Monday, November 7, 2011
I'm on record as a bikeshare hater (it's a real life Tragedy of the Commons!). I think they are a poor, poor way to spend public funds. Well, a friend recently asked me if the success of D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare had changed my mind. The answer, in short, is "no."
First, let's talk about the good stuff. People in D.C. seem very positive about their bikeshare program. By all accounts it's very well run; the bosses keep the bikes in good working order and are responsive to public suggestions. The program is also quite popular. In its first year, bikeshare signed up about 16,000 annual members and over 1,200 monthly members. In that span, users took almost 1 million rides.
But here's the problem -- the program is super expensive to run. The bikes cost around $1,000 a piece and have a lifespan of six years. Annual operating costs are somewhere in the ballpark of $2,000 per bike. Revenue doesn't cover overall operating expenses (and that doesn't count the initial expense of installing bike stations at roughly $50,000 a pop). Moreover, there are suggestions that most of the people using the bikes to commute were already using some form of green transportation (walking, buses, subway, etc) to get to work.
Again, why do we insist on spending public money on this kind of thing? If we really want to increase the amount of biking on the public dime, why not purchase bikes and just give them to poor people?