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[Better Bike Share] Prescription for Equity: Boston's Subsidized Memberships Lead the Way for Inclusive Bike Share

The following article was originally published by Cameron Whitten in the Better Bike Share Partnership blogon August 27th, 2015.

Boston’s bike-sharing equity program just might be the most successful in United States.

Like all U.S. bike sharing systems, Hubway Bike Share has a long way to go before its members look like the city it serves. Boston’s population is 53.9 percent white, with a per capita city income of $33,964. Hubway’s annual members are wealthier and less diverse 87 percent white, with 80 percent earning more than $50,000 a year.

But Boston’s efforts to shift these numbers are showing success so much, that it should demand the attention of other systems and cities.

Here’s step 1: make bike sharing memberships cheap. Really cheap.

In 2011, Boston Bikes, the city agency that owns and oversees Hubway, began offering $5 subsidized Hubway memberships in hopes of making bike share an affordable transportation option for all Bostonians.


“We set it at $5 to make sure people had to commit something and take it seriously. But it’s low enough that everyone is virtually able to join if they want to,” says Kim Foltz, Programs Manager for Boston Bikes. “It’s been phenomenally successful.”

Subsidized membership reduces the financial barriers so that more low income residents can become a Hubway member, but Boston Bikes also plays a crucial role by educating residents and directly signing them up for the program. With a database of more than 250 organizations, the agency is determined to reach out to as many potential subsidized members as possible. They send out flyers and newsletters, and speak with almost every group or class that invites them.

In a fall 2014 presentation about their equity program, former Boston Bikes manager Nicole Freedman put it this way: “I hear from some cities, ‘Yeah, we’re going to partner with our public housing.’ And we say, ‘That is great! You’ll get 10 members out of it…’ It’s all about quantity, not quality, that we have found to be successful.”

In 2014, Boston Bikes sold 778 subsidized memberships, which accounted for 18 percent of all Hubway memberships. Of those subsidized memberships, 53 percent went to people of color. And an impressive number of subsidized members are coming back for more: 49 percent of subsidized members renewed their subscription last year, compared to 57 percent for all annual members.


An example of community partnership in action is Boston Medical Center, located in Boston’s South End. Each year, the hospital serves hundreds of thousands of low-income adults and children from nearby neighborhoods, such as Roxbury and Dorchester. Last Spring, Boston Bikes partnered with Boston Medical to launch an equity initiative called ‘Prescribe a Bike’, which promotes preventative health by offering subsidized, $5 annual Hubway vouchers to patients who live on public assistance or make less than four times the federal poverty level. Patients can go to the window at the transportation office in the hospital, and the clerk will purchase the prescription. A free helmet and key fob is sent to their registered address.

This year, Boston Medical is increasing their efforts to make sure that every person who walks through their doors knows about Prescribe a Bike. Patients can expect to see posters displayed in waiting areas, on hospital computers, and hear from nurses and medical assistants encouraging everyone to sign up.

Building these crucial relationships appears to be the most successful strategy for drumming up new subsidized Hubway members. In a survey of about 600 subsidized members, 51 percent said they heard about the $5 program from word of mouth, Prescribe a Bike, or some other partner organization.

MORE WORK TO BE DONE

However, many of these subsidized members still lack access in a way that would make Hubway truly equitable.

“There is a clear, distinct thing where Hubway stations are in higher income neighborhoods. Subsidized members do not have stations in their neighborhoods,” says Barbara Jacobson, Programs Director for Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition.


Hubway currently has 140 docking stations. Subsidized members typically live in neighborhoods at the edge of the network, meaning they have to travel longer distances to get from station to station, putting them at risk of going over the 30 minute grace period and racking up overage fees. For each ride, Boston Bikes provides subsidized members an extra 30 minutes in order to avoid inequitable overage fees.

As Hubway expands, Boston Bikes aspires to place 25 percent of new stations in low-income communities. This year, 13 to 15 new stations are proposed and about four of those stations will be designated to serve low-income communities. For one, Hubway is partnering with the Franklin Park Coalition on a station that will serve racially diverse communities and provide bike share access to the Franklin Park Zoo and the largest green space in Boston.

Building intentional community relationships helps to make bike share a valuable resource for more people. Boston has demonstrated that you can set achievable equity goals, and even within four years, see promising results.

But the work has only just begun.

Station Alert: Temporary removal of Beacon St / Mass Ave station

Station Alert: Due to construction in the area, the Beacon St / Mass Ave Hubway station in Boston has been temporarily removed beginning Thursday morning, August 27th. Plans are to redeploy the station in the same location after construction has been completed, tentatively scheduled for Monday, August 31st. Until that time, the station will not be available for renting or docking bikes. If you are planning to use Hubway in the area during this period, please make arrangements to use alternate stations. The closest stations are:

  • Boylston / Mass Ave, Boston
  • Newbury St / Hereford St, Boston
  • MIT at Mass Ave / Amherst St, Cambridge
  • Kenmore Square / Commonwealth Ave, Boston

Updates will be posted when available on Hubway’s Twitter & Facebook pages. For station map and up to the minute system availability, please use our Spotcycle app for smartphones or visit www.hubwaytracker.com. During the outage, that station may not appear on those services, nor on the website station map.

We apologize for any inconvenience caused by this outage, and thank you for using Hubway.

Exclusive for Hubway Members: $5 Discount for 11th Annual Hub On Wheels, Sunday, September 20th

Join us for the 11th Annual Hub On Wheels citywide bike ride on Sunday, September 20th.

Use discount code “5_Hubway” at BostonCyclingCelebration.com by Friday, September 18th, to receive $5 off the registration fee!

Enjoy a pedaling experience along a car-free Storrow Drive, explore hidden pathways and historic neighborhoods, and take in views of the Boston Harbor that you’ve never seen before.

The ride starts and finishes on City Hall Plaza in downtown Boston, with three different routes to choose from: 10, 30 and 50 miles.

Sign up online using discount code 5_Hubway by Friday, September 18th, to receive $5 off the registration fee!

Origin -> Destination Map for all Hubway trips April-June 2015

More than 364,000 trips were taken by Hubway between April 1st and June 30th this year (2015-Q2). The origin-destination map below gives a sense of where folks are riding to & from within the system.

PLEASE NOTE: Hubway bikes are not equipped with GPS and as such the actual routes are not tracked. The map below simply shows lines between rental station and docking station.

Click the map for a larger-size image.


[Boston Globe] Get Ready to Bike to Work

The following article was originally published by Jaclyn Reiss in the Boston Globe on August 7th, 2015.

The number of bicycle commuters is mushrooming. And summer is a great time for a test run. There’s many benefits to biking to work: It’s green, saves money on transportation, and ensures that you’‘ll get some aerobic exercise every day. It’s also getting easier and safer as Boston, Cambridge, and other towns and cities in the state continue to expand bike lanes and green-light improvements to cycling infrastructure. Besides all the financial and health benefits, “it’s relaxing and therapeutic,” says Pete Stidman, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union. Here are some tips for those just starting up.

LOCK IT UP

If you’ll be parking your bike outside, one of the first things to invest in is a sturdy lock. There are a variety of good (and bad) options, so Stidman recommends newbies keep it simple and look for a durable U-shaped one: “You want the smallest one that works for you, and protects your wheel and frame.” Stidman recommends the Kryptonite brand — “an old standard.” Check out the Kryptolok Series 2 Standard Bicycle U-Lock ($42, amazon.com and local shops).

DITCH THE BAG

Instead of carrying a messenger bag or backpack on your bike, which can slide around and set you off balance or cause your back to ache, Stidman suggests a mountable bike rack and bag. Stidman says he has had good luck with Ortlieb saddle bags ($35-$45, www.ortlieb
usa.com and local shops), which are strapped under the seat, and come in three sizes — the smallest measuring 49 cubic inches, the largest comparable to a backpack — and several different colors. For those looking for panniers, which hang to the side of the bike off a rack, consider an option like the Green Guru Dutchy Recycled Banner Single Pannier ($69.95, rei.com and in stores), which holds up to 1,352 cubic inches and, as the name implies, is made from recycled billboards and banners. To make sure your panniers stay in place, invest in a durable rear rack, such as the Topeak Explorer Bike Rack ($39.95, amazon.com and in stores), which can hold up to 55 pounds and fits all bike frames.

PROTECT YOUR HEAD

When it comes to keeping your noggin safe, the city’s Boston Bikes program offers affordable helmet options: Just pop on over to one of many locations throughout Boston and Cambridge listed on its website to pick up a helmet for about $10, or you can order one online for $24.99. For a map of locations or to order, visit www.bostonbikes.org. Those who qualify for subsidized Hubway memberships may also qualify for a free helmet, according to the organization. Stidman says the Boston Cyclists Union also sells helmets for $5 at their offices at 375 Dudley St. in Roxbury.

REFLECT YOURSELF

Stidman also recommends bike lights and reflective tape to accent your bike and/or clothes and accessories so you can be seen on those dark early mornings or evenings. Consider an option like Nathan Reflective Tape in lime green ($10, rei.com and local shops), which reviewers say sticks satisfactorily to both fabrics and bikes. For a durable bike light, try the water-resistant Cygolite Metro 400 Hot Shot USB Combo Light ($71.42, amazon.com and local shops), which features both a front and tail light, features six different modes (one steady and five flashing), and recharges via USB.

DRINK ON THE GO

For the commuter who can’t bear the thought of a morning without stopping to pick up a cup of joe, Stidman also recommends a mountable cup holder: “It might sound silly, but if I’m going to work, I want to get a coffee,” he said. Try something like the Ibera Bike Handlebar CupClamp ($9.49, amazon.com), which features an angled rim to fit various cup sizes.

OFFICE-FRIENDLY OUTFITS

When it comes to clothes, Stidman recommends commuters simply don their office attire and just take it slow. “I ride a bike with a suit all the time,” he said. “Take it easy, find a safe route, and ride just as you would walk.” For those who want to ride harder, Stidman recommends moisture-wicking work attire from retailers like menswear company Ministry of Supply, which has both a website and a Boston location. The Newbury Street branch features breathable collared shirts ($108) and chino-style pants ($118) for men in several neutral, office-approved colors. For women, try work bottoms with an elegant silhouette like the women’s daily riding pant from clothier Outlier ($198, shop.outlier.cc). Stidman says cycling in high heels is fine — “as long as it’s a tough shoe.”