E-Bikes and Equity

  • Date: 03/17/2023

When the first commercial U.S. bike-sharing program launched in 2008, the value proposition was clear. Putting more bikes on the streets was meant to reduce automobile usage and carbon emissions, provide urban residents and tourists with a flexible form of transportation, and offer a public health benefit to boot.

Over the next decade, bike sharing quickly expanded across the country. But because bike-share programs often rely on corporate funding or are operated by profit-driven micromobility businesses, they’ve rarely been available in low-income neighborhoods or cities that would benefit from having access to more transportation options. Recently, this familiar pattern has gotten a jolt from the rising popularity of e-bikes—that is, bicycles equipped with electric-battery technology that supplements or at times replaces traditional pedal power—and from cities and cycling advocates putting different spins on the usual bike-share schemes.

Over the last couple of years, bike-sharing experiments geared toward lower-income residents and communities have launched or been announced in cities including Denver, Oakland, Buffalo, New York; Youngstown, Ohio; and Worcester, Massachusetts.

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