District homeless get help renting bikes

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Local,DC,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

Capital Bikeshare is teaming up with a nonprofit group in the District to give homeless people yearlong memberships in the popular bike-sharing service.

The pilot program started Thursday with 10 homeless people, but advocates hope it will expand following quarterly reviews.

The nonprofit, Back on My Feet DC, will offer the bike service memberships to homeless people who participate in the group's fitness program, attend 90 percent its thrice-weekly group runs, and complete job training courses. The nonprofit promotes physical activity and self-sufficiency by offering homeless people financial incentives -- up to $1,250 over six to nine months for housing, job training or transportation.

"The use of the bikes meshes with our organization and our mission," Back on My Feet spokeswoman Gretchen Gates said.

The first 10 homeless people in the program plan to ride the bikes to jobs or job interviews, said Gates. The nonprofit also offers transit money loaded onto SmarTrip cards, but the Bikeshare memberships -- which DDOT is offering the nonprofit at a discount -- are much cheaper, saving the nonprofit about $7,000. Back on My Feet, a national program operating for about two years in the District, is funded by private donations.

"It's a huge cost savings, not only to us, but for individuals who don't have an income, in terms of how much Metro and bus costs versus Capital Bikeshare," Gates said.

Gates said the idea of underwriting membership in Bikeshare came from a homeless participant.

It's not the first act of charity for Capital Bikeshare, a public-private partnership between the District Department of Transportation, Virginia, Arlington County and Alta Bicycle Share.

The bike-sharing service also gives discounts to low-income residents using Bank on DC, a nonprofit that helps people set up bank accounts.

DDOT spokesman John Lisle said the agency is also considering letting people pay for annual Bikeshare memberships in monthly installments.

"For some people, the $75 membership up front is steep, so we're working on that," he said.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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