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Dockless bike share systems may improve access to disadvantaged neighborhoods

Photo showing a bike from the bike share

January 31, 2019

Jana Hirsch, MES, PhD, an Assistant Research Professor at the Urban Health Collaborative is the Principal Investigator of the study, Freedom from the Station: Spatial Equity in Access to Dockless Bike Share.

One of the primary goals of the study is to measure equity in geographical access to dockless bike share within Seattle, WA and translate Seattle’s experience into recommendations for equitable approaches when implementing similar bike share systems in other cities.

The study was funded by Better Bike Share Partnership, a collaboration funded by The JPB Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. The partners include The City of Philadelphia, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the PeopleForBikes Foundation.

One barrier to equity in access to bike share has been geographic coverage. Inequitable access to station locations may exacerbate disparities within a city. New ‘dockless’ technology allows riders to use a mobile app to unlock and lock GPS-enabled bikes anywhere in the city. Dockless systems do not depend on stations and may therefore enable users from disadvantaged neighborhoods increased access. Dockless systems also do not incur the cost of installing docking stations, potentially allowing greater access to a larger portion of the city.

The city of Seattle, Washington’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) launched a pilot permitting program to allow dockless bike share companies to operate in the city. Three operators launched programs (LimeBike, Spin, and Ofo) in July 2017, making Seattle the first city in the U.S. with these systems. Due to the rapidly changing climate of small-scale, shared mobility, only LimeBike has been renewed for the second permit year of 2018-2019, alongside two new vendors JUMP and Lyft. Partially driven by data from the initial pilot, for the second permit year, SDOT created a focus around equity and determined areas of the city in which vendors should deploy at least 10% of their fleet.

“Free-floating bike share systems can increase access to neighborhoods that station-based systems may have previously missed,” said Jana Hirsch, Assistant Research Professor at the Urban Health Collaborative, Drexel University. “The study found that all neighborhoods across Seattle were served by the three vendors although neighborhoods with more educated residents had more bicycles.” She attributed part of this spatial pattern to the sheer number of bikes available during the pilot. Within 6 months of launching, 10,000 bikes were available. This number is comparable to the number available in New York, a city 10 times the population of Seattle.

Additional work from this study will examine who used the free-floating bicycles during the pilot, and what barriers different groups of people may have faced when using the systems.

For more details on the study, published in Journal of Transport Geography click here.


Contact Dr. Hirsch at to learn more about the Freedom from the Station: Spatial Equity in Access to Dockless Bike Share study.