Society, Equity and Bike Sharing Systems

Sometime between dinner with a friend last night and waking up this morning, the back tire on my bike completely deflated. Sure, I know how to fix a flat, but it was early, I was groggy — and I needed to get out the door. Digging out my tire levers, rooting around for a spare tube and fighting with the super-tight bolts on my back wheel wasn’t the way I was hoping to start the day.

Luckily, I had another option.

Within a one-block radius of my apartment in Southwest D.C. there were no fewer than three dozen ready-to-ride bikes just waiting to be unlocked with my little red Capital Bikeshare key. In less than two minutes, I was pedaling my way downtown — no tire maintenance required.

Across the country, bike sharing systems are dramatically growing the ranks of transportation cyclists, making it easy and convenient to pedal short trips or travel that last mile after a multi-modal commute. Already, we’re seeing more cyclists riding Capital Bikeshare here in D.C., and major cities like New York and Los Angeles are getting in the game later this year.

But as these systems proliferate, are they benefiting everyone who wants to ride? Are the stations distributed equitably or centralized in certain neighborhoods? Are the pricing structures and policies accessible to all residents, or do you have to have a credit card and a smartphone to find and pay for a ride?