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Reduced fares, cash payment part of new ‘Biketown for All’ program

Posted by on October 27th, 2016 at 10:21 am

New public plaza on SW 3rd and Ankeny-2.jpg

Now available to more Portlanders.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

A $3 per month membership, the ability to pay with cash, and partnerships with social service and housing organizations are all part of the City of Portland’s new Biketown for All program.

The plan debuted this morning makes good on the city’s promise to make it easier for Portlanders with low-incomes to use the 1,000 orange bike share bikes that hit the streets last summer.

Under the new plan, qualifying individuals get access to a monthly membership price that’s 75 percent lower than the $12 per month standard fare. These reduced cost memberships will be available in three-month blocks instead of the usual 12-month commitment. The new program also allows people without bank accounts and credit/debit cards to use the bikes.

In order to qualify, people can be referred by organizations where they receive social services like housing, their Oregon Trail Card, job training, and so on. After making that connection they must attend a workshop that covers how to use the system and includes a hands-on riding skills clinic. These workshops will also soon be available to people not affiliated with any social service organization as long as they fill out an application and attend a workshop.

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The City released this video today of Jon Horton, one of the first Portlanders to take advantage of a Biketown for All membership:

There are 500 of these reduce-cost memberships available thanks to grants from the Better Bike Share Partnership and Motivate, the operator of Biketown. The Better Bike Share Partnership gave $75,000 to the Community Cycling Center back in May and the City of Portland announced today that Motivate has kicked in another $54,000.

Northeast Portland-based Community Cycling Center will run the skills workshops and handle the social service organization referral program. This is something they are already adept at as they’ve done something very similar with their Create-a-Commuter program for many years.

This announcement comes just days after a similar program was launched by Bay Area Bike Share (a system also run by Motivate). Portland is now just the third city to offer a cash payment option for bike share membership.

The new program is just the latest in Portland’s effort to spread the benefits of bike share to a wider spectrum of income levels. Their operating contract includes provisions to hire employees from underserved populations and pay them a living wage. Biketown also got an equity boost when Nike’s $10 million sponsorship allowed the system to cover a 60 percent larger service area that now extends well beyond the central city.

Five years ago the City of Portland got pushback from community advocates who said equity concerns were not being addressed proactively. Biketown for All makes good on promises made and is now being hailed by some of the same people who used to oppose it.

For more on why bike share makes such a positive impact on wealth inequality in cities, read this excellent article by Michael Andersen published a few days ago at BetterBikeShare.org.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

BikePortland is supported by the community (that means you!). Please become a subscriber or make a donation today.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Kathleen McDade
Guest
Kathleen McDade

Well, that’s nice, although it would be nicer if Biketown were available in East Portland where many of the potential users of this program are.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

When I saw the headline I was also hopeful that this was a plan to expand the service area. I love the program and have an annual membership but I don’t use it that often because the service area is still unfortunately kind of small.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

How hard would it be for them to pilot a few nodes in some farther-out locations? Add some stickers to a few bike racks?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

What we need is to increase density further out to better support programs like this.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

I think the awkward medium density we have is very well-served by bikes, including many places that are unpleasant to walk through due to very wide streets and intersections. If they established a handful of nodes within a 2 mile radius to test an area, would they find that all of the bikes got ridden to downtown, or mostly back and forth within the neighborhood? If the latter, perhaps it’s just a matter of adding 20 or 50 bikes rather than a lot of rebalancing effort. Seems like a good place to invest some effort and equity money to find out how people would use them in the remote neighborhoods. There’s quite a few apartment buildings along BHH and a relatively short, flat ride to many stores, restaurants, and bars. Most people probably wouldn’t ride them to downtown from there, but these corridors have transit connections to downtown. They don’t have neighborhood transit.

maccoinnich
Guest

Median Household Income (as of the 2013 American Community Survey) for some of the census tracts in the Biketown coverage area:

Census Tract 51 (Old Town, Pearl): $39,496
Census Tract 49 (Northwest): $28,724
Census Tract 52 (Goose Hollow): $35,492
Census Tract 12.01 (Buckman): $43,902
Census Tract 56 (South end of Downtown): $24,702
Census Tract 106 (Downtown Core): $13,357
Census Tract 21 (Kerns): $25,363

Source: http://www.census.gov/censusexplorer/censusexplorer.html

These numbers are comparable (and in some cases much lower) to the census tracts in East Portland. I suspect that this is in large part because a very large proportion of the newly built housing in the Portland Housing Bureau’s portfolio is in the Central City:

http://pdx.maps.arcgis.com/apps/PanelsLegend/index.html?appid=ae10da9b681943969ba4a91ec2b72500

Adam
Subscriber

Seems like a good idea. Would be better if BIKETOWN expanded to include lower-income neighborhoods.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

It still needs to be a viable business model and make money. Part of starting is to begin where there is a lot of demand and less risk. For something like bike share with standardized facilities, a certain concentration of infrastructure is needed to make it work. It is easy to get too spread out too quickly.

Beth H
Guest

“In order to qualify, people can be referred by organizations where they receive social services… After making that connection they must attend a workshop that covers how to use the system and includes a hands-on riding skills clinic.”

Huh. Really?
Other Biketown renters don’t have to run this gauntlet. All they have to do is pull out a credit card and ride away.
This new round of Biketown treats poorer riders differently simply because they’re poor and somehow can’t be trusted as much.
This is rather tone-deaf and frankly, more than a little offensive.
Surely a better approach could have been considered.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

I think it makes sense to have some sort of a hurdle since there are only so many reduced cost memberships and they want to connect them to the people who really want them. That said the membership is really quite cheap to begin with so I’d rather see them invest in adding service instead of reduced cost memberships.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

“Other Biketown renters don’t have to run the gauntlet because they have credit cards or some online way to pay.”

It treats other people differently because for whatever reasons, they don’t have the same abilities to pay. Some people are not given credit cards because they are not good stewards of them…and of course, others do not have the means to qualify for one, either. I’m not exactly entitled to an Amex Black card because I don’t make enough to quality. I’m not being discriminated against. This bike rental is not an entitlement program, so equal access is not a right.

If one were rich and did not have credit cards, they would be treated in the same way.

$3 per month is not going to pay for the bike and the process around handling the payment.

If I were running a business, I would not spend a ton of time trying to accommodate a payment method that cost me more money than it was worth to process. Would you?

steve
Guest
steve

I wonder how many of the allocated funds are simply going to the CCC for these ‘workshops’ – As opposed to helping low income user groups?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

So, as a taxpayer, you wouldn’t object to the city absorbing all responsibility for damage to this shared resource by cash-paying users with no system for screening them?

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

What do you mean by “as a taxpayer”? There are hardly any “tax dollars” being used by this system, it is pretty much being funded by user fees and advertising revenue.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

If we start handing out subsidized memberships without screening as some here are proposing, who is going to foot the bill when the bikes get damaged? I guess we would just let the system fail?

Adam
Subscriber

Why are we assuming that low-income people will damage the bikes? Seems like you are profiling a bit here.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

How’s it profiling? Anyone can damage a bike, not return it where they should, etc.

Having zero ability to enforce penalties with some users may have side effects.

Adam
Subscriber

How is a bicycle training course going to change that? Why impose additional requirements on non-banked individuals that banked ones don’t have to endure? The bikes have the person’s name and gps location attached to them, and so far, none have ended up in the Willamette. Why worry about something that has not been an issue? What is this, “extreme vetting” for Biketown?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Because “banked users”, per the rental agreement, are responsible for damage that occurs to the bike while they are using it. How do you recoup damages from a cash-paying, low-income user?

Adam
Subscriber

Same way you recoup damages to any other form of public transport? I’m pretty sure TriMet won’t send me a cleaning bill if I spill coffee on the bus.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I know for sure they’d charge me $20 if I parked a bike out of the service area.

I have yet to use Biketown despite having an account with free credit because I have yet to be in a situation where a ride I wanted to do both started and ended in the service area.

If I could pay a few bucks in cash, it would be tempting to pick up a bike, ride it where I wanted, and leave it there. This would give me nice options for getting home and to bars I like to frequent as my favorite joint is only 5 miles from the outer limit of the service area.

Obviously, questions about how to enforce rules are motivated exclusively by discrimination… 😉

soren
Guest
soren

I spend way too much time sitting on chairs or saddles so it’s nice that I can walk more but still use a bike when I need to. I’ve even ghosted bikes 3 times using a biketown bike.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

The bikes will get damaged, by all types of users, for a number of various reasons.

Stop projecting.

Greg Spencer
Guest

Right. As far as I know, Biketown is the only bike-share system anywhere that isn’t subsidized by taxpayers. Portlanders really got off scot free on this. In most communities with bike share, a big part of the budget is public subsidy and user fees are smaller than here. That’s because bike share is seen as a public service that benefits the community by getting people out of cars, making streets safer, air cleaner, bodies healthier, etc. etc. The priority should be getting more people to use it, not just protecting the financial bottom line.

Adam
Subscriber

If you’re worried about your tax money, wait until you find out how much roads and highways cost!

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Surely you know what a public good is.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I like roads because they’re good to ride bikes on; I like highways because they keep a lot of traffic off the roads, which makes them better for riding bikes on.

Adam
Subscriber

I do. And don’t call me Shirley.

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

It seems pretty fair to me.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

It does seem strange. I’m going to give the benefit of doubt and believe there’s a rational, deliberate reason for the hurdles. The referral part is pretty straight-forward–until they have an efficient application process set up, it’s easy to piggy-back on other existing programs that demonstrate need.

As for the workshop, I’d really like to know what the stated reason in.

I can imagine one possibility: $12/mo covers a certain amount of damage to the bikes (i.e. built in insurance cost). At $3/mo, the insurance cost is not covered, therefore, from an actuarial standpoint it would make sense to reduce the risk, and thus the loss, and a skills workshop would do that (like cheaper car insurance for drivers ed). Technically the 9/mo difference is actually covered by grants, but of course a 1/3 of that is Motivate’s contribution. So it gets even more complicated. But I don’t want to speculate anymore, I’d rather just hear what they have to say.

Harald
Guest

Pragmatic explanation: Given the money comes from a grant program, the CCC participated in the application process and gets paid to run the workshops in exchange. The non-profit grantwriting world unfortunately sometimes works like that.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

The program also treats poorer riders differently by charging them a different (lower) rate.

Greg Spencer
Guest

I was going to ask the same question. A compulsory skills class for riding a bike? Anyone on this blog would be insulted if they were required to do this. “Biketown for All” should be about pulling down barriers, not putting them up.

Pat Lowell
Guest
Pat Lowell

Actually I know people who would be interested in using the bike share but are intimidated for various reasons – not having been on a bike in forever, lack of confidence, not being clear on how to use the shifting, etc. I would think a workshop would be a nice thing to offer for anyone who needs a refresher.

Adam
Subscriber

Offer, sure. Require, no.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

It does sound a bit weird. Though requiring it could also remove some of the stigma from taking a course. A lot of people will not feel comfortable admitting they need help doing something that a lot of small kids can easily handle.

I helped a coworker and her husband buy bikes sometime back and get them on the road. OMG — their handling, judgement, and other skills were absolutely terrifying. They were gung ho to get up to speed, eager for help, and improved rapidly, but they definitely needed assistance and practice.

Riding in the outer areas is generally a significantly dodgier proposition than near the center. I would not have wanted my coworker or her husband to simply head out and start riding.

I would also describe peoples’ general knowledge of how bikes work abysmal, and a little info would make riding much more enjoyable.

DickButton
Guest
DickButton

I guess the program still needs to get on its feet, but for whatever reason I was surprised to hear that these lower rates were subsidized.

So Biketown/Nike still make the full amount for each rider? Seems like they could just take it on the chin.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

From the article Motivate contributed 54000 dollars to the program, which is more than 1/3 of the total cost.

rick
Guest
rick

Lair Hill needs a station.

Mike Sanders
Guest
Mike Sanders

So does Sellwood – with the Springwater Trail running thru it, that would make sense.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Finding ways to make services like this more available to lower income residents is a good thing.

But this is not an easy nut to crack. In addition to the size of the service area, many lower income people have longer distances to commute, and cycling infrastructure is not nearly as good.

I am very curious to see what (if any) side effects emerge from not requiring CC or bank as this will make it impossible to recover penalties/damage.

johnr
Guest
johnr

“Biketown will fail, this is a terrible idea!” Oh, wait, what? How could they not have included the entire city?! smh. Patience. Respect.

Ray Atkinson
Guest

“Portland is now just the third city to offer a cash payment option for bike share membership.” More than two bike share systems launched a cash payment option before Portland because at least the Bay Area, DC region, Philadelphia, and Boston launched cash payment options before Portland. I’m thrilled to see Portland launch a cash payment option!

Randy
Guest
Randy

Rat running is destroying Portland bikeability. More rats = less people on orange bikes.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_running

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Anyone have any data yet on Biketown bike theft? Have any been stolen?

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I’d be surprised if this is a significant issue. One thing that’s pretty impressive about them is that they’re virtually worthless from a theft point of view.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

And outfitted with a tracking device. Capable of sending an alert when the lock is cut?

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

400-500 Citibikes are stolen per year. Those would seem equally unattractive to bike thieves, but apparently they have value.

The Biketown bikes probably cost more than the Citibikes, due to much more tech content.

I’d like to see the data on thefts.

Alder Houseian
Guest
Alder Houseian

Workshops include:
1) a tutorial of the bike! – new technologies are not immediately friendly to all
2) safety on the road! some folks haven’t been on a bike in a really long time, maybe never in a downtown area, it’s always good to refresh
3) a free helmet! oh heck yea
4) a short survey! grant providers sure do like to see measures of success
5) a test ride! to make sure BIKETOWN for All is your thing before laying any money down
6) gathering together for a group ride! building community! totally fun!

Vince
Guest
Vince

Group rides are totally fun? Nothing scares me more on a bike that riding in a pack of strangers.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

Sounds like tokenism.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

It’s not — they’re using cash, not tokens.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Why does it sound like tokenism?

JF
Guest
JF

Reading the website, it still only allows for 90 minutes per day riding time and a penalty of 10 cents per minute. There is also no mention of the $20 lock outside of service area fee.

It has the feeling of trying to hit low income areas where there are not many bike share services with fees.

I would be interested to see how ridership of people qualifying for this program compares to the ridership of people using the traditional annual membership structure.

Andy K
Guest

This is awesome – I frequently get asked how the program works and how much it costs. (some people are blown away by $2.50 for 30 minutes)