Meet the team training formerly incarcerated people to become master bike mechanics

Bike Path aims to train formerly incarcerated people to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for electric bikes

NBC Universal, Inc.

What to Know

  • Bike Path trains formerly incarcerated people as bike mechanics to work on Citi Bikes
  • Bike Path coordinates with the Brooklyn DA's office and NYCHA to recruit marginalized community members
  • The goal of the program is job security as well as changing people's self-perception

If you've ever ventured out to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, you'd be surprised to learn that right above the food court is a team training the next generation of New York's bike mechanics. As the demand for electric bikes has skyrocketed, one nonprofit has come up with new and innovative ways to keep up with this demand.

Nonprofit Bike New York was synonymous with one event: the Five Boro Bike Tour. Each year, on the first Sunday in May, 32,000 riders from across the world come together to ride across New York City. The CEO of Bike New York, Ken Podziba, described it as the "most inclusive bike ride in the world." People from 4 to 94 years old come together to celebrate bicycling.

The company's aim later expanded to bike education: and Bike New York began teaching people across the city for free how to ride a bike. The company believes strongly in the transformative power of cycling: both to improve an individual's health and to help manage the increasingly dire consequences of climate change.

The latest addition to Bike New York was born out of a collaboration with the nonprofit One Community. Realizing a need for skilled labor jobs in Brooklyn and the increasing demand for electric bikes, the two decided to pitch to Citi Bike: they would provide the training if Citi Bike provided the jobs.

Along with their local assemblymember Emily Gallagher, they committed to Citi Bike to create a workforce of dedicated formerly incarcerated people who otherwise would not be able to get such jobs. Since they lack credentials and job history, "the unemployment rate for those who are formerly incarcerated is five times higher than the general population," explained Mr. Podziba.

Citi Bike responded to their pitch with one word: "Awesome."

The newly formed program Bike Path works with the Brooklyn DA's office and the NYC housing authority to recruit the formerly incarcerated as well as other marginalized members of the community. These people then take part in a five-week training program where they learn the basics of bike maintenance.

Working with Citi Bike and Motivate bike sharing ensures that every person who graduates the program gets interviewed. Vincent Casiano, who heard about the program through word-of-mouth in his community, started a job at Citi Bike two weeks after graduating.

Vincent explained that during the program you could build a bike for anyone you wanted. "You can build [the bike] for yourself, you can build it for your child, your aunt, your sister, anybody that you want to. [The program] helped me in terms of having a broader horizon.”

Vincent, like other participants, also takes advantage of the other aspects of Bike New York. “I was part of the 45th [Five Boro] bike tour. I was very proud to do this. If it wasn’t for them, I probably would have never done this.”

The CEO of the company explained that the hope is for the program to go city-wide. "We want to grow it. We want it to be in all five boroughs. As biking continues to grow, Citi Bike is going to need more mechanics. And we are giving them a very talented labor pool.”

Sadly, one major source of funding was recently lost. Emily Gallagher, the New York assemblymember who had worked with them since the beginning, used to fund the program through discretionary funding. However, the recent redistricting moved Bike NY out of her district, stopping her from being able to use those funds.

"There's such an opportunity for people to become entrepreneurs once they become a bicycle repair person," explained the assemblymember. "When I visited it, I was really impressed with the passion and the determination that the folks who are participating in the program had developed."

She also echoed the company's emphasis on bicycling as a climate-resilient and accessible form of transportation. "Cycling is, broadly speaking, a great opportunity for mobility for working-class people, and at its core, it is the most accessible form of transportation that we have in the city."

Along with hard skills and job security, the program hopes to change the way these people view themselves. One Community President Jeb Marcus explained, "People have had lessons drilled into them that they are not going to succeed, they’re going to fail. We work with people so that they understand to be an effective part of a team, how to show up every day." Graduates of the program now believe they can do anything they put their minds to.

Copyright NBC New York
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