Stop Excluding Low-Income Communities From Bike Rental Programs

Target: Jay Walder, President and CEO of Motivate, an international bike sharing company

Goal: Bring bike rental stations to lower-income neighborhoods where they are currently absent, and stop requiring a credit or debit card for rentals.

Some New Yorkers have recently criticized Citi Bike, the Big Apple’s local bike sharing program, for contributing to NYC’s growing class divide. Although it may not seem immediately intuitive how bike rentals are perpetuating inequality, it turns out that low-income communities, as a general rule, are excluded from the rental program. Citi Bike stations are missing from some of the poorest areas of the city, such as the Bronx, portions of Queens, and above 110th street in Manhattan. Elected officials from these and other areas have requested that Citi Bike stations be brought into their districts, but they have gone ignored.

Although New York is one of the clearest culprits, the story is similar in other cities. Motivate, an international bike sharing company, operates bike rental programs in 12 cities, including Citi Bike in New York, Hubway in Boston, Capital Bikeshare in the Washington D.C. area, and Melbourne Bike Share in Melbourne, Australia. Everywhere we look, it seems that bike rental programs are most popular among affluent white folks.

Availability certainly plays a part in this — with no rental stations in low-income neighborhoods, it would be rather inconvenient for residents in these areas to hop on the rental bikes for their daily commutes. However, cost and accepted forms of payment pose yet another obstacle. As for Citi Bike, its $12 day passes and $14.95 monthly subscriptions are prohibitively expensive for some, making bike riding more of a day-off luxury activity than a feasible form of transportation. Additionally, a credit card is required to sign up for Citi Bike’s services — even for its discount program, which offers $5 monthly memberships for residents in public housing. On its website, Citi Bike claims a dedication to provide New Yorkers with an “affordable, accessible and fun new transportation option.” If Citi Bike really wishes to do this, it should accept cash payments.

Tell Motivate CEO Jay Walder that his company must do better. It has a potential to make a real difference, for people and the planet. Motivate should expand all its bike sharing programs to include low-income communities, and further its inclusivity by accepting cash in place of credit cards.


Dear Mr. Walder,

I am writing to express disappointment in your bike sharing programs. Although I believe in the mission of your company, I am saddened by the fact that your services are inaccessible to non-affluent city residents. Citi Bike in New York City provides one particularly clear example; there are no rental stations in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, such as the Bronx, despite requests from elected officials to bring Citi Bike into their districts.

In addition to the lack of nearby, accessible rental stations, poor communities are further excluded from the benefits of bike sharing by cost barriers. Although Citi Bike does offer a discount program for public housing residents, a credit card is still required to register, and a year-long commitment must be made.

For Motivate to make its services truly accessible and affordable, your company must expand to all neighborhoods, regardless of affluence. Additionally, month-to-month rentals and cash payments should be accepted, at the very least as part of your discount options.

Biking is a healthy and planet-friendly method of transportation, and the more widespread it becomes, the better for all of us. However, if Motivate continues to exclude lower-income communities, biking will remain a leisure activity and not a convenient option for commuters.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Jim Henderson

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