Aside from trying to burgeon Boston’s tech scene, Mayor Marty Walsh is also aiming to make the city healthier and more physically active. On Wednesday, the mayor announced that his office is teaming up with Boston Medical Center and Hubway to subsidize bike share memberships for low-income residents through a program aptly dubbed Prescribe-a-Bike.
The overriding goals of Prescribe-a-Bike are to tackle health disparities throughout the city most often caused by economic inequalities, as well as to increase access to affordable transportation to those who typically can’t expense it otherwise.
“There is no other program like this in the country,” said Mayor Walsh in a statement. “Prescribe-a-Bike makes the link between health and transportation, and ensures that more residents can access the Hubway bike share system.”
Using Hubway’s bike share program, which stretches from Somerville through Boston, the mayor’s office hopes to enlist 1,000 residents in the program which would cost those who qualify just $5 annually. According to Hubway’s website, annual memberships run $85, not including usage fees which are extra charges tacked on for every 30-minute interval after the user has exhausted an initial 30-minutes of biking.
According to the mayor’s press office, members will receive a free helmet along with their membership but will still be charged the usage fee if their rides go over the 30-minute mark. Memberships will be doled out as prescriptions by, and only by, BMC medical professionals.
The socioeconomic correlation between obesity and the impoverished, notes BMC President and CEO Kate Walsh, is alarming. One in four low-income residents suffers from obesity – nearly double that of higher-income residents. A new study of London-based bike shares, she continued, found that subsidized programs like Prescribe-a-Bike had a positive overall impact on health especially amongst older users.
“Obesity is a significant and growing health concern for our city, particularly among low-income Boston residents,” said Walsh, in a statement. “Regular exercise is key to combating this trend, and Prescribe-a-Bike is one important way our caregivers can help patients get the exercise they need to be healthy.”
BostInno reached out directly to Hubway to get their thoughts on the program and see how it would impact not only Boston’s wellbeing, but also their business, though nobody was immediately available to comment.
Already Boston has enrolled 897 members, who, combined, have taken 35,000 trips on Hubway bikes. The program isn’t new per se – it’s been around since early 2013, actually – but Mayor Walsh, BMC and Hubway are placing an added emphasis on it because of its obvious wellness benefits and also because of the substantial upgrades to Boston’s bike infrastructure.
To qualify for the subsidized Hubway memberships, participants must be Boston residents age 16 or older, and must either be receiving some form of public assistance or have a household income of no more than 400% of poverty level.