An innovative bicycle loan program for low-income Twin Cities residents will start up in April 2010, funded by a $200,000 federal grant awarded to a Minneapolis-based bicycle collective this week.
The Community Partners Bike Library will allow low-income adults to borrow a free bicycle for up to six months. The group plans to partner with local social service and housing agencies to identify eligible participants.
Sibley Bike Depot received the grant from Transit for Livable Communities, a Minnesota-based non-profit transportation group. Organizers say they hope the program will help participants save money, while encouraging exercise and helping the environment.
Many low-income adults struggle to afford transportation. A monthly Metro Transit card costs $59 for off-peak hours and $85 for peak hours. Unemployed single adults on public assistance receive $203 a month.
"A lot of our families don't have cars, or if they do have cars, certainly the expense of keeping them in good repair or buying gasoline these days is a strain on household budgets," said Steve Kramer, executive director of Project for Pride in Living, one of the agencies partnering with Sibley Bike Depot.
Sibley Bike Depot, the group overseeing the program, will stock the library with 200 donated bicycles. Each participant will receive a two-hour "safe cycling" course, along with a helmet, lock, route map, and bike pump. Sibley will also offer free maintenance classes, and will repair bikes as needed.
Jason Tanzman, a Sibley staff member, said that using a bicycle can be an empowering experience.
"It's like I can go anywhere I want with my own power," he said. "I don't have to sit there and wait for a bus that seems like it never comes."
“It's like I can go anywhere I want with my own power.”Jason Tanzman
Tanzman acknowledged that keeping track of the bicycles could be difficult. "We're expecting that some bikes will wander off, and that we won't get all of them back," he said.
The program's grant proposal anticipates that 25 percent of all loaned bicycles will be lost each year. Staff members will check in regularly with participants to help reduce loss.
Participants who sign a statement that they used the bicycle at least once per week during the loan period can renew the bike once for an additional six months.
Frequent riders will also receive a 25 percent off coupon toward the purchase of a used bike at Sibley, entry into Sibley's "Earn-a-Bike" program to receive a bicycle by volunteering, and free replacement of damaged or stolen helmets, locks, and lights.
Sibley Bike Depot already partners with many community organizations. The group donated 250 bicycles to agencies serving low-income families last year.
The program will begin in April 2010, to coincide with Earth Day.