must not have been too stinky…..

  20. In some ways a personal bike is like the private car while bike share is like public transport. Basically, you only need to think about it when you need it and don’t have to always have it with you. I didn’t realize this until I started using bike shares all over the world. I rarely use it to make a A to B and back to A trip.

  21. UW-Milwaukee’s Student Senate approved $300,000, which the City of Milwaukee used to provide 5 new stations around their campus and off-site dorms and the non-profit operating partner, Bublr Bikes, tapped to provide low cost Bublr passes for students who opted in.

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