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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

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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

63 Comments
  • Kathleen McDade October 27, 2016 at 10:29 am

    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.

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    • Bjorn October 27, 2016 at 10:35 am

      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.

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    • Eric Leifsdad October 27, 2016 at 11:09 am

      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?

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 27, 2016 at 11:23 am

        Hi Eric,

        I don’t think it’s “hard” for them to add stations. It’s rather easy actually. The issue is about overall system performance. if you put stations where it doesn’t make sense from a usage analysis point-of-view it just strains the system, making it less efficient for users and more costly to operate.

        It’s the same old discussion with bus service. Do you add lines to farther-flung areas or do you invest in places where the most people will use it?

        hopefully our service map expands soon and it meets up with demand and the type of land-use that will ensure its success.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty October 27, 2016 at 2:24 pm

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

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        • Eric Leifsdad October 27, 2016 at 8:43 pm

          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.

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    • maccoinnich October 27, 2016 at 12:12 pm

      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

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. October 27, 2016 at 10:46 am

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

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 27, 2016 at 11:04 am

      Biketown is already available in many low-income areas. Downtown isn’t the rich person’s bastion everyone thinks it is.

      And Biketown will expand.

      If it expands too soon, it will fail. If it fails, no one can use it.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. October 27, 2016 at 11:07 am

        I understand that, thanks. Probably should have said “include more low-income neighborhoods.

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        • Alex Reedin October 27, 2016 at 11:25 am

          I get this thinking, but my belief given my experience living in East Portland (the main low-income area of the city – plus Cully and Brentwood-Darlington which are adjoining and share the same issues IMO) is that it will take a lot more than a BikeTown expansion to our area to get it to be well-used in our area.

          Necessary conditions in my mind (that aren’t already met) for medium BikeTown usage in East Portland:
          *Electric-assist bikes (because origins and destinations are so much further on average)
          *A huge expansion of bike parking, which is close to non-existent in East Portland
          *A huge improvement of bike infrastructure to be at the level of inner Eastside Portland, including in the Columbia industrial area and near the airport (where many of the jobs are).
          *A less obnoxious low-income discount program (a MANDATORY workshop? really? Per Beth H’s comment below)

          For high BikeTown usage (in an imaginary unicorn future, it could probably be higher than in inner Portland, because of constrained incomes in East Portland):
          *Allowing kids under 18 to rent their own bikes (we have a lot more kids out here)
          *More jobs in East Portland so more commute trips are within a reasonable bikeable distance

          All of those are big lifts, especially the infrastructure piece. Expanding the system before it would be well-used would require significant ongoing public funding to make up the gap between operations costs and money incoming. Such money doesn’t appear to be on the table now, and if it were, I would think it would be better used on some of the above items rather than a BikeTown expansion all the way to East Portland.

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          • Alex Reedin October 27, 2016 at 11:45 am

            Just looked at a map of poverty (https://multco.us/file/34343/download , p. 30)and I was reminded that there are poor people throughout the city (though to a decreasing extent over time lately). It looks like there is one high-poverty area that the system could easily expand to – the area surrounding the Catholic Charities apartments near SE 28th & Powell. The whole Powell corridor has at least moderate poverty so I would suggest to policymakers that it be prioritized for early expansions.

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          • Adam H.
            Adam H. October 27, 2016 at 2:52 pm

            Note that I did not intend to imply that Biketown should expand to the entire city tomorrow. But a path to city-wide service should be part of the future plans.

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          • Greg Spencer October 28, 2016 at 12:06 pm

            Electric-assist bikes for remote neighborhoods is a great idea, something that should be trialled. That way Biketown could serve both neighborhood travel, as Eric Leifsdad mentioned, as well as commutes to and from downtown. My neighborhood, Roseway, is pretty bike friendly with a couple greenways going through it, but I don’t reckon I have many neighbors who would do 10-mile roundtrip commutes to downtown everyday on a conventional bike.

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    • Middle of the Road Guy October 27, 2016 at 11:19 am

      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.

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  • Beth H October 27, 2016 at 11:02 am

    “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.

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    • Bjorn October 27, 2016 at 11:25 am

      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.

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    • Middle of the Road Guy October 27, 2016 at 11:27 am

      “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?

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    • steve October 27, 2016 at 12:40 pm

      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?

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    • Chris I October 27, 2016 at 1:39 pm

      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?

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      • Bjorn October 27, 2016 at 2:46 pm

        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.

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        • Chris I October 27, 2016 at 3:15 pm

          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?

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          • Adam H.
            Adam H. October 27, 2016 at 3:18 pm

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

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            • Kyle Banerjee October 27, 2016 at 4:26 pm

              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.

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              • Adam H.
                Adam H. October 28, 2016 at 9:21 am

                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?

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              • Chris I October 28, 2016 at 10:30 am

                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?

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              • Adam H.
                Adam H. October 28, 2016 at 10:32 am

                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.

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              • Kyle Banerjee October 28, 2016 at 11:28 am

                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… 😉

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              • soren October 29, 2016 at 12:09 pm

                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.

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            • Chris I October 28, 2016 at 7:40 am

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

              Stop projecting.

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        • Greg Spencer October 28, 2016 at 12:35 pm

          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.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. October 28, 2016 at 9:18 am

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

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        • Middle of the Road Guy October 28, 2016 at 9:28 am

          Surely you know what a public good is.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty October 28, 2016 at 12:03 pm

            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.

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          • Adam H.
            Adam H. October 28, 2016 at 12:43 pm

            I do. And don’t call me Shirley.

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    • Lester Burnham October 27, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      It seems pretty fair to me.

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    • Gary B October 27, 2016 at 3:55 pm

      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.

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      • Harald October 27, 2016 at 8:11 pm

        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.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty October 28, 2016 at 12:00 pm

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

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    • Greg Spencer October 28, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      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.

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      • Pat Lowell October 28, 2016 at 12:29 pm

        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.

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        • Adam H.
          Adam H. October 28, 2016 at 12:33 pm

          Offer, sure. Require, no.

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        • Kyle Banerjee October 28, 2016 at 1:36 pm

          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.

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  • DickButton October 27, 2016 at 11:11 am

    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.

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    • Bjorn October 27, 2016 at 11:27 am

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

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  • rick October 27, 2016 at 11:17 am

    Lair Hill needs a station.

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  • Mike Sanders October 27, 2016 at 12:44 pm

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

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  • Kyle Banerjee October 27, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    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.

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  • johnr October 27, 2016 at 2:48 pm

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

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  • Ray Atkinson October 27, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    “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!

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  • Randy October 27, 2016 at 6:27 pm

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

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  • John Liu
    John Liu October 27, 2016 at 9:53 pm

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

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    • Kyle Banerjee October 28, 2016 at 9:24 am

      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.

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      • Eric Leifsdad October 28, 2016 at 11:31 am

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

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      • John Liu
        John Liu October 28, 2016 at 6:42 pm

        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.

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  • Alder Houseian October 27, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    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!

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    • Vince October 30, 2016 at 12:52 pm

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

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  • Kittens October 27, 2016 at 11:35 pm

    Sounds like tokenism.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty October 28, 2016 at 12:09 pm

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

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  • John Liu
    John Liu October 28, 2016 at 5:50 am

    Why does it sound like tokenism?

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  • JF October 28, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    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.

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  • Andy K October 28, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    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)

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