Reduced rates in future bike-share program will drive down costs for low-income riders
Low-income people who can’t afford to buy a bike but still want to ride may soon have a chance to pop a wheelie: Seattle’s upcoming bike-share program will likely offer discount memberships.
Sometime in the spring, Puget Sound Bike Share (PSBS) will launch Seattle’s first bike-share program, making 500 bikes accessible for short jaunts throughout the city. The bikes will be parked in 50 docking stations located downtown, in Capitol Hill, South Lake Union and the University District.
“The idea is really to make this program accessible to everyone,” said Holly Houser, executive director of PSBS.
For those with little or no income, access may be a hurdle because participation in the program requires a payment, often in the form of an annual membership. At this point, no annual membership fee has been set, but Houser said it will likely cost between $75 and $85.
Houser said PSBS, which is a nonprofit, has a mission to ensure people from underserved communities can participate in the program. Access for low-income people may be made possible through discount rates, she said, and the nonprofit may explore partnerships with social service agencies that would cover the financial liability for clients who use shared bikes. No cost has been proposed for a discount membership, she said.
Monthly and 24-hour memberships will also be available, but pricing structures have yet to be determined.
No matter what type of membership people choose, Houser said riders will be able to check out a bike for a short time period, either 30 or 45 minutes, before returning it to a docking station. Bikes can be used unlimited times during the course of a membership. All bikes come equipped with seven speeds.
The estimated cost to launch the program next spring is $4 million, which will be covered through a combination of federal and state funds, corporate sponsorships and a $500,000 grant from Seattle Children’s Hospital. The system will be designed by Alta Bicycle Share.
Once the bike program is established in four initial neighborhoods, Houser said the nonprofit hopes to expand it to other parts of the city, as well as Redmond, Kirkland and Renton.
The Seattle City Council will vote later this summer on two pieces of legislation to authorize the use of public places for bike-share stations and to grant PSBS conceptual approval to maintain and operate the program.
In the past few years, bike sharing has gained traction in the U.S., with more than 30 cities nationwide now offering some form of program. The most recent, and perhaps the most widely reported, is in New York City, which offers 6,000 bikes at more than 300 stations.
The New York Times reported that in the program’s first two weeks, more than 170,000 rides were taken and more than 36,000 memberships were initiated. But the program’s infancy came with bumps: Users complained some stations wouldn’t accept returned bikes and some credit card machines didn’t function.
One part of the city’s program that didn’t seem to raise the dander of New Yorkers was its discount membership. An annual membership for New York’s bike-share program costs $90, but New York City Housing Authority residents and members of three of the city’s credit unions pay $60.
Houser said that increased access to bikes in a city can help eradicate the perception that biking is an activity reserved only for wealthy people. PSBS is committed to making Seattle’s program affordable with some type of discount, she said.
“We know it’s going to happen,” Houser said, “we just haven’t worked out the details.”
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