A common complaint about bike-sharing is that one needs to have a credit or debit card in order to use the service, which is not the case with most public transit. However, unlike other modes of transit that accept cash, the customer is not given the key to the vehicle and ability to drive it away. With bike-share bikes costing upwards of $1,000, bike-share services typically require customers provide their credit or debit card upon registration so that the operator has recourse for the replacement cost of a bike in the rare event that a customer does not return their bike. The unintended consequence of this is that the unbanked – those who do not have a checking/savings account or credit/debit card – are unable to use the service. One can be unbanked due to a past history of poor credit or because they have chosen to not use these financial institutions in favor of check cashing establishments to better meet their needs. Regardless of why they are unbanked, the unbanked need access to bike-share as it’s one of the most economical modes of transport, as well as healthy for the rider and good for the environment.
Capital Bikeshare’s owner jurisdictions have encouraged the unbanked to get banked through our relationship with Bank on DC, which provides a checking account and debit card to individuals through local financial institutions. Customers also get $25 off of the annual membership price of $75. But more is needed to open Capital Bikeshare to the unbanked.
Arlington County has developed a solution for its residents to pay with cash for a bike-share membership and usage fees – likely the first of its kind in North America. Arlington will vouch for its residents, so that they don’t need to provide a credit or debit card. We will do this through our Commuter Stores, owned by Arlington County Commuter Services (ACCS) which has five Commuter Stores which sell transit fare passes; and provide transit, carpooling, vanpooling, biking, and walking information. Four of the Commuter Stores are "brick and mortar" shops and one is an RV (Commuter Store on wheels) with a weekly schedule. The Commuter Stores started providing walk-up Capital Bikeshare membership registrations in May 2014 where the membership fob is provided on-the-spot, so would-be customers need not wait the 5 – 7 days to receive their fob in the mail as with the standard online registration.
The Commuter Store’s accounting system allows cash to be accepted due to its transit pass sales business. Now Arlington residents can visit any Commuter Store location with a current government-issued photo ID with their Arlington address shown, such as a driver's license. Or they can show their passport, Permanent Resident Card (“green card”), or Employment Authorization Card (work permit), along with a copy of a utility bill dated within the past 60 days with their name and Arlington address. The Commuter Store representative will verify the individual’s identity and assist them in signing up for an annual membership with monthly installments ($84/year and paid as $7/month) or annual membership ($75 and paid at once).
An account can be opened with as little as $16 in cash towards the standard price of an annual membership with monthly installments. This covers the $7 per month membership fee for two months plus usage fees for trips beyond the first 30 minutes which are at no additional charge. Another option is paying $100 in cash for the annual membership cost of $75, and the remaining $25 will be used towards usage fees.
Credit reports will be sent weekly by the Commuter Stores, as will debit reports be sent weekly by the operator, Motivate (former Alta Bicycle Share), to Arlington’s Capital Bikeshare program manager. The credits and debits will require manual tabulation presently, but improvements in the bikeshare system’s back-end will allow this to be automated in the near future. When a customer's account goes below $2, the County will contact the individual to add more money to their account. At $0, their account will be closed until more money is added, with any month's missed membership fee paid for as well.
This solution should work well for Arlingtonians over the next year during this pilot. It’s a step in the right direction for Arlington and Capital Bikeshare and better addresses bike-share’s equity issues. More can and will be done to assist low-income Arlingtonians use the service by building on top of the Commuter Store’s bikeshare customer registration and now cash acceptance for payment. This solution is not a one-size-fits-all for other bike-share municipalities and operators, but hopefully this step will lead to more innovation in assisting the unbanked use bike-share services nationwide.
MetroBike serves as Arlington County's Capital Bikeshare program management consultant.
Article cross-posted on BikeArlington.com.