Lyft and Achilles International Announce Expansion of Joint Adaptive Cycling Program
Lyft lifts the idea that it’s all about carpooling and scooter rentals.
On Saturday, the San Francisco-based company announces the expansion of its adaptive cycling pilot program to New York. It allows people with disabilities to ride adapted bikes. The program, called Adaptive Bike Library, was created in conjunction with the disabled athletics organization Achilles International. From Central Park, a person with a disability wishing to ride a bicycle has access to trained staff who will help navigate them to handcycles and tandems. There are free weekly sessions in four of the city’s five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. The initiative runs from May to November, operating on a “library” model where people go to a location and “check out” the bikes there. In addition to Achille, Lyft has collaborated with the New York Department of Transportation and NYU’s Ability Project on the Adaptive Bike Library. The school’s Ability Project describes itself on its website as an “interdisciplinary research space dedicated to the intersection between disability and technology.”
“At Lyft, everyone loves cycling. More people than ever are turning to two-wheelers for a fun travel option, especially riders who don’t look like the “stereotypical” rider, in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation and income. But people with disabilities and older adults face greater barriers to accessing recreational cycling,” Inbar Kishoni, Lyft’s community and equity manager for Citi Bike, told me recently in an exclusive interview. “People with Disabilities [and] who use wheelchairs overwhelmingly tell us they want a cycling program that offers suitable cycles for recreation, socializing and exercise, rather than single trips, commuting or errands.
Although primarily aimed at the disability community, Lyft would like to stress that the Adaptive Bike Library project is open to everyone. From the elderly to the disabled person curious about other ways to ride a bike, the program is welcoming. The aforementioned “library” approach was chosen in part because it reinforces a sense of community, Lyft said. The on-demand dynamic of its ride-sharing service doesn’t translate well in this context.
“The goal of the Adaptive Cycling Library is to expand bicycle access for people with disabilities through recreational use,” said Caroline Samponaro, vice president of public transportation, bicycles and scooters policy. at Lyft, in a statement provided to me. “Adapted bikes can be expensive, bulky and, for many people living in small apartments, difficult to store. These weekly sessions allow new and experienced cyclists to get on a bike and enjoy the ride with a community of cyclists.
The origins of Lyft’s partnership with Achilles date back to last spring, according to Achilles chief executive Emily Glasser. In an exclusive interview with me, Glasser explained that the former approached the latter with a desire to give people with disabilities the opportunity to experience adaptive cycling in the New York area. For his part, Glasser explained that his company already has in place “a very robust handcycle program, [as well as] tandem bicycles available to our athletes. The link for an adapted cycling service in general goes back a few years to 2019. At the time, Lyft approached the Department of Transport and the Ability Project with a dream of making adapted bikes available at more than fifteen events communities around New York. At these events and in focus groups, the company spoke with approximately 1,000 cyclists, including 100 who were unable to use conventional bicycles. Much of the feedback wasn’t about using bikes for transportation, which is Lyft’s core business, but rather about recreation and socializing. People with disabilities expressed their desire to ride for fun and camaraderie; it’s not necessarily that they need a bike to get from point A to point B.
The decision to “link arms” with Lyft, Glasser told me, was made because the two organizations have similar values. It was important for Achilles to find partner companies like Lyft that share the mission of “promoting and advancing accessibility and inclusion,” she said. Glasser said Achille “is very committed to the importance of keeping people with disabilities out of [and] raise awareness” and “affect lives more broadly [by raising] our voices, and to amplify understanding of the lived experiences of people with disabilities.
“Achilles is a leading force in the adaptive sports space and in breaking down barriers to participation in athletics, especially road races and cycling events around the world,” Glasser said. “I certainly hope this partnership with Lyft educates people more about the importance of, you know, providing access to recreational opportunities — in this case, bicycling opportunities for people with disabilities.”
Glasser noted that there are two components to the adaptive bike library that make it appealing to people. First and foremost, she says, participation is free. “[We’re] removing barriers to accessing recreational opportunities,” Glasser said. The free nature of the program is vitally important, as Glasser told me that the second element is that adaptive cycles can be prohibitively expensive. Lyft and Achille have “taken care to invest in this [cycling] equipment and its availability” and go one step further by providing education on how to use it correctly and safely. Overall, the ability to ride these bikes isn’t based solely on ability or socioeconomic status. It’s truly open and inclusive to anyone, disabled or not, who wants to experience it.
Feedback on the adaptive cycling program has been overwhelmingly positive. Glasser told me attendees raved about the strong sense of belonging and supportive community. “So many athletes would tell us about the sense of freedom they felt or the sheer joy of getting out and being able to ride in Central Park. And [enjoying] the benefits of moving their bodies,” she said.
Katherine Valdez, a member of the New York chapter of Achilles, agrees.
“When you have a disability, it’s very difficult to find a place where you belong. Here I found my place. I am not a disabled girl, or someone in a wheelchair. I’m just another athlete and another hand cyclist. And I love it,” she said. “I can have that break every time I come here, see my other teammates, my friends, and have fun.”
As for future plans, Lyft and Achilles hope to push the boundaries of the adaptive cycling program across the country. While Glasser balked when asked about specific plans, she said Lyft “approached us about [other] locations” to expand the program. Achilles has 28 regional chapters nationwide, including in the home of Lyft in the Bay Area. For its part, Lyft has spent the past few years launching similar programs in cities where it operates like Chicago, Portland and San Francisco. They include Portland’s Adaptive Biketown and the Bay Area Outreach and Recreational Program. Lyft explained to me that these programs are designed to “develop and establish industry standards for adaptive shared mobility [and] co-designed with organizations that work with and support [disabled people].”
Anyone interested in the Adaptive Cycling Library of New York can register on the Achilles International website. Reservations are required 48 hours in advance and riders must sign a waiver and wear a helmet.