The past few years have seen a surge in new options for urban transportation, from car-sharing in its various manifestations—Zipcar, Car2Go—to ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, to the bike-share systems that have sprung up in cities across North America. Almost universally, the way these systems ensure that such vehicles can be "shared" or rented is through credit cards or debit cards issued by banks. Don’t have a credit card or a bank account? You probably can’t participate.
In the case of car-sharing or ride-hailing, this doesn’t seem too odd, given the for-profit nature of those private businesses. But in the case of bike-share, which is often sponsored in part or in full by municipal transportation departments, the problem of equitable access for the unbanked becomes more urgent. Even where cities don’t commit public funds to bike-share—New York’s system, for instance, is entirely privately funded—elected and appointed officials frequently tout the benefits of bike-share and refer to it as an extension of existing public transit options, giving it the imprimatur of the public sector. Yet a wide income gap in bike-share membership remains stubbornly real across North America, as Eric Jaffe reported last fall.