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Urban Interventions: How Bike-shares Can Be Harnessed for Health Equity

Posted on June 3, 2019
Photo of a group of cyclists using Ecobici in Mexico City

By: María Hermosillo and Alejandra Jáuregui, PhD
Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública (México)

Cycling has the potential to improve population health. Among its benefits are enhanced cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, reductions in depression and improvements in cognitive function. In a city, cycling can reduce traffic congestion and fuel emissions, while also facilitating urban mobility. Further, bicycles are more affordable than cars; while only 10% of the world’s population can afford a car, approximately 80% of people can afford a bike. Despite the benefits, the percentage of people who cycle in Latin American countries as a means of transportation is not as high as in other countries such as the Netherlands, a country in which 40% of all commutes are made on a bike, or in cities such as Copenhagen, where 36% of the  workforce commutes daily by bike.

This begs the question:  Is cycling in Latin America’s urban areas within reach of most people? Or has it been restricted to specific communities or social groups? 

Bike-share schemes have become a popular method to promote cycling in large cities because they provide affordable access to bikes. Bike-shares are well-suited for short-distance trips in urban areas and can be combined with other modes of transport for longer commutes. However, in some countries, these have been accused of social inaccessibility, meaning their use has been confined to specific areas, such as business districts, tourist spaces and high-income neighbourhoods. The problem is that communities who could benefit the most from cycling are generally located outside of these areas; these communities are often excluded and overlooked in planning process and therefore experiencing neglect.

Driven by these concerns, the term “bike equity” has emerged in recent years. Bike equity refers to the delivery of different resources to different people according to their cycling demand. Bike equity caters to the individual by meeting specific needs related to perceptions of safety, infrastructure, cycling competence and equal access to facilities. As opposed to bike equity, “bike equality” offers the same service to each user, whether it is the best for them or not.

But how do we integrate equity into public bike-shares? How do we make cycling accessible to everyone? If we solve this question, we might have found a way to ensure more people can access the benefits of cycling.  

In Mexico, the largest scale bike-share program, Ecobici, is in Mexico City. Ecobici was implemented in 2010 and has been expanding since then. It now has more than 170,000 registered users, 480 cycling stations, over 6,800 bicycles, and a presence in 55 neighbourhoods in Mexico City. Ecobici has opened the door of cycling to many people, giving them the opportunity to try cycling without the commitment of buying a bike. But most importantly, Ecobici has been successful in introducing urban cycling into one of the most populated cities in the world and a city with a heavy automobile traffic record. Nevertheless, use is unequally distributed. Users are typically male, young and with a medium-high socio-economic status. Moreover, there are insufficient bike lanes and a coverage is limited to the city centre. Therefore, the challenge Ecobici faces now is to expand the bike-share program to other areas of the city and to find a way to engage other members of society.

With this in mind, the new Ministry of Mobility is considering a series of urban interventions to reach low-income suburbs, while maintaining or increasing the connectivity of the current cycling infrastructure in the city. The objective is to increase the contribution of bike mobility to account for at least 3% of all commutes in the city. In 2019, more than 85 kilometres of cycling infrastructure and 4 new bicycle parking lots will be built.  A portion of this new infrastructure will be implemented in low-income neighbourhoods located in the suburbs of Mexico City, including Xochimilco and Tláhuac. By 2024, the city’s cycling network is expected to consist of 600 km of cycling infrastructure, 16 bicycle parking lots and at least 10,000 Ecobici bicycles. 

Researchers from the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico (INSP) and Washington University in St. Louis, in collaboration with the local Ministry of Mobility in Mexico City, have started a two-year year study to measure the effects of the Ecobici expansions and new bicycling infrastructure on bike-ridership. The goal is to address the lack of data regarding the health effect of bike-share programs and provide evidence on the effectiveness of Ecobici as an urban intervention that promotes physical activity. The project, led by Dr. Alejandra Jauregui, from the National Institute of Public Health, and co-led by Dr. Deborah Salvo, from Washington University, is divided into three components.

Program Components

A longitudinal assessment of bike ridership and cycling infrastructure in street segments chosen at random in three areas of the city (the Ecobici service area, priority areas for Ecobici expansion, and non-priority areas for Ecobici expansion

An investigation of which modes of transport are being substituted by Ecobici and an exploration of differences in health-enhancing physical activity

The use of existing data of Ecobici users to study: user characteristics, changes in participation since 2010, user travel patterns, and Ecobici's contributions towards meeting physical activity recommendations for health.

Achieving access to a bike-share program in all the areas of a city is the first step towards narrowing the gap in cycling equity between communities. With these reforms the local Ministry of Mobility in Mexico City has shown commitment to increasing equitable access for all. The current research of the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico will examine the impacts of this urban intervention using the natural experiment of the Ecobici program and its expansions to contribute to a better understanding of the health benefits of bike-shares and if bike-share programs are a viable alternative to promote physical activity in contextually different areas to the centre of Mexico City. Once bike-share programs are present in most areas of the city, the next step will be to cater specific needs of different population sectors (i.e. women, kids, elderly) to enhance their bike-ridership.


Ministry of Mobility of Mexico City. Movilidad en Bicicleta. Available at: Accessed June 2019

Ministry of Mobility of Mexico City. Presenta gobierno de la ciudad de méxico el plan de reducción de emisiones del sector movilidad. June 3, 2019. Available at: Accessed June 2019

This post was written as a contribution to Cities, Sectors, and Health, run by SALURBAL. To contact the blog or learn more about the SALURBAL project email


Posted in Health Promotion, Transportation Systems, localnews, Health Equity