Providing Bicycle Transportation to Low-Income Adults: Could This Work in Stevens Point?

A recent BikePortland post highlights a Vancouver, WA, program that gives low-income community members access to bicycles for transportation.

The costs of owning and operating a motor vehicle continue to rise, yet transportation needs for low-income people do not diminish. The ability to balance the critical need to reliably get to work with other basic family needs – shelter, food, medical care – is significantly more difficult for those earning less income. Public transit may help, but often buses do not run early or late enough or do not have stops within reasonable walking distance.

For many low-income people, a bicycle may be a pragmatic and inexpensive way to get to and from work at the times required by their employer. Yet the additional financial stress of acquiring and maintaining a bicycle is often beyond their already stretched budget. Such folks do not have the luxury to take a risk, give it a try, and see if they can make it work on their own.

As reported by BikePortland, Vancouver’s Human Services Council is “a community non-profit whose mission includes providing transportation services to low-income adults” and others in southwest Washington.

HSC’s program, funded by a state grant, doesn’t simply give bikes away.  Candidates are first screened based on health, bicycle experience, and their level of responsibility.

For those who pass the screening, a local bicycle shop performs a bike fitting and a bike is selected from police ‘foundlings’ and other donated bicycles. The local bicycle shop contributes by fixing up such bikes and providing some follow-up maintenance.

Finally, the bicycle recipient must attend a 5-hour training on basic maintenance, route finding, and safety. The training ends with a 3-mile ride to put the classroom lessons to practice.

One graduate of this Vancouver program said, ” ‘It really opened up doors for me. Now I can feel confident and positive that I’ll be where I need to be, like at my new job.’ ”

The Stevens Point area is ideal for bicycle transportation. Our region is relatively flat and the urban area is compact.  Local social service agencies are keenly aware of Portage County’s substantial low-income population, many of whom live in neighboring rural areas. In many cases, a bicycle could be the difference-maker for moving towards a stable financial situation.

Stevens Point’s now-defunct Stanley Project, which fixed up old bikes and gave them away to low-income people, demonstrates that there are people in our community interested in creating this sort of program. My gut feeling is that if the right set of people sat down together to talk about possibilities, that catalyst would soon result in a Stevens Point version of Vancouver’s successful program.

For further inspiration, you can read the full BikePortland post about the HSC program here.

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