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Bike Path, the Backstory

One Community is very opportunistic. We look at Fort Greene/Clinton, Brooklyn resources and brainstorm how we can apply them to create a more equitable community. Of course, Citi Bike is omnipresent and an obvious target for soliciting jobs for local residents. We decided to target Citi Bike as an employer for neighbors with the most modest job prospects. Bike New York is a non-profit that does everything “bike” and an obvious partner to give people the skills needed to work at Citi Bike. Jed Marcus, One Community’s president, reached out to Karen Overton, in charge of training and bike recycling at Bike New York. She was excited about a program to train justice-involved people to be Citi Bike mechanics. Jed pitched the idea to our councilmember, Laurie Cumbo, the City Council Majority Leader. She offered political and financial support, and Laurie, Karen and Jed headed off to Motivate (the company which operates Citi Bike) in late October 2018. With trepidation, we explained that we wanted to train people with very limited employment prospects to be Citi Bike mechanics. We were surprised by a one word answer: “Awesome!” Bike Path was born.

Bike Path trained a small class at Bike New York’s repair shop. The result was a great success, with all the graduates being accepted into Motivate’s training at the end of June 2019, and 4 out of the 5 are Motivate employees over a year later. Motivate’s hiring closed for the season.

By the time Bike Path reopened training, Citi Bike had been acquired by Lyft, and almost everyone that knew Bike Path had left Citi Bike. Motivate was much more regimented and corporate. The first Bike Path class of 2020 graduated in February and was asked to enter through Motivate’s front door. They found themselves in a very large pool going through a typical competitive hiring process: a group interview, an individual interview and, in this case, a test with tools. They were unequipped to get through the first two steps. Devastatingly, of 7 Bike Path graduates, only 3 were hired. If the rate were repeated, One Community would not continue the program.

One Community suggested to Motivate that their process was picking candidates with irrelevant skills that Bike Path trainees lacked and explained why program graduates are better employees than the people they were hiring (and losing through heavy attrition). Because of their life histories and lack of alternatives, Bike Path graduates’ commitment their jobs would be unequaled. They responded, “We have our process.” The coronavirus brought the process to a halt. Bike Path graduates about to go for interviews and trainees newly admitted to the program were stranded, generally in dire financial situations.

Then the May miracle occurred. A Motivate executive called to say that they needed mechanics and had no Covid 19-safe hiring process. He asked for Bike Path graduates to interview. All 10 of the previously stranded graduates were accepted into Motivate’s training program and then hired. Among them was Iescha (the subject of a promotional film Lyft produced). She had been rejected after the second class, was hired and has the second highest performance ranking of the Bike Path graduates at Motivate.

One Community and Bike New York immediately opened a new Covid 19-safe training facility. The next class had 7 graduates. They were interviewed individually on the Monday and Tuesday after graduation and all were accepted into the Motivate training program. All were hired. Two were assigned to electric bikes, which is unusual for rookies.

By the next class, Motivate dropped the interviews and sent representatives with tablets to the Bike Path graduation to register the 7 participants for Motivate training.

Bike Path is now, effectively, the largest component of Motivate’s hiring. Graduation from Bike Path means placement in Motivate’s training and every Bike Path graduate has been hired after completing Motivate’s training.

While the country’s reorientation after George Floyd’s killing may have helped, the coronavirus made the transformation of Motivate’s relationship with Bike Path possible. Bike Path graduates have confirmed the value of hiring hard-to-employ workers who are well-trained.

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