NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Sharing Isn't Caring

October 6, 2010

Late last month, Washington, D.C., launched its Capital Bikeshare ("CaBi") program to much acclaim from the usual suspects -- New Urbanists and bicycle imperialists.  Contemporary bike-sharing programs involve the placement of controlled bicycle racks around a city so that residents, tourists and commuters can rent bikes for a fixed period of time and then return them to other racks around the city.  All for a nominal, generally subsidized fee, says Marc Scribner, assistant editor and policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Scribner is not thrilled with bike-sharing for three main reasons.

First, every one of these systems operates at a loss.

  • For example, Paris' oft-laudedVélib program experienced a stock loss rate of nearly 80 percent after launch.
  • That is to say, of the initial 20,600 bikes -- with an average cost of $3,500 per bike when initial investment andmaintenanceare included -- 16,000 were either stolen or damaged beyond repair.
  • Another example is Montreal's BIXI program, which is currently more than $30 million in debt.

Second, proponents claim externalities from increased bike-share use -- less congestion, less pollution -- provide benefits not shown by simple fiscal accounting.  This appears at first glance to be a valid point.  However, when looking at experiences with similar programs in other cities, the positive externalities argument falls flat.  Researchers at McGill University released a study with the following key findings:

  • Eighty-six percent of BIXI trips replacedrides on personal bikes (25 percent),walking (28 percent), or public transit (33 percent).
  • Eight percent of BIXI trips replaced cab rides.
  • Two percent of BIXI trips replaced private car rides.
  • Four percent of BIXI trips add trips that otherwise would not have been made.

So, assuming for a moment that transit, walking and cycling (using your own bike) are all desired "green" forms of urban mobility, only 10 percent of BIXI trips replaced car trips, says Scribner.

Third, bike-share programs are administrative nightmares.

Source: Marc Scribner, "Sharing Isn't Caring,", October 4, 2010.

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