Photo credit: Hannah Emple
This past December, I wrote a post following the announcement that Capital Bikeshare (D.C.'s bikesharing system) and Bank on DC had teamed up to give reduced-cost bikeshare memberships to people signing up for their first bank accounts. I wrote that "While it will be interesting to see if this reduced rate is affordable for the target population, the initiative is an exciting example of creative thinking and cross-sector collaboration."
I missed it at the time, but Felix Salmon at Reuters was much less impressed. Now that Capital Bikeshare has released its 2011 Member Survey Report (pdf), he's even less convinced that this partnership will succeed in getting any of the unbanked residents of D.C. onto bikes. In a piece yesterday entitled "Yuppies on bikeshares" he writes, "it definitely seems to be true that the Capital Bikeshare scheme has done very badly at reaching the poor, the unbanked, and people of color." Notably, Capital Bikeshare's survey of over 5,000 members found that 100% (yes, 100%) had at least some college education and the vast majority had graduated. Salmon also notes that, according to this survey, "Bikeshare’s membership is 79% white, in a city that’s 34% white."
These findings are indeed discouraging. But as one commenter notes: "this survey was done in early November 2011. The program to enlist the unbanked was launched on Dec 16, 2011. How exactly would you expect the beneficiaries of a program to show up in a survey done a month before the program started." Point taken. (In fact, Salmon posted an update acknowledging these limitations.)
It is entirely possible that these data have shifted in the past 6 months. But enough to change the statistical profile of Capital Bikeshare users as young, white, college-educated men (the typical user according to the report)? Probably not.
This initiative to pair bikes with bank accounts clearly isn't perfect, but I would still like to think there's potential here. If you look at areas of D.C. with high rates of unbanked residents, many of them are located in areas that have robust bike networks (parts of Pleasant Plains, Brookland, and the area around the Washington Hospital Center have high percentages of unbanked residents and good Bikeshare coverage. Anacostia currently has four Bikeshare stations and Congress Heights has just one, which might affect takeup in these highly unbanked areas.) It would be valuable to see the data from Bank on DC from the last six months to see 1) if they saw an increase in bank account openings after the Bikeshare announcement and 2) if they've seen takeup of the Bikeshare discount.
As Salmon writes, getting people from all socioeconomic backgrounds to take up a bikeshare program requires making it cheaper. If the current discount is still out of reach for people, there may well be other ways to bring the cost down and see if the program will work for previously unbanked D.C. residents. I'm not ready to write it off just yet.