December 12, 2013

Is Public Bike Share an Unwanted Child?

NOTE: this is a repost from December 2012.

With Chattanooga Bike Transit opening for business last week, andNashville launching bicycle share this fall, local politicians (Mayor Dean) and transportation alternative advocates are picking up the bicycle mega-phone.

The dilemma, like so many well intended government initiatives, is funding.  Bicycle share in the US is like a child without a college fund.  Everyone is hoping the kid will grow up and be smart enough (without Uncle Sam) to earn a full scholarship to every city in America.

Advocates say the successful funding recipe combines advertising, user fees, and government grants, but these funding sources are not self-sunsustainable. Even Capitol Bike Share, the nations' most successful bicycle share (in ridership) has gone over budget by more than double following this "business plan."

The reality is that bicycle and pedestrian projects are treated like unwanted children. They are blamed for being expensive and wasteful. Their benefits are not appreciated, and the resources that they receive are limited to leftovers and hand-me-downs. They are expected to succeed on their own while their spoiled sibling (motor transportation) gets free reign over the parent's pocketbook.

The average American spends 20-30% of their income on vehicle expenses, and 98% of transportation funding supports non-bike / ped initiatives. Why are people afraid of funding an alternative like bike share?

The irony of an underfunded government initiave to "share" is laughable. These programs deserve equal support and long-term funding. Otherwise, public bike share will be an orphan of the American transportation system. Bicycles deserve better.