Engaging Communities in Bike Sharing as a Pathway to Better HealthNYHealth awarded NYC Bike Share, the operator of Citi Bike, two grants to plan, promote, and grow Citi Bike’s discount program among New York City Housing Authority residents.
NYC Bike Share LLC
Building Healthy Communities
Phase 1: $14,125; Phase 2: $199,336
October 2016- December 2017
Bicycling is a simple way for people to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives and help fight obesity and its related health conditions. Citi Bike’s bike-sharing program has the largest membership and highest ridership of any such program in North America. In New York City, a discounted membership is offered to some low-income residents, but its initial adoption was slow in lower-income neighborhoods. Rather than it being an issue of price or payment options, research shows the largest barriers are a lack of information and misperceptions about bike share—a feeling that a bike-share program is “not for people like me.”
In response to this research, Citi Bike made concerted efforts in 2016 to promote the discount program in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn; these efforts led to increased membership among low-income residents. When NYHealth CEO David Sandman saw an article about the Bedford-Stuyvesant program, he tweeted about it, complimenting the success and also noting that similar efforts were needed in additional neighborhoods. His tweet caught the attention of Citi Bike and led to offline conversations about opportunities to encourage bike-sharing among residents of two of NYHealth’s Building Healthy Communities neighborhoods: East Harlem and the Two Bridges neighborhood of the Lower East Side.
NYHealth then awarded NYC Bike Share (NYCBS), the operator of Citi Bike, two grants to plan, promote, and grow Citi Bike’s discount program among New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents in these two communities. Under the first grant, NYCBS partnered with the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (BSRC) to replicate in East Harlem and Two Bridges its successful work to increase ridership and engagement in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Specifically, NYCBS and BSRC worked to develop strategies for identifying and building relationships with other local leaders, residents, and stakeholders in the two neighborhoods. Building upon this work in a second grant, NYCBS implemented the strategies co-created with BSRC.
Outcomes and Lessons Learned
NYCBS launched a campaign to raise awareness of Citi Bike’s discount program among residents in East Harlem and Two Bridges, hired local Bike Share ambassadors from each community, and identified and built relationships with leading local organizations in each neighborhood to act as champions for bike sharing.
The grant activities led to increases in both ridership and membership in the two neighborhoods. NYCBS aimed to increase membership in the two neighborhoods, both among NYCHA residents and overall, by 35% during the grant period. Another project goal was to increase trips that started and ended in stations in each neighborhood by 10%. By the end of the project period:
- In East Harlem, total Citi Bike membership grew by 69%, membership among NYCHA residents increased by 153%, and total ridership was up by 90%.
- In Two Bridges, participation also increased, but more modestly: total membership grew by 7%, membership among NYCHA residents increased by 30%, and total ridership was up by 27%.
To achieve these outcomes, NYCBS:
- Hung banners at all bike stations in East Harlem located within a 5-minute walk of NYCHA developments, as well as at an additional 14 stations in East Harlem, and installed banners in the 8 stations in Two Bridges.
- Identified and recruited two new partner organizations to the NYC Better Bike Share Partnership: The Lower Eastside Girls Club and Urban Upbound. Each organization was awarded a mini-grant to support local outreach efforts.
- Hired four people to serve as Citi Bike ambassadors dedicated to outreach in East Harlem and Two Bridges. Of the four, three were NYCHA residents and two lived in East Harlem and Two Bridges. Additionally, four more NYCHA residents were recruited to be Citi Bike community champions and to conduct outreach to their fellow residents.
- The ambassadors recruited half of the new Citi Bike members who are NYCHA residents in Two Bridges and East Harlem.
- NYCBS did not see the same level of growth in neighborhoods without on-the-ground outreach teams, showing that dedicated ambassadors make a big difference in adoption among the NYCHA population.
- Became a strong partner in the Better Bike Share Partnership, which includes BSRC, New York City Department of Transportation, and New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The partnership aims to improve health and financial outcomes for New Yorkers by developing wide-ranging policies and initiatives to expand equity and diversity in bike share.
Strong on-the-ground partners were the main driving force that contributed to the increase in membership, the increase in memberships among NYCHA residents, and the increase in ridership. In East Harlem, the timing of the expansion of Citi Bike also aligned well with the hiring of local Citi Bike ambassadors and a visual campaign in the neighborhood. Two Bridges, despite having local Citi Bike ambassadors in place, did not have a strong core on-the-ground partner; without that, it was difficult to establish more expansive partnerships. Another factor that could have affected uptake of Citi Bike memberships was the scale of the Citi Bike expansion within the neighborhood; more stations were added in East Harlem than in Two Bridges.
NYHealth’s work with NYCBS led to internal buy-in to expand Citi Bike’s current NYCHA discount to more New Yorkers, specifically Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients. This program, called Citi Bike for All, features $5 monthly memberships to all NYCHA residents and SNAP recipients ages 16 and older—meaning that approximately 361,000 more New Yorkers are eligible for discounted membership. The launch of this program included an awareness and engagement campaign, informed in part by lessons learned from NYHealth’s grants about the importance of community outreach and engagement.
Co-Funding and Additional Funds Leveraged: The work that NYHealth seeded also attracted attention from Healthfirst, which now serves as the official wellness partner of Citi Bike and a key sponsor for Citi Bike for All.