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Bike-Share Program Offers Discount to Needy New Yorkers

NEW YORK — Citi Bike has long struggled to expand its bike-share program to reach more low-income New Yorkers.

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Bike-Share Program Offers Discount to Needy New Yorkers
Zoe Greenberg
, New York Times

NEW YORK — Citi Bike has long struggled to expand its bike-share program to reach more low-income New Yorkers.

On Tuesday, the city announced that residents who receive food stamps can purchase a Citi Bike membership for $5 a month, a third of the standard $14.95 monthly rate. That discount has been offered since 2013 to public housing residents who signed a yearlong commitment. An annual contract, however, is no longer required for the discounted rate.

Healthfirst, the nonprofit health insurance company sponsoring the program, declined to say how much it would cost.

“Affordable bike share for more New Yorkers helps us build a fairer and more equitable city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement on Tuesday.

City and company officials have heralded Citi Bike as a success. There are 145,000 annual members and the company celebrated its 60-million-trip milestone last month after launching in New York in 2013.

But the bikes, which have the potential to offer affordable, green transportation in areas of the city that lack other means of getting around, have remained heavily concentrated in Manhattan. A 2017 report from New York University found that 83 percent of trips begin and end in Manhattan and fewer than 1 in 5 bike docks were in low-income neighborhoods. Citi Bike has no docks in the Bronx or on Staten Island. The city plans to launch a pilot program of dockless bikes in four neighborhoods outside of Manhattan this summer.

About 2,170 residents of New York City Housing Authority buildings, or less than 2 percent of annual Citi Bike members, have signed up for the bike-share program at the discount rate, according to a spokesman for the Department of Transportation. A 2017 report from the National Institute for Transportation and Communities, which examined Citi Bike in Brooklyn, offered several possible reasons for the low usage rate among low-income residents: the docks are not locally accessible; a credit card is required for payment; and low-income riders are sometimes wary of being financially liable for a bike if something goes wrong. (According to the User Agreement, if a bike is not returned within 24 hours, the member’s credit card will be charged a fee up to $1,200.)

Transportation advocates have criticized de Blasio for committing an additional $300 million to the ferry system, which is projected to have about 12,000 riders per day this year. The Citi Bike program had 59,000 rides on average a day in May.

To reach new riders in Brooklyn, Citi Bike partnered in 2015 with the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corp., a community development nonprofit. The partnership and the outreach resulted in 70 percent more trips in the area than the year before, and NYCHA residents in Bedford Stuyvesant enrolled at a faster pace than anywhere else in the city between March 2015 and September 2016, according to a report from Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration and the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Tracey Capers, an executive vice president at the Bedford-Stuyvesant nonprofit, applauded the new rules for “providing a much needed and affordable transportation alternative, while helping residents save time and lead healthier lives.”


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