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October 01, 2020

Equity in Micromobility: An Analysis of Public Bike Sharing

Equity in Micromobility:  An Analysis of Public Bike Sharing

Photo by Andre Furtado from Pexels

The quickly evolving micromobility industry has presented unique opportunities for the future of urban mobility and active transportation. Notably, public bike share programs offer a network of green transportation infrastructure that is both affordable and encourages public health. Moreover, with the introduction of electric bikes and other advancements in technology, transportation flexibility and efficiency for users continues to improve.
However, there is some evidence to suggests that not all demographic groups and communities equally participate and enjoy these advantages (McNeil,, 2017; Hosford & Winters, 2018). In major North American cities, user demographic trends demonstrate that bike share users have on average, a high education status, work full time, and have high incomes (Fishman, et. al., 2013; LDA Consulting, 2013; Goodman & Cheshire, 2014). Additionally, older adults, people of colour, women, and low-income communities remain marginally represented in bike share user demographics (Ursaki & Aultman-Hall, 2015; McNeil,, 2017). The significance of these trends suggest that barriers that prevent these demographic groups and communities from using bike sharing services go beyond proximity to bike share stations.
In order to explore this inquiry within the Canadian context, my research explores how these considerations are relevant to Bike Share Toronto (BST), the City of Toronto’s public bike share program. The primary questions framing this research asks:
How can Bike Share Toronto understand equity-based considerations relevant to bike share use? What equity-based evaluation tools and approaches can Bike Share Toronto use to identify service and user gaps?
This research involved three primary components including:

Spatial Analysis. This analysis used proxies to visualize spatial equity in the City of Toronto, which was then then compared to the geographic locations of Bike Share Toronto stations in 2019. Borrowing from Hosford and Winter’s (2018) study methodology, the first proxy uses the material component of Pampalon Deprivation Index (PDI) to visualize spatial equity.[1] The second proxy used to visualize spatial equity, compared the distribution of bike share stations with existing cycling infrastructure and the City of Toronto’s 31 established Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (NIAs) [2].
20201001.pngLocation of Bike Share Toronto Stations by Neighbourhood Improvement Areas and Bike Lanes (Created by author)

Equity Survey Data Analysis. In 2018, Bike Share Toronto in collaboration with Bikes Without Borders conducted an online equity research project. This survey was developed and specifically designed to function to understand the barriers and challenges experienced by respondents regarding the Bike Share Toronto program. An analysis of survey responses provided preliminary insight into what barriers impact respondents' use of the Bike Share Toronto program.

Expert Interviews. These interviews were conducted with representatives from Bike Share Toronto and Scarborough Cycles. Each interview explored the role of Bike Share Toronto in addressing cycling equity and discussed interest in developing partnerships among community organizations on a bike share equity intervention.

Key Findings:
  1. Many bike share programs, including Bike Share Toronto are overwhelmingly focused as an approach to support environmental sustainability objectives. Establishing a clear equity mandate in policy can help to support actionable efforts to support equity objectives.
  2. The spatial analysis demonstrated that the Bike Share Toronto program has effectively saturated the downtown and surrounding areas. Future expansion plans can continue to work towards spatial equity by developing strategic approaches to support more users in inner suburban and suburban areas. For example, aligning relevant City of Toronto policies and strategies such as the Ten-Year Cycling Plan and the Toronto Strong Neighborhoods Strategy can be used to effectively frame future expansion plans.
  3. Factors influencing the use of bike sharing systems are multidimensional, and accurately identifying barriers must recognize the interplay between physical, social, and economic variables. Local community and grassroot cycling organizations with existing formal and informal community networks can collaborate and facilitate engagement efforts to provide depth to bike share equity interventions.  
As cities rethink and quickly respond to the demand for safe and reliable mobility options amid COVID-19, it is evident that bike sharing programs are uniquely positioned to address mobility and transportation gaps. However, it is important to grapple with the complex and nuanced social equity dimensions of these services as they continue to grow.

McNeil, Nathan, Jennifer Dill, John MacArthur, Joseph Broach. Breaking Barriers to Bike Share: Insights from Bike Share Users. NITC-RR-884c. Portland, OR: Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC), 2017.
Hosford, Kate & Winters, Meghan. (2018). Who Are Public Bicycle Share Programs Serving? An
Evaluation of the Equity of Spatial Access to Bicycle Share Service Areas in Canadian Cities.
Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board.
036119811878310. 10.1177/0361198118783107.
Fishman, E., Washington, S., & Haworth, N. (2013). Bike share: a synthesis of the literature. Transport
reviews, 33(2), 148-165.
LDA Consulting. (2013). 2013 Capital bikeshare member survey report. Washington, DC: Commissioned by Capital Bikeshare. Retrieved from
Goodman, A., & Cheshire, J. (2014). Inequalities in the London bicycle sharing system revisited: impacts of extending the scheme to poorer areas but then doubling prices. Journal of Transport Geography, 41, 272-279.
Ursaki, J., & Aultman-Hall, L. (2015). Quantifying the equity of bikeshare access in US cities (No. TRC
Report 15-011). University of Vermont. Transportation Research Center.

[1] Material component of the PDI is used as an indicator of equity, because the relevant metrics include income, education and employment, all of which are factors linked to lower bike share use (Hosford & Winters, 2018)

[2] “The rationale for using these variables is twofold. Firstly, Toronto’s City Council in 2019 approved updates to the City’s Cycling Network Plan, which for the first time integrates an equity lens as a category of analysis when developing cycling route plans. Secondly, the literature identifies that the availability of cycling infrastructure can be used as an indicator to assess an area’s potential for bike share stations” (Mekonnen, 2020)

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Gelila Mekonnen

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