Detroit bike club members during the Detroit Bike Summit celebratory ride (Photo: Todd Scott, Detroit Greenways Coalition)

Detroit E-Bike Leasing Pilot

Partnering with employers & the community to scale an e-bike leasing program and get more Detroiters cycling.

The City of Detroit’s Office of Mobility Innovation (OMI) partnered with local and regional employers to scale an electric bike leasing program, and worked with community-led organizations to shift attitudes toward cycling to work and get more Detroiters on bikes through a citywide Bike Challenge.


Inequitable Mobility in the Motor City


Known as the Motor City, Detroit is considered the birthplace of the modern American automobile industry. Yet roughly one-third of Detroit residents do not own a car and, as a result, may experience limited mobility. Additionally, many communities are underserved by local public transportation options that struggle to cover the city’s sprawling geographic footprint. For these residents and many more, access to reliable, affordable transportation is essential to finding jobs and commuting.


E-Bikes for Essential Workers


Public health workers in Detroit receiving MoGo e-bikes to expand their access to safe, affordable mobility during COVID-19 response efforts
Public health workers in Detroit receiving MoGo e-bikes to expand their access to safe, affordable mobility during COVID-19 response efforts. (Photo: Detroit Office of Mobility Innovation)


These mobility-related challenges were compounded during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic for Detroit’s essential workers, who found their ability to get to and from frontline jobs curtailed due to dramatic public transit service cuts.


To address this urgent need, OMI partnered with NextEnergy, a local nonprofit specializing in piloting energy and mobility technologies, as well as Detroit’s bike share nonprofit MoGo and NUMO, to create the 2020 Essential Workers E-Bike Pilot, which provided essential hospital, grocery store, pharmacy and manufacturing workers with the opportunity to lease e-bikes for a small, one-time fee. OMI collaborated with Detroit-based employers to identify employees who might benefit from the program. Nearly 60 participants leased e-bikes and also received resources like free helmets and a bike guide featuring a map of safe routes and information for cyclists.


Changing Behavior for More Cycling


Following the success of the 2020 Essential Workers E-Bike Pilot, OMI once again partnered with MoGo and NextEnergy, as well as People to Educate all Cyclists and the Henry Ford Health System, to imagine what a scaled-up second phase of the leasing program could be.


The partnership attended a virtual retreat in late 2020 organized by NUMO where they created a behavioral change framework that they would incorporate into their city’s ambition for projects aimed at equitably reducing car trips while making it easier to walk, bike and take public transportation.


Creating the framework required consideration of the many barriers to cycling in the city, and then designing and implementing interventions based on those barriers to enable existing and potential riders to overcome hurdles like unfamiliarity and a lack of high-quality bike lanes.


Scaling the E-Bike Leasing Program & Launching the Detroit Bike Challenge


In early 2021, the e-bike leasing program relaunched with 110 e-bikes available over six months. OMI worked with the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments to pitch the program to an expanded list of Detroit-located employers and to identify “bike champions” within each participating employer’s organizational structure to help spread awareness to their coworkers. Bike share partner MoGo led operations, maintenance and education efforts.


Additionally, OMI announced the Detroit Bike Challenge, a citywide campaign to encourage Detroiters of all experience levels, ages and backgrounds to bike for recreation, health and fitness. The bike challenge ran from May through October of 2021 and featured two month-long challenges and a series of mini-challenges. Nearly 650 registered bike challenge participants utilized the Love to Ride online “bike encouragement platform” to sign up for challenges, log miles ridden, engage in an online community of cyclists, learn about other biking events and access educational resources.


To get the word out about the bike challenge, OMI collaborated with the city’s network of bike clubs and organizations like the Detroit Greenways Coalition and the Detroit Health Department's Safe Routes Ambassador Program. OMI also drew on interdepartmental support, calling on the city’s public agencies to join in and share information about the bike challenge.

The Love to Ride platform during the Detroit Bike Challenge
Participants in the Detroit Bike Challenge utilized the Love to Ride online bike encouragement platform to log miles ridden, connect with other cyclists and access resources. (Image: Love to Ride)



Results and findings from the Detroit Bike Challenge are compiled in a report from the City of Detroit.


The Detroit Bike Summit


Cyclists and staff from the Office of Mobility Innovation at the first Detroit Bike Summit
Members of Detroit's bike clubs and organizations with OMI at the Bike Summit celebratory event. (Photo: Michal Helman, WSP)


As the bike challenge and second iteration of the e-bike leasing program were underway, OMI continued to develop the behavior change framework aimed at getting more Detroiters cycling.


To better align the objectives and values of the framework with the wider Detroit community, OMI crafted a bike culture survey to gather the invaluable insights of the existing cycling community. The results informed a two-session virtual Bike Summit that engaged bike club and organization leaders and worked to build trust between the city and the community. The Detroit Bike Summit concluded in an in-person celebratory bike ride through the city.









Header image: Todd Scott, Detroit Greenways Coalition