E-Bikes Increase Mobility Access for Older Adults and People with Disabilities
Updated: Aug 29, 2022
[also published on the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center's blog]
In the summer of 2020, during the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, Shared Mobility Inc. (SMI), a NY-based nonprofit that focused on developing shared-transportation systems in underserved communities nationwide received a donation of over 3,000 electric-assist bikes from Uber Technologies as they disbanded their JUMP bike operation. The donation, or JUMP-dump as our team refers to it, provided a uniquely challenging opportunity for our 12-person outfit and left us all asking the same question: how can we use these bikes to give folks more equitable access to mobility options?
Since that time, our team has worked with partners across the country to establish E-Bike Libraries, programs that give community members free access to electric-assist bikes to improve their personal mobility and quality of life. While our work is by no means done, here’s what the journey to make that vision a reality has been like so far.
How It All Started
Working from home one morning in late May 2020, I received a call from my CEO Mike Galligano. “You have GOT to see this, check your email” he said in a rush. When I opened the link he sent me, I was floored: it was a news article showing thousands of JUMP e-bikes being stacked in large piles at a North Carolina scrap facility. We both knew that something had to be done to save at least some of these bikes. They were good bikes and we knew they could be put back into productive use if our team could save them.
We made some calls, sent some emails, and within a few weeks Uber agreed to donate what bikes they had left to SMI, as well as several other like-minded organizations. As we moved closer to receiving the first shipments, the excitement on our team began to build.
Assessing What We Have
30 tractor-trailers. That’s how many it takes to deliver 3,000+ e-bikes, each showing up in groups over the course of several weeks. These bikes came from all cities coast-to-coast. Once we caught our breath, our Operations Team, buoyed with 6 years of experience operating Social Bicycles (JUMP’s predecessor) for our Reddy Bikeshare system, took stock of our newfound e-bike stockpile. Most of the bikes were in good condition and could be put back into service with some basic maintenance, those that were not were set aside for their spare parts. Combined with the thousands of batteries Uber also donated, we knew that we had the ingredients to work with our partners and create something special.
Seeing Impacts As We Go
By the end of 2020, we had begun to engage with local partners about what we should do with the e-bikes to maximize community benefit. In 2019, with support from NADTC, SMI conducted research on how to make shared mobility systems more inclusive. A key finding was that e-bikes have a significant potential to make biking more accessible for older adults, people with disabilities, and folks who want to bike but are not able to handle the resistance of conventional bikes. Studies have shown that e-bikes allow people to bike farther distances for longer periods of time and promote active and healthy lifestyles.
For the 2021 season, SMI partnered with two local community-based organizations, Buffalo United Front (BUF) and the Create a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative (CHNFC), to organize E-Bike Library pilots in their respective communities. The premise was to give folks free access to e-bikes for group rides, personal recreation, and to enhance their own personal mobility.
Both groups sought to deploy the e-bikes to best serve their communities. BUF, with an outsized number of older adults, used the bikes to bring more folks together for their weekly Saturday morning group rides, building a sense of community through inclusion.
For the group’s older adults that hadn’t ridden a bike in years, many were amazed at how easy it was to use an e-bike.
They could go longer distances and felt more confident keeping up with other riders during group rides. Many of the more frequent e-bike riders ended up leading orientation for new riders by season’s end!
In Niagara Falls, SMI worked with the CHNFC which utilized e-bikes as part of their community-health focused work across the city. Residents of the City of Niagara Falls have limited connections with the waterfall that is the city’s namesake. E-bike group rides organized by the CHNFC along the newly completed Niagara River Greenway trail provided a healthy way to experience the falls and come together with neighbors.
Both pilots showed great promise and highlighted the flexibility of the E-Bike Library model to adapt to the needs of specific communities.
Moving into 2022, the SMI team is now working with partners across the country to support the development and deployment of E-Bike Libraries in communities of all shapes and sizes. Our development partnerships include ICF International on a proposal to NYSERDA’s Clean Neighborhoods Challenge, Pacoima Beautiful in Los Angeles, Equiticty Ventures’ Go Hub in Chicago, and the City of Durham, North Carolina. Additionally, SMI has applied for funding from the National Center for Mobility Management’s 2022 Ready-to-Launch grant fund.
With the help of dedicated partners, our team has worked hard to build the E-Bike Library concept and we are inspired by the progress made so far. We want to keep growing E-Bike Library programs and hope to one day make it a fixture of an equitable, sustainable, and inclusive mobility future for us all.