The number of Americans using a bike for transportation and/or recreation has increased during COVID-19 as more people look for socially-distant ways to commute or exercise. Early on in the pandemic the Chicago Department of Transportation offered a number of bike-share discounts, such as free Divvy rides for healthcare workers, plus discounted single rides and memberships for the general public, as a pandemic response. Chicago’s bike-share system saw a record number of rides last summer with the introduction of electric pedal-assist Divvies. I’ve been curious about the demographics of riders during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the exact demographics of Divvy users are not available, researchers Max Jordan Nguemeni Taiko and Daniel C. Stokes looked at bike-share companies COVID responses and disparities in bike-share access.
COVID-19 disproportionately impacted communities of color due to systemic inequities. One reason for the disproportionate impact is the large number of Black and Latinx people working essential jobs, such as retail, food service, public transportation, and healthcare, rather than being able to social distance while working remotely.
Researchers Taiko and Stokes first looked at bike-share companies’ COVID-19 response. Many systems offered free or low-cost memberships to essential workers. While some companies like Divvy focused on offering free rides on healthcare workers, others were inclusive of food service and food retail workers. New York City’s Citi Bike system offered a 30-day membership and unlimited 45-minute trips to transit workers, emergency responders, and healthcare workers. Washington DC’s Capital Bikeshare system was inclusive of food service and food retail employees.
Philadelphia’s Idego sytem offered a discounted one-month membership, lower daily fees, and special pricing for low-income riders. Those who work for restaurants, grocery stores, and the hospitality industry were left out of the Chicago, NYC, Boston, and San Francisco’ bike-share essential worker discounts.
I really liked this line in the study, “Such arbitrary delineation unwittingly devalue some, and prop up other classes of workers, and in this case, potentially contributes to the problematic healthcare hero narrative, leaving unacknowledged the critical role food and service workers have played in sustaining life during the pandemic.” It really begs the question of just who is an essential worker in the eyes of the larger public and in the eyes of bike-share companies.
Taiko and Stokes found that while bike share companies’ efforts helped residents avoid risking COVID exposure on transit (although studies have found riding transit during the pandemic has been fairly safe), the reach of these efforts was limited by the types of workers who were given free memberships.
They also noted that equity has been an issue with bike-share before the pandemic. In NYC, most Citi Bike docking stations are in Manhattan and Brooklyn, while Queens and the Bronx are home to a larger share of Black, Latinx and low-income residents and higher rates of COVID infections and deaths. Nationwide, bike-share networks are concentrated in urban neighborhoods with a high density of people, transit stations, and retail destinations, where residents are more likely to be white, relatively affluent, and proficient in English, based on a national survey.