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Portland now offers online bike share memberships for food-stamp card holders

Posted by on August 30th, 2017 at 3:40 pm

Biketown for All member Jon Horton.
(Photo: PBOT)

The City of Portland just announced an important update to its Biketown for All program that makes it even easier for low-income residents to access to bike share.

As of today, anyone with an Oregon Trail Card is now automatically eligible to take part in the program. PBOT has launched a new online registration form that streamlines the sign-up process. The latest data from the Oregon Department of Human Services indicate there are about 70,000 individuals in the Portland area who have an Oregon Trail Card.

When Biketown for All first launched last year, would-be participants had to be referred into the program by social service organizations (which include: Alder House, Harsch Properties, UGM Women and Children, Home Forward, Central City Concern, Street Roots, Native American Rehabilitation Association (NARA), Pacific Towers, Lagunitas, Sisters of the Road, Elders in Action NW, Cascade AIDS Project, Impact NW, and Humboldt Gardens). After the referral, a workshop was mandatory to establish eligibility. (Program partner The Community Cycling Center has hosted 38 workshops since last October.)

Now people who have an Oregon Trail Card can sign up for a membership online (and the workshops are optional).

Biketown for All memberships are just $3 per month — compared to $12 a month — and come with unlimited free rides of up to 90 minutes per trip. One other perk enjoyed by Biketown for All members: They don’t get fined $2 for parking bikes outside of a designated station.

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In 2015 we reported that PBOT wanted to expand Biketown to food stamp card holders; but faced several hurdles including privacy concerns. Another concern was that the system has a limited number of bikes (1,000) and it has to turn a profit. If too many bikes are used by people not paying full fares, it would eat into system revenues. “We can’t run a system based on people who can’t pay,” Biketown Project Manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth told us at the time.

PBOT has mitigated that issue by using a grant from the Better Bike Share Partnership and an in-kind donation of up to $54,000 (good for 500 annual memberships) from Biketown operator Motivate, Inc. to subsidize the program. PBOT says there are currently 166 Biketown for All members.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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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

  • Allan Rudwick August 30, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    this sort of thing is the difference between a private-run and public-run system

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    • JeffS August 30, 2017 at 5:27 pm

      How so?

      The funding for the subsidized accounts appears to be coming mostly from private organizations: Motivate and Better Bike Share / JPB. Perhaps I’m missing how system ownership plays into this.

      I’m glad they have put up the money. The decision to remove the station requirement from these users does strike me as an odd one.

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      • soren August 30, 2017 at 10:25 pm

        you have an odd definition of private. better bikeshare is non-profit that funded a *PBOT* grant.

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        • JeffS August 31, 2017 at 8:18 pm

          And you have an odd definition of public if you think it applies to BBS or Motivate. That the money was passed through PBOT is irrelevant. This type of donation could have happened regardless of who operates the system.

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  • I wear many hats August 30, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    This is awesome! Everyone should have access to bikeshare.

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  • False Hemlock August 30, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    Doesn’t seem to work for people who already have a one ride at a time account.

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  • Kyle Banerjee August 30, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    I like the concept but wonder how they enforce policy. I also wonder who is going to bother to park at a station if they don’t have to?

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  • John Liu
    John Liu August 30, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    I also don’t follow the logic of waiving the $2 fee for parking the bikes away from a station. Regular Biketown users know where their closest station is, and go there expecting to find a bike. Rebalancers also work more efficiently when they can pick up multiple bikes in one location.

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    • jh August 30, 2017 at 7:47 pm

      It’s so that people can have a set / structured budget.

      Besides, I make a hobby of going and returning bikes on the weekend and picking up sweet $1 credits. Do it 12 times and you can pay for a month, and it’s easy enough to find 12 bikes. Keeps me out of the house 😀

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      • John Liu
        John Liu August 30, 2017 at 10:27 pm

        I get that, but people can have a set budget of $3/mo simply by returning the bikes to the stations . . .

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      • wsbob August 31, 2017 at 9:46 am

        A one dollar credit for return to a station, a bike share bike left outside of a station? Nice. People being waived the fee, could leave a bike outside of the station, and let their friend know ‘hey, the bike is over there.’. Bring it back for a buck credit. Easy way to get the monthly three buck membership, or the twelve buck membership fee back.

        Participants in this program get “…unlimited free rides of up to 90 minutes per trip.” Also nice. Any consequences for not ending the ride within the 90 minute time period? Wait…I think I see, sort of…the users’ account gets charged the standard hourly rental fee after the 90 minutes.

        I just hope this program has more people riding the bikes, in all types of weather, fair and bad.

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  • Mr. Know It All August 30, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    Can Oregon Trail card holders also ride MAX and buses for free?

    Shouldn’t all Portlanders be required to make a room available for a homeless person each night? We’ve got to show the world how progressive an compassionate we are, right? Be the change you want to see in the world, right? Who wants to get it on the ballot?

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    • Alex Reedin August 31, 2017 at 6:29 am

      Yeah, nobody ever has a bona fide altruistic bone in their bodies, they just want to show everyone else how good they are. Mother Theresa was just a publicity-seeking huckster. If she really cared about the poor, she would have given a poor person the habit off her back.

      And those emergency workers in Houston? Every one of them, just in it for the Facebook likes and selfies.


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    • Alex Reedin August 31, 2017 at 6:48 am

      My sarcasm above notwithstanding – if you think this or other pro-poor initiatives are motivated by ‘looking good’ rather than a bona fide interest in helping folks, present some evidence of it! Are the politicians and organizations pushing these policies ignoring more-effective but less-high-profile options that have been presented to them? Do they reveal a disdain for the poor in their private lives?

      Presenting your opinion without any evidence strikes me as disrespectful to the folks who work on projects like this. Even if you’re right and the people in charge are disingenuous, it stands to reason that some people in the organizations have their heart behind the initiatives. You’d want to open their eyes to their bosses’ intransigence, right? Evidence is needed in order to do that.

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      • bendite August 31, 2017 at 7:30 am

        Cynical curmudgeons don’t need evidence. They’re being the negativity they want to see in the world.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu August 31, 2017 at 8:31 am

    I think it is important for transit and active transportation to be accessible to all incomes. The Biketown for Everyone initiative makes sense, even though I am puzzled about the non-station fee waiver. TriMet will launch a somewhat similar program shortly.

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