Why Bikeshare Doesn't Appeal to Low-Income Commuters

While bikeshare garners a lot of attention from the white and wealthy, it is a less obvious choice for low-income communities. Difficulties include weather, time constraints, and overall demand for non-auto modes.

1 minute read

May 19, 2015, 12:00 PM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc

Pronto Bikeshare

Joe Mabel / Flickr

Bikeshare faces a demographic crisis. Often a success where locals are wealthy, it has failed to take root in poorer communities of color, where a greater proportion of bike commuters live. "This is a glaring issue, critics say, especially in places where public money is being used to help bike share systems break even."

Despite efforts by cities like Philadelphia to locate bikeshare stations in poor neighborhoods and allow payment by cash, the system has yet to catch on fully.

Reasons for this disparity coincide with more general transportation challenges low-income neighborhoods face. They include:

  • Low-income bike commuters don't necessarily prefer biking, they just can't afford a car. 
  • Bikeshare is only reliable when the racks contain bikes: if they're all being used, it could mean showing up to work late or not at all.
  • In a similar vein, cycling to work (though possible) is less attractive in bad weather. Wealthy bikeshare users could probably choose to drive, but a low-income person solely dependent on bikeshare could not. 

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