The e-scooters and bikes for various share programs are everywhere around my city. Well that’s not true. They are mainly in our river valley trail system, mostly in central areas, and in two central, more traditionally urban areas: downtown and an arts and social area. Most of the people I see using them look like they’re using them for recreation, rather than something like last mile transportation. I admit, I’ve never used them. I don’t have a need between my willingness to walk and my habit of biking. But I’ve always wondered about them. Do you have to have a cellphone and a credit card to pay? Are there any flexible fee structures based on things like income? Are there any features that support people with disabilities? Can you access the system in any language other than English?
Brown and Howell (2022) led a project for the National Institute of Transportation and Communities in the US that has the goal of helping communities with share programs or introducing new ones to make them more equitable. The most common strategies in place were smartphone alternatives for access, cash payment options, and reduced fare options. It’s great that these were most common but it shouldn’t be overstated because these were still found in less than 40% of cities. Adaptive vehicles for those with disabilities were found in just 5% of the programs studied. They didn’t report information about languages.
The goal of Brown and Howell’s project was to help municipalities improve access and ensure that people who need quick and affordable short distance transportation options have access over people using the programs for fun. Again, fun definitely seems the priority for the programs in my city. It feels very privileged. And I’m thrilled if it gets more people out of cars and using our trails. This will help increase support for infrastructure like bike paths. But, I wonder how increasing access might help people access employment opportunities, health care, education, and social supports. Could the network actually help reduce poverty through access?
Brown and Howell have set up an online tool to help places review what has been done and how. If you are involved in coordinating one of these networks or are interested in advocating for your local network you can find a number of links including the project report that I cited from this press release.