Joshua Kimbrell, an emergency medical technician in Brooklyn, often works until midnight on a slow night. The first responder began relying on the moped rideshare service Revel to commute during the Covid-19 pandemic. This spring was the busy season to end all busy seasons for the people who answer 911 calls, and Revel’s cheerful blue electric scooters proved especially clutch on shifts where Kimbrell had to pull extra-long hours, particularly after New York began closing its trains for cleaning at 1:00 am. This week, though, as the city instituted a curfew in response to protests about police brutality, Kimbrell found himself stuck. “I was caught off-guard when Revel and Citi Bike didn’t work,” he says. Both Revel and popular bike share program Citi Bike had abruptly suspended service. No advance notice, and dwindling options for some loyal customers to get home.
To his relief, Kimbrell found a rideshare that night. Since then, though, both Lyft and Uber have also suspended service during curfewed hours in cities across the country, including New York, substantially curtailing mobility options even further. This means Kimbrell will have to take a lengthy bus trip or loiter around his workplace, exhausted, until rideshares resume. It’s a frustrating situation. “If the curfew has an exception for essential workers, so should Revel, Citi Bike, Uber, et cetera,” he says. “This should be something that the authorities planning the curfew considered.”
This steep drop-off in transportation options in cities where curfews have been instituted is a headache for people all across the country. Essential workers still need to get around, after all. Some cities, like Los Angeles and Chicago, went so far as to temporarily shut down their subway systems last weekend, creating a chaotic situation for riders who depend on public transit. Even in cities that kept trains running, the pandemic has made public transit a fraught option, so removing the option to take rideshares, bikeshares, and other mobility services has been especially disruptive. “We’ve had a sizable uptick in registrations from doctors and nurses and so forth,” says Nicholas Bedell, a representative for the Transportation Workers Union Local 100, which represents Citi Bike workers. Without many of the transportation options they rely on, they’re left in the lurch. “It feels like the city has singled out this public transit modality for a shut down because they believe it is being utilized by protesters in a way that is inappropriate,” Bedell says, “and they prioritize that over the essential workers who need to get where they’re going and use it. That is a priority question. I think you can call into question whether or not it’s the right priority.”
In addition to stranding essential workers, winnowing down the options for people to get around in the city before the curfew even begins has had the odd consequence of making it harder for protesters to abide by the curfew. Conrad Fried, a devoted Citi Bike rider, took one to Midtown to participate in a protest. “I was in the West Village and thought it’d be a perfect way to get there and get home afterwards in time to comply with curfew,” he says. “I realized once I got there that I could dock at an inactive dock, but then wouldn’t be able to retrieve one.” He scrambled to make it home in time. This isn’t a New York-specific issue. Access to major bike shares was also restricted in Minneapolis, Washington, DC, Houston, Portland, and other cities. In Chicago, the bikeshare program Divvy—which is owned by Lyft—was completely suspended on Sunday, eliminating it as a viable mode of transit. (It is now available during daytime hours.)