"Unbanked" Bostonians: the next hurdle for Hubway?

This story from The Atlantic’s Cities blog highlighted an important issue facing bike share programs across the country (including Hubway), which rely on a credit/debit card system for rentals (more on how Hubway’s membership works). The credit card system is simple and convenient, allowing users to take out a bike with the swipe of a card, while providing some insurance for the bike share system that the bikes will come back.

But what about people who don’t have a credit card? A lot of those who are “unbanked” tend to be low-income as well, making the concept of a healthy, cost-effective alternative transportation system unbalanced and unavailable to some of the people who could benefit from it the most.

Capital Bikeshare system in Washington D.C., where 12.5% of households lack a credit card, has come up with an innovative solution to this issue. They’re partnering with local financial institutions and non-profits to make bank accounts more accessible and promoting the bike share program in tandem.

Read the full article to get all the details on this collaboration. Atlantic quotes Josh Moskowitz, program manager for Capital Bikeshare, as saying that the program

“kills two birds with one stone…We’re able to preach financial literacy, financial security, along with the benefits of promoting a healthy, environmental form of transportation.”

Massachusetts has a lower rate of unbanked households than D.C. overall (4.1%), but if you look at the numbers broken out by race/ethnicity, you can see that some groups are disproportionately affected by this phenomenon: 16.6% of Black households and 14.8% of Hispanic households, as compared to 2.4% of White households are unbanked, according to 2009 report by the FDIC (pdf).

Hubway offered a subsidized annual membership rate and free bicycle helmet for low-income Bostonians earlier this year, but lacking a credit card could still be a barrier for people who are eligible for the subsidy. If the Capital Bikeshare system ends up being a success, it may be a great model for Boston and other bike share cities to develop as well.

Jean Zove, MAPC’s Web Communications Coordinator