CINCINNATI -- For Laquesha Bandy and Marvell Smith, of Northside, Red Bike has always been something fun they'd do once in a while with Smith's son, as a way to ride around and enjoy the city.
But after the nonprofit bike share program began offering a new type of membership, now they ride practically every day -- and not just for leisure.
"I first rented a Red Bike during the summer -- me, him and his son. We paid $8 a day," Bandy said. "Then we ended up finding out about the program."
That membership program is called Red Bike Go -- launched last April -- and it provides low-cost bike passes for people living with low-income status or receiving assistance for food, energy or medical bills, according to Red Bike Education and Outreach Manager, Elese Daniel.
Red Bike Go costs members $5 per month. Standard rental fees are $8 for a day of rentals, $15 for a month or $80 for a year.
In just a few months, Daniel said Red Bike Go has seen more than 100 new riders enroll in the program, with a sizable portion -- roughly a third -- deciding to renew after the first month. More and more new members sign up each month, she said, with about 80 active members as of this writing.
"It's exciting to see that we've gotten that many people to try riding a bike, and that they've stuck to it," Daniel told WCPO.
For Bandy and Smith, Red Bike Go has also meant they don't have to rely so heavily on Cincinnati Metro, which can often have long wait times and limited service hours. Both working at a temp agency in town, that's a game-changer as they work to find full-time employment, they said.
"It's amazing. Transportation is cheaper," Smith said. "So I don't have to try to catch the bus. I can hop on a bike and get there faster.
"It's more convenient."
In fact, you name the errand or activity, they've probably used Red Bike to do it, now that they're Red Bike Go members.
"We'll use it as a couples date. Just get a couple friends together to ride bikes with," Smith said.
"It's basically my primary transportation now," Bandy said. "We pretty much ride it everywhere."
For Red Bike Executive Director, Jason Barron, Bandy and Smith's experience is exactly what bike share is all about.
"It's always been our belief that Red Bike should be a great way for folks to access jobs, run errands, go see friends. And that's true of folks from all income levels," he told WCPO. "That can be a really empowering thing."
But bike share programs haven't always been considered equally accessible across the socioeconomic spectrum. In fact, bike share systems across the country have experienced a persistent struggle to remain equitable in how they offer their services when it comes to race and income of their riders.
In many cities across the country, bike share programs quickly became slated as signals and symptoms of gentrification.
In a 2017 article for the online magazine CityLab, Benjamin Schneider wrote:
Bike share works best in high-density, mixed-use neighborhoods—the types of places that have seen rents skyrocket and the affluent move in. Even as systems have matured and expanded, the vast majority of users have remained wealthier and whiter than the cities these programs serve.
Schneider cited multiple studies that found disparities in ridership based on race and income level, as well as evidence that bike share programs weren't doing enough to reach out to these underserved populations.
It's a challenge Barron said has been on Red Bike's radar.
"Bike share programs across the country really value diversity, and it's kind of one of everybody's goals," he told WCPO. "But it's also been a struggle across the country to make sure that everybody gets on a bike and uses it. Bike share's already pretty low cost, but there's still things you can do to actively go out and engage people -- let them know that this is, in fact, something for them."
Upon launching Red Bike Go, the nonprofit released a report that showed it was not reaching Cincinnati's African American community.
"The current Red Bike model does not align with the income, family size and frequented locations of African Americans within the Red Bike footprint," the study concluded. Among other recommendations, the report -- submitted to Red Bike by Cincinnati-based firm The Voice of Your Customer -- said it was crucial that Red Bike "become more engaged with the local African American community."
It's Barron and Daniel's hope that Red Bike Go will offer that engagement. They have partnered with Findlay Market, the Freestore Food Bank, and a number of other local organizations.
"If you're just learning about the program, and it's applicable to you -- sign up," Daniel said.