Building Community Controlled E-bike Libraries

[also published on Medium]

Group bike ride on e-bikes, east side bike club buffalo
Bike Library Partners in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New York

TL;DR

The shared mobility industry often misses the mark on helping the people that can benefit the most from its services. This is where Shared Mobility Inc (SMI) comes in; a nonprofit that believes in a community-led approach to serving smaller and historically neglected markets. We’re using a donation of 3,000 used JUMP e-bikes, and our technical, operational and social expertise around mobility planning, to launch free E-Bike Library programs across the country. In 2021, we launched a few community led E-Bike Libraries that resulted in immeasurable impacts. We hope, with community organizations leading the process, and by support through philanthropic funding, we can rehabilitate more of these e-bikes for future programs. If interested in helping, contact us at info@sharedmobility.org.


...


On a Monday morning in January, I started work by checking my inbox to see what Google Alerts had in store for me that day. As many of my colleagues would agree, after 15 years in this industry, nothing shocks me anymore, but this is getting ridiculous. The first notification related to shared mobility operators starting to take cryptocurrency, while the next alert indicated that a major micromobility operator was leaving smaller markets, citing lack of profitability as the motive.

The truth is, these headlines have been a dime a dozen over the last decade; from the demise of independent car-sharing operators, to the dockless bike fiasco, and most recently, the 2019–2020 collapse AND rebirth of electric micromobility due to the pandemic. Technology and business models are constantly changing in this industry and are ultimately failing at what they set out to do, help people. Shared mobility services are touted to be social and environmental benefits to our cities and communities, but we all know at the end of the day it’s mostly about profit and scale to the larger companies. As a leader of a transportation solutions nonprofit, we take a different approach to services, a more human approach.

When talking about shared mobility, I always state that it is a form of public transportation, and should be funded and considered as such. The problem is that shared mobility is sort of both a public transportation option and a venture capital driven business. This has resulted in multiple communities being overserved, and others being abandoned or ignored due to profit motives.

Our nonprofit organization Shared Mobility Inc. (SMI) lives in the beautiful middle ground of public transportation and venture capital. We assist communities in launching services in car sharing, bike sharing, electric micromobility, and ride sharing in “less desired” markets. We believe access to affordable transportation is a human right. We aim to utilize what is good in both the private and public sector and repurpose those ideas to meet the needs of underserved communities.

In August of 2020, Creighton Randall’s article explained how SMI received over 3,000 discarded e-bikes from Uber with the goal of being repurposed for both an education tool for demonstrations, and E-Bike Library programs. We were excited, to say the least, and thought how great it would be to take these used bikes, and try to recycle them for other uses.

As an operator of bike sharing, we saw there was a huge need to expand programmatic activity especially in disadvantaged communities. For the most part (not all), micromobility programs focused in disadvantaged communities have three common aspects: locating more devices in certain neighborhoods, some sort of outreach campaign, and discounted passes. These are not ‘bad’ techniques per se, but definitely can be expanded upon. The E-Bike Library is meant to be an extension of this work, focusing on free use, community controlled and putting people’s needs in the foreground.

Create a Health Niagara Falls Collaborative’s E-Bike Library program is rooted in building healthy communities as part of the nonprofit’s mission.


Before SMI started launching E-Bike Library programs like the one in the above video, we first needed to address a few major ‘housekeeping’ items that relate to just getting the bikes up and running. Unloading 30 truckloads of e-bikes was a small mountain of work, especially for a nonprofit of 12 employees. Figuring out the condition of 3,000 used e-bikes and determining what works and what doesn’t, is Mt. Everest (still climbing!).

E-bikes for e-bike libraries fixed and cleaned up
The progression of the physical state of the e-bikes.

Our Team hoped that JUMP would provide maintenance records of each e-bike to help us during this process, which we never received. We heard that maintenance records of older generations of JUMP bikes were not kept that well, if at all, which was odd to us, but made sense based on the industry. Why fix these bikes when you can just continually buy new ones …..right? As a scrappy nonprofit, seeing the decay of these bikes hit us in three aspects:

  1. These bikes were heavily vandalized, with each city having its own unique patterns of damage and graffiti.

  2. What a frivolous waste of resources! We pride ourselves on keeping our shared bikes up and running and rehabbing them in order to maintain the assets as long as possible. These bikes could have been maintained better, much better.

  3. We need to find more resources to fix all of these bikes.

After unloading all the bikes, we began doing some homework on everything related to the donation. Building upon our experience operating and servicing Social Bicycles pedal bikes, the older iterations of the donated e-bike, and with generous help from former JUMP employees (for which we are incredibly grateful) we learned how to maintain, fix and properly store these assets.

Our next step was to check the mechanical and electric functionality of the e-bikes. We decided to randomly sample about 25% of the total donation to determine what worked, as checking every bike would have taken over 3,000 resource hours. This yielded about 750 bikes unable to be used and will be designated for mostly spare parts in the future. Finally, extensive testing was done on some other aspects of the bikes related to the sharing software, hardware and the e-bike batteries themselves. At the end of all these processes, we estimated that 2,100 e-bikes could be dedicated for future programs.

E-bikes in warehouse
This picture represents only 1/4th of the donated e-bikes received.

Piloting Local E-Bike Libraries

In spring of 2021, we began planning the E-Bike Library pilots with multiple community based organizations (CBO) in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New York. Internally, we came up with a few core concepts:

  1. CBOs will lead the programs: We believe that every community is different, and who better to lead these initiatives than folks from the communities where they will be used? Programs range in variety, tailored to each CBO’s mission or vision. For example, one of the E-Bike Library programs focuses on mobility justice as a core tenet, while another is interested in e-bikes for transportation to and from work.

  2. Building trust: Relationship development between SMI and partner CBOs is one piece of the puzzle. Building trust between the partner CBO and their constituency on riding e-bikes is also a process as well. In-person orientations, classes on riding, and other hands-on experiences have seen success, but this differs per community.

  3. Use of the e-bikes should be free: This helps break down one barrier to entry to use electric micromobility. When something is free, people are more likely to at least try it. Getting someone on an e-bike for the first time is definitely an experience, especially seeing their face when the gentle assist turns on.

  4. We assist in operations and maintenance planning: SMI works directly with CBOs to determine best operational models for their specific program design. We provide recommendations for consideration given our experience in the industry and help in the overall sustainability of the program.

Member e-bike orientation
East Side Bike Club E-Bike Library member orientation, summer 2021.

E-Bike Library orientations build relationships between members, the program and the community organization.These core concepts provided a solid foundation for our first libraries in 2021. Learning together with our two primary partners, East Side Bike Club and Create a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative, we discovered a lot of synergies that relate to encouraging people to ride and participate. One big takeaway during the program was the iterative planning process. It takes time and patience to understand that there are no right or wrong answers, but just a lot of trying, understanding and adjusting. To me this is Human-Centered Design at its core.

East Side Bike Club (ESBC) is a group committed to organizing community and facilitating connections through bike rides, fundraisers and family events, volunteerism, and youth mentorship located in Buffalo, New York. ESBC accepts donated bikes for community kids, and recruits mechanics to teach those kids how to repair them. The Club’s deep community connections helped to build a broad ridership base, bringing many riders into the Library program. In person orientations and multiple outreach events, led by the CBO, enhanced the trust of riders with the new technology. For many, it was their first time riding a bike in decades. The E-Bike Library was located in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, which was one of their central meeting places for events and weekly community rides.

George Johnson (left) and volunteers of East Side Bike Club getting ready for their weekly group ride.

Create a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative is a community organization that works to shed light on health disparities and provides resources on affordable health and wellness services in Niagara Falls, NY. They focus on healthy eating and also organize events centered on physically active community connections aimed at improving holistic health outcomes for residents. Unlike East Side Bike Club, which is a biking advocacy group within a community that has a pre-existing culture in cycling, the library in Niagara Falls started at the ground level with outreach and education on biking in general. This program was used more as a tool of conversation about biking, e-bikes and safety.

Brian Archie, of Create a Healthier Falls Collaborative, speaking at Walk the Falls Event promoting active living.

At the end of the 2021 season both groups had a lot of takeaways regarding how they would build their future programs past this initial stage. East Side Bike Club turned to planning their own workshop, in which they could fix personal and library e-bikes for training and education purposes. Create a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative wants to further facilitate consistent group riding events to help change culture, such as Buffalo’s Slow Roll and the East Side Bike Club weekly rides. These 2022 goals for each library program have led to both groups pursuing additional funding.

Fundraising Efforts

Community based partners are now leading programs across the country. Over the last year, we have worked together with these CBOs, assisting in the process of acquiring funding for both rehabilitation of bikes AND for community-led planning and programmatic activity. Essentially, partnering CBOs have the ability to use the donated bikes as financial leverage to apply for funding, with their own ideas and goals as the basis of proposals. We want them to lead and take ownership from the start.

This may be an ideal vision in some cases. Many CBOs we have worked with do not have the capacity to spearhead the multiple aspects of fundraising or operating a new service. For us, finding groups that are willing to try their best, is really all we ask for. We can help, as much as we can, but there is a fine line between assisting and actually leading the development of a community based program. In 2020 and 2021 we have supported multiple grant proposals ranging from $50-$500K for E-Bike Libraries. In parallel with CBOs fundraising for E-Bike Library programs, internally we have been pursuing financial support in order to fix the remaining stock of e-bikes currently in Buffalo. We are at the beginning stages of launching our New York based “e-workforce development” program that will train folks to repair and maintain the bikes, with the goal of individuals pursuing employment in shared mobility, biking and other innovative industries that relate. This workforce program aims to mirror another program in Stockton, California in which we are part of.

Shane Paul, Micromobility Coordinator at SMI, showing the electronics of the e-bike to community members.

Current and Future Programs Utilizing Donated JUMP E-Bikes


Western New York E-Bike Libraries 2021 — Present Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New York In 2021 we launched two bike library programs alongside community partners East Side Bike Club and Create a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative, one focused in Buffalo and the other in Niagara Falls. These programs were a blend of bikeshare and bike libraries, with both groups leading in-person orientations for program members, outreach, education and facilitating group rides to build community around cycling. Through grants from the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Better Bike Share Partnership, both CBOs received funding to lead programming for their E-Bike Libraries while our Reddy Bikeshare program provided maintenance of the e-bikes. In 2022, SMI is currently pending approval of funding to work together with East Side Bike Club to fund an educational maintenance shop.



Electro Bici Slated for early 2022 Pacoima Beautiful, Los Angeles, CA Funded by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Pacoima Beautiful’s e-bike program is slated for the first half of 2022. Serving the Pacoima neighborhood of Los Angeles, 100 JUMP e-bikes will be lent out to community members for extended periods. Other partners include People For Mobility Justice, Equiticity and Mobility Development Partners. Our role is to provide the bikes, help train staff, and guide operational processes throughout the duration of the 3-year project. Exact programmatic activities led by Pacoima Beautiful are currently being developed.

The Go Hub: A Community Mobility Center Slated for mid 2022 Equiticity Ventures, Chicago, IL Equiticity’s vision for a traditional mobility hub in the North Lawndale neighborhood on the Westside of Chicago, reimagined to explicitly serve Black and Brown people living in a low- to moderate-income neighborhood with severe transportation inequities. This new vision for a mobility hub is a physical and digital space where neighborhood residents create community around mobility justice and environmental justice. This new vision for growing mobility amidst significant trauma, brings “hardware” and “software” together in a protected and safe space where culture and healing are centered. The Go Hub will include an E-Bike Library.

Group Ride in Chicago. Photo credit: Olatunji Oboi Reed, President and CEO of Equiticity

Durham Bull E-Bike Pilot Program Slated for mid 2022 City of Durham, North Carolina Utilizing innovative technology, human-centered design and outreach strategies, the City of Durham is working to implement an equity initiative through an e-bike pilot program, funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge Grant. The goal of the e-bike pilot program is to analyze how the e-bike infrastructure can reduce single occupancy vehicle trips and maximize impact on transportation equity. The Team plans to use a bottoms-up approach with public engagement for the e-bike pilot program by learning the transportation needs of the downtown shift workers — a group often overlooked in the TDM research field.

Accelerating Clean Communities With E-Bike Systems Planning in 2022, full implementation in 2023 (if awarded) ICF Incorporated, New York Shared Mobility is supporting ICF Incorporated’s proposal to the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency’s (NYSERDA) Clean Neighborhoods Challenge. This $10 million proposal includes e-bike lending libraries to benefit underserved neighborhoods in five communities across New York State: Binghamton, Beacon, Newburgh, Buffalo and St Lawrence County. Libraries will offer e-bikes free of charge for an extended period, enabling participants to discover how e-bikes can meet their daily travel needs and will include operations and maintenance, safety training, and community engagement activities

ICF’s video submission to NYSERDA.


From receiving the donation in 2020 to the execution of programs in 2021 and beyond, this process will be a long ride for us–hopefully with an electric assist! We have a lot to learn, and a many processes to go through in order to get the remaining bikes into the hands of communities around the country. Our 2022 focus relates to the following:

  1. Raising money to refurbish the used e-bikes. We know the process and we know there’s a big demand to use these bikes, but we need more funding to do so. So far, we’ve secured funding to rehab 25% of the 2,100 JUMP bikes. We will continue to search for funding that will put 100% of the available bikes into communities where they are needed the most.

  2. Connecting with more motivated community organizations interested in taking on an E-Bike Library program.

  3. Identifying philanthropic organizations to fund local community organizations to lead the programs.

  4. Telling the story of this work as part of national conversations around sustainable transportation, mobility justice, and electric micromobility.

We hope the current and future e-bike programs listed in this article are the first of many. If you are interested in more information on programs listed, and/or assisting in any of the four listed areas above, contact us at: info@sharedmobility.org.