By Micheline Maynard
Unless they were lucky enough to get a gift certificate, pretty much everybody who has joined Citi Bike, ZipCar or Uber has something in common: a credit card.
But what if you want to get around, and you don’t have a credit card?
That’s a topic of active discussion in Chicago, where one in nine residents don’t have bank accounts, according to research reported this week by Streetsblog Chicago.
According to researcher Michael Carney at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, that translates to at least 135,000 people and perhaps more than twice as many people. In some parts of Chicago, one-third of area residents do not have bank accounts, but get by relying on cash or debit-style cards that aren’t linked to bank accounts.
One of the biggest reasons bike share and other transportation programs ask for credit cards is to offset the risk of damage to bikes or vehicles, or even the theft of the equipment. A rider, driver or consumer without a credit card can’t be billed if the information isn’t available.
The Chicago Department of Transportation, which runs Divvy Bikes, the city’s bike sharing system, is determined to get “unbanked” Chicagoans on bikes. It’s been looking at ways that it can make Divvy accessible to more people.Carney, in a comprehensive report, took a look at what other cities are doing to connect people to bike sharing system.
Boston has two programs aimed at making the Hubway accessible to low-income residents. Residents pay $5 for a Hubway membership and get a free helmet; the city makes up the difference to Alta Bike Share, which oversees its program. These residents get 45 minutes of free bike time (versus the usual 30 minutes for other members). To qualify, applicants must be at least 16 years old, receive some form of public assistance, and have an income at or below 400 percent of the poverty line. However, these residents do need a debit or credit card to enroll.
A second program, called “Prescribe A Bike,” would provide a free membership to low-income people who come in to the Boston Medical Center, if they are diagnosed with ailments like diabetes, high cholesterol or obesity. That plan would not require a credit card.
In Washington, D.C., the District Department of Transportation set up a partnership with Bank On DC, a collaboration between government, financial institutions and non-profits to provide services to “unbanked” households. In return for opening a bank account with the District Governmental Federal Employees Credit Union or United Bank, the resident can get a $25 discount on a $75 Capital Bikeshare membership, and no credit card is required.
Carney’s report made three basic recommendations, according to Streetsblog:
- Lower fees or provide subsidized memberships for lower-income people, so they can access programs without credit cards.
- Seek out partnerships to hedge the risk of damage or theft to bike sharing bikes.
- Conduct outreach so that city residents know that bike sharing is an option.
There’s one other option that Chicago might explore: Ventra transit cards, which are used on buses and the L. These can be loaded at designated outlets, like stores and subway stations, and act similar to debit cards. Streetsblog says it’s too early to tell whether this is something the city will implement.