My Two Cents: 3 Suggestions For Getting More Low Income People On Bikes

Joseph HawkinsMy Two Cents is a weekly opinion column from Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

A few weeks ago, The Washington Post ran an interesting story about how the Capital Bikeshare program has failed to attract poor residents.

Via a federal grant, Montgomery County is subsidizing 200 free memberships for low income residents. To date, however, only 20 have jumped at the free membership.

I have no corner on ideas to turn this obvious failure around, but I’m going to share three suggestions:

Suggestion No. 1: If you want poor people to ride than put bikes where they live.

Here’s a map of where the Bikeshare stations are located. Currently, there are no stations located east of Sligo Creek, especially along New Hampshire Avenue and the University Boulevard corridors. Stick some stations along these corridors and see if location matters.

Suggestion No. 2: Aggressively market and recruit low income residents.

Perhaps those responsible for handing out those 200 free Bikeshare memberships should go out to where poor people live, work and hang out, and aggressively “sell” the value of a membership. And work with Metro. I actually can visualize several special Metro buses acting as “rolling”  Bikeshare stations, with Bikeshare workers on board hawking memberships. If you want poorer residents to ride, then you gotta work the cause.

Suggestion No. 3: Gather ideas and suggestions from the experts and agencies that interact daily with low income residents.

If I was in charge of the Bikeshare program in Montgomery County, I might, for example, talk up the folks at Casa de Maryland. Explore with them how to eliminate some of the roadblocks that prevent poor residents from using the Bikeshare network. Heck, just give Casa the mission to give away those 200 free memberships. By now, I’m pretty sure they could have done better than 20.

Finally, and this is just a pet peeve I have with Bikeshare’s existing videos, but the videos I have viewed on the web mostly show happy white people riding around (see here for instance). If we want more low income and minority residents to ride bikes, shouldn’t we show more of them actively using the Bikeshare system?

Joseph Hawkins is a longtime Bethesda resident who remembers when there was no Capital Crescent Trail. He works full-time for an employee-owned social science research firm located Montgomery County. He is a D.C. native and for nearly 10 years, he wrote a regular column for the Montgomery Journal. He also has essays and editorials published in Education Week, the Washington Post, and Teaching Tolerance Magazine. He is a serious live music fan and is committed to checking out some live act at least once a month.

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