Bringing Bike-share to Underserved Populations: A Case Study

By David Sorrell, MOL

About 10 years ago, I received my undergrad from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., about an hour west of Chicago. I was one of many without a car and getting around town, especially nights and weekends, was especially difficult. At the same time, I didn’t think the mobility spectrum would go beyond personal vehicles.

Fast-forward 10 years: The mobility spectrum has changed drastically. Personal travel has started to shift to more shared modes of travel. Cars, bikes, and even scooters can be accessed through a card, a cell phone, or even a fob. This has made access a lot more easier, but many people, including students, are left out of the equation because of where they live or their ability to afford and pay for such services.

When I took over the TDM program at UC Berkeley in 2017, I was presented with an opportunity to bridge that divide. Our regional bike-share network, FordGoBike (powered by Lyft/Motivate), (re)launched from the Bay Area Bike Share pilot and expand to five cities. If you happen to take a bike in Berkeley, you can opt to ride it to Emeryville or Oakland (adjacent cities); with the same membership, you can also access BikeShare stations in San Francisco and San Jose.

There’s an effort reach areas known as “communities of concern,” the Metropolitian Transportation Commission’s identified areas of low-income and minority populations. Ford GoBike provided low-income memberships to those who qualify (a $149 yearly membership for $5 the first year). I received a grant to provide qualified students (those with Pell and DREAM grants) the $5 fee and as a result, free bike-share.

Students who don’t qualify for this awesome program aren’t left out. The same grant opportunity offers all students a monthly discount.

Cal is one of the first colleges in the U.S. to offer such an exciting partnership and more than 1,000 students have taken advantage of it. Their trips replace vehicular modes including Uber and Lyft (no irony there). Plus, by communicating these programs to our Educational Opportunity Program students—many of whom are minority, low-income, first-generation, parents, active military— these groups can embrace bike-share as a program specifically for them. Once they make six figures, they can make bike-share part of their daily lives.

It’s important to link my experience as a broke college student with very limited forms of mobility beyond rollerblades and a roommate with a car with being able to offer students an opportunity to go further, faster, affordably.

David Sorrell, MOL, is transportation demand management administrator at UC Berkeley. He will present on this topic at the 2019 IPMI Conference & Expo, June 9-12 in Anaheim, Calif. For more information and to register, click here.