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Metro reaching out to low-income communities with new bike-share system

With the largest bike-share program in the county launching this week in downtown Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is reaching out to low-income communities to show residents how the system can be useful for daily commutes.

Bike sharing allows users to check out a bike for short trips then return it to another location. But Metro officials conceive of the system as more than a bike rental service for tourists.

Rather, they hope residents will share the bikes to bridge the so-called "last mile gap" between transit and their homes or workplaces. The payment system for bike sharing even utilizes the TAP card, which is used for buses and trains.

Metro's bike-share pilot will launch Thursday with about 1,000 bikes at 65 docking stations around downtown. For now, the bikes are available only to users who sign up for $20 monthly or $40 annual passes. But on August 1, walk-up users can rent a bike for $3.50 every 30 minutes.

L.A. has been late to the bike-share party. Similar systems have been in place in major cities like New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco for years. But L.A. officials are hoping to attract a new group of users to the system - lower-income residents who make up the majority of transit users here.

Studies of systems around the country have shown that low-income communities make up a small share of bike-share users. 

"Historically in other cities that have done bike-share, they’ve really been looking at this demographic of more affluent people that don’t necessarily ride bikes or take transit," said Allison Mannos, who works for the nonprofit Multicultural Communities for Mobility that has teamed up with Metro to try to change that.

Multicultural Communities for Mobilityis asking for input on what would make the bike-share system more accessible and attractive to the populations it serves.

One of the big issues that can serve as a disincentive to bike sharing is the price. Low-income people are less likely to buy monthly or yearly passes for transit, although it would make the price of bike sharing more affordable.

The one-time fee is $3.50 for 30 minutes, double the price of a Metro fare. Manos and her colleagues will be surveying communities about the price they'd be willing to pay to use the bikes.

Metro is considering a low-income discount, as it currently offers for other transit fares.