Ford GoBike is the latest brainchild of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Sponsored by the Ford Motor Company and Alaska Airlines, Ford GoBike is a name adopted by Motivate, the largest bike share operator in the world. MTC’s bike share program has been in the works for at least the last three years. Serious expansion of the program started in June with Ford GoBike.
Using a bike to get to work, do errands, go sightseeing is a great idea – good for health and good for the environment. It also could herald good excuses for reduction or elimination of bus service. At present, buses are an important feature of urban transit, especially those that serve lower-income neighborhoods where many residents might not have access to automobiles. However, cities are experimenting with alternative modes of transportation, claiming low ridership.
City Buses on a Death Spiral
An eye-opening article for residents who depend on buses appeared today in the Wall Street Journal. The verdict is harsh:
A staple of American urban life – the city bus – is in a state of decline. Ridership on city buses around the country was down 13% in the second quarter of 2017 compared with the same quarter in 2007, according to Transportation Department data, a drop that has left transit agencies scrambling to make up for lost fare revenue and contemplating additional service cuts on top of ones they have already made.
Why the decline? The WSJ article lists the rise of the app ride share, cheap gas, millennials moving to city centers and walking to work, drivers’ licenses extended to undocumented immigrants, and the bus death spiral – service is cut when ridership decreases, residents give up and drive, and service is cut some more. “ 'I call it the transit death spiral,' said Darrell Johnson, chief executive at California’s Orange County Transportation Authority. 'It’s a never-ending pattern, and pretty soon you’re at bare bones service.' ”
Given the bleak scenario, alternative modes of transportation are being tried. Orange County, for example offers cash incentives to commuters that use vanpools. The Bay Area is seeing the ubiquitous techie buses, Chariot in high traffic areas, Uber and other ride shares, and now Ford GoBike.
The Bay Area’s alternatives to reliable buses that get people where they want to go on time suffer from a tinge of gentrification. The ever-smiling beautiful people pictured on the Ford GoBike website do not really look like the hard-working folks that take the bus to work every day. These folks might not appreciate their bus stops being replaced by a long row of bike racks. Some even might just say no to the bike racks in their neighborhood. A recent article in the San Francisco Examiner reported how San Francisco Mission District residents did just that.
After the company’s most recent expansion, however, groups representing Latino neighbors in the Mission quickly pushed back, citing gentrification fears. 'The way we shop, the way we travel, it’s a very different culture,' Erick Arguello, co-chair of the Calle 24 Historical District on 24th Street in the Mission, previously told the San Francisco Examiner. 'We did say, No, we don’t want bikeshare on 24th Street in the Latino Cultural District.'
In June, Ford GoBike launched its newest expansion: 3,500 blue bikes arrived to be rented, or 'shared,' by smartphone app. New stations popped up throughout the Mission. After Arguello asked them to stay off 24th Street, other Mission advocates asked Ford GoBike for a moratorium on Mission stations altogether.
The same examiner article quotes community leader Oscar Grande saying what we at the Nine-County Coalition have been saying for a while, “It feels very top-down, like we’re being planned on.”
Equity Concerns Instead of Buses
MTC’s bike share strategy is to flood lower-income neighborhoods with Ford GoBike racks, figuring lower-income workers are the ones most in need of public transit. It's website announced the roll out of Motivate program in June,
Officials also announced the start of “Bike Share for All,” the nation’s most comprehensive bike share equity program. The program — which includes outreach, engagement, discounted pricing, and other improvements — reflects the groundbreaking commitment of Motivate and MTC to expand transportation access to communities traditionally underserved by transportation options.
As part of this commitment, Motivate is placing at least 20 percent of stations in MTC-designated communities of concern, and providing a discounted membership option for low-income residents. MTC and Motivate have created a $260,000 outreach fund to help educate lower income residents and residents whose first language is other than English about how bike share works and to raise awareness about the availability of the discounted memberships.
One would be tempted to wager that Bike Share for All will work as well as another central planning strategy, Housing for All.