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It's apparently successful in China, although that may be due to the relatively recent tradition of nearly universal bicycle usage.

In the West, signalling that the municipal government is now invested in actually preventing bikes from being casually stolen is important, I suppose.

I'm a subscriber to the Montreal bike-sharing system and have used the systems in London and Toronto as well so I wanted to mention a couple things you missed.

- You don't have to worry about your bicycle getting stolen
- Bikes are often the fastest way to get places. Anywhere <30 minutes is a faster bike than transit in my experience. Very often faster than driving if there is traffic
- Sometimes I want to go somewhere, but not leave a bike there. I know people who have their own bikes, but use the public bike in this situation
- Phones are generally solving the problem of navigation. I recently biked through central London (which I am totally unfamiliar with) just using google maps for directions and an app to locate the stations.
- I know many tourists who have used them and would again - so at least some tourists are finding them useful

Its anecdotal, but people really love the Bicycles and are finding a lot of use for them. Even if they aren't profitable, I think the positive impact is very noticeable. They are new and kinks are still being worked out, the longer they are there the more people will learn how to use the system and I think the benefits will become more clear.

I've used the bike share in Paris as a tourist, but it wasn't easy. Even though I had chip-and-pin, the system wouldn't accept my CC so I ended up using the access code of a friend (who is a Paris resident.)

"The pricing structure of bike share programs tends to make them unattractive for tourists who want to spend a day or two exploring a city by bicycle. Another issue for tourists is the lack of locks on many bike share bikes."

If you really wanted to cycle continuously all day, then the pricing structure in Paris would be a problem. But then the lack of a lock would be irrelevant. On the other hand, if you use the bikes as intended - to cycle short journeys from one station to another - it costs nothing (first half hour free.) And again, no lock, no problem.

I am generally sympathetic to your view here; how can this sort of meddling be efficient? On the other hand, Paris is a different city with the bike share, one that is friendlier to tourists even if they never touch a bike. The big thing is that there is just way more bicycle traffic, most of which is not bike share. But it wasn't there before the bike share went in. So maybe this is one of those things that works in practice but not in theory.

Bram: "You don't have to worry about your bicycle getting stolen"

Instead, the bike share program has to worry about the bicycles getting stolen. The cost of theft is shifted rom the bicycle user to those who pay for the bike share program, including non-users. Sure, that's a gain for the bicycle user, but it's a loss for the non-users. I'm not convinced.

"Bikes are often the fastest way to get places."

That's my point 4 above. I should have spent more time demolishing it. Getting some place more quickly is a purely personal benefit. Why should anyone else subsidize my need to for speed?

"Phones are generally solving the problem of navigation"

Phones help, but not everyone has a smart phone. Then there are the safety issues associated with looking at phone (or, ideally, stopping to look at a phone) while cycling.

"I know many tourists who have used them and would again" - I've used the Montreal ones, and am thinking about using them again on my trip to the city this weekend.

Overall the mania for bike share reminds me of nothing so much as the Simpson's monorail song.

Phil: "Paris is a different city with the bike share"

But is this causal, or part of the overall "bike are cooler than cars" vibe? It's also hard to explain these things. London is much friendlier than it used to be, too - on a recent visit people just randomly came up and offered to help me - but I blame it on it being a much more international city than it once was, and losing its traditional culture.

It seems to me that most of your arguments would also apply to other forms of public transit, in particular buses. Am I missing something? And if not, would you argue against public bus services?

Frances,

Bixi system bikes (e.g. Montreal, Toronto, New York, London, Ottawa) don't get stolen. You put in your credit card to take the bike, and you'll pay for it if you don't bring it back. Coin deposit type systems like Copenhagen fail pretty badly though, for that reason.

Where there is critical mass the system is extremely useful. There's an app on my phone that tells me how many spots/bikes are at each station so I never have trouble finding or parking a bike where I'm going. If it's raining when I'm going to work I walk or take a cab, and I can still bike home. Any trip less than 20-30 mins I bike and don't worry about where I might have to lock it. Yesterday I rode 2X2k in a hurry in the middle of the day to pick up a passport. If I'd had to lug my bike in and out of my office, I would have taken a cab instead. I'd agree that the system hasn't really replaced driving for me (I never drove to work), but it has replaced an awful lot of cab rides.

One more important point. Many people don't have room for a bike at home, or would have to lug it in and out of inconvenient locations, up and down flights of stairs and through door ways. For a large proportion of urban dwellers, bike ownership is simply impossible or too inconvenient. Those are the real beneficiaries of the public system.

K - I don't have first hand experience, but here's the first scenario that comes to my mind. I take a Bixi bike, but on the way to my destination I stop at a shop to pick up a few things. I come out of the shop and the bike has gone. Does this never happen? If not why not?

Could a more clear benefit be seen if bike share programs were included in an overall public transit strategy? If monthly pass holders were given access to the bikes as a part of their pass (more feasible in Ottawa now with presto cards) the congestion/reliability factors could provide a more clear benefit. This largely comes down to location - if bikes were positioned in locations that are not within a reasonable walking distance of the o-train, transit way and other high volume transit corridors they could work in the transit strategy I would imagine. This would require sufficient space to store bikes at the end point, but since there is a logical flow from location X to a nearby transit corridor I imagine through a bit of trial and error sufficient storage could be put in place. Some of the locations I'm suggesting covering are also likely inefficient to serve by bus, and the inclusion of bikes could help justify a reduction in bus service because the 5 minute bus ride could now be made by a 10-15 minute bike ride.

In Ottawa, I find location is the biggest problem. I live in the market and there are tonnes of bike shares around me - but there are few that have storage at an end point I want to go. I've always been under the impression that they are positioned primarily for tourists. I think if that mindset was changed and they were positioned for local transit users, within this public transit strategy, a more clear economic benefit could be realized.

K: "For a large proportion of urban dwellers, bike ownership is simply impossible or too inconvenient."

In the outer city, people face a problem: they'd like to take public transit, but they live too far away from the public transit station to make public transit attractive for their entire journey. Public transit systems have worked out the solution to this problem. It's not car sharing. It's park and ride.

In the inner city, there's not a bicycle provision problem. Most bike share users can easily afford the cost of a bicycle. The issue is a *bicycle parking* provision problem. Why are we providing bikes when what people really need is parking?

B.t.w. Havana is a fascinating place to visit from this perspective - when I was there a few years ago, people would pay for safe, secure, locked bicycle parking facilities, but street parking for cars was free of charge - one of the lasting accomplishments of the glorious socialist revolution.

Two points on Frances' objections:

"What about pollution? Bicycle sharing programs are a decidedly inferior solution to this problem. A much better option is to put a price on emissions through gasoline taxes and/or congestion charges. This allows each person to choose the way of reducing their carbon footprint - forgoing a trans-Atlantic flight, carpooling, moving closer to work - that works best for them."

I totally agree. Good luck getting there. I am resigned to a bunch of second/third best solutions to this problem. Also, you swing from pollution to carbon quickly. In urban areas, it is also local emissions, including diesel exhaust from buses, and exhaust from taxis that are also important.

On tourists, as a regular cyclist and Bixi user in Toronto, I notice a lot of tourists using Bixi bikes, but not in all locations. For instance, go to the Toronto Island ferry docks in the summer, and observe the number of Bixi users. There are lots. They are all obviously tourists. As well, the lakeshore trail from the east end to the west end is teeming with Bixi bikes in the summer. Both locations don't have Bixi stations, so they aren't point-to-point trips. I think these observations trump the armchair thinking that tourists don't use Bixi bikes.

Ok - third point. For the 25-44 year old Professional men who use the bike share bikes, they may not take private cars as an alternative, but take taxis instead. Going to a meeting a few blocks away? Too far to walk? Too close to have brought your own car? Ride a bike-share bike! This eliminates a taxi trip. This actually describes a good portion of my Bixi use (and I fit the cited demographic too!).

I also like the comparison to other transit. Why subsidize buses and not bikes? While I agree that cheques might work better, they are not politically feasible. Again, second best solutions can dominate because of political feasibility.

whitfit: "I notice a lot of tourists using Bixi bikes, but not in all locations. For instance, go to the Toronto Island ferry docks in the summer, and observe the number of Bixi users. There are lots."

This is true in Ottawa, too, and I've got to say, it leaves me scratching my head. A typical tourist is often much better off renting from a private rental company. Private rental companies provide locks, helmets, and bikes built for speed. With a Bixi bike, a tourist who wants to say, cycle through the Gatineau Park and pick up some chai brownies at the bakery in Old Chelsea, or cycle up to the Experimental Farm and go for a walk through the flower garden there, is out of luck, because it's not possible to lock the books safely or securely. (I experienced exactly this problem cycling to the Lachine Rapids in Montreal). Plus the pricing for Bixi bikes is just not that attractive for a full day rental. My parents are visiting in a couple of weeks, and I'll be renting bikes for them from a private company, because Bixi bikes are just so inconvenient.

Plus I just fail to see the evidence that there is any significant market failure in the rental-bicycles-for-tourists market. To the extent that subsidized Bixi bikes are taking business away from other businesses, this is a bad thing, not a good thing.

whitfit "For the 25-44 year old Professional men who use the bike share bikes, they may not take private cars as an alternative, but take taxis instead. Going to a meeting a few blocks away? Too far to walk? Too close to have brought your own car? Ride a bike-share bike! This eliminates a taxi trip. This actually describes a good portion of my Bixi use (and I fit the cited demographic too!)."

I can think of many many wonderful ways to spend public money. Saving people like you and me the hassle and cost of taxis seems like a pretty low priority. Again, we end up using public funds to put private companies (taxis) out of business.

The issue is not whether or not bike sharing is a good idea. I think it's a great idea. I just don't see the rationale for providing it with large public subsidies (and if you don't think the subsidies are large, try negotiating with the City of Toronto for the rights to take over a large chunk of city sidewalk in a prime downtown location!)

I guess since the bike share user demographic coincides almost exactly and precisely with the WCI readership demographic, I should have anticipated a fair bit of blow back on this one.

Frances,

Apart from taking up space in somebody's apartment, an unused bike is idle capital. In the long run, perhaps, the rate of bike replacement is mostly governed by the rate of bike usage (wear and tear), but you need a much larger stock of bicycles if everyone needs to own their own bike which also means *way more parking*. Car sharing systems are also a good idea in the city, for exactly the same reason.

I'm going second (third? fourth?) the request for answer to the question about why we subsidize buses and trains, and also roads. Are you proposing that there are no externalities from transportation infrastructure?

K -

Two responses: that bike share uses fewer resources in the form of parking etc than bike ownership doesn't mean that it should be subsidized by government. Memory sticks, ipods, hard drives etc store music using way fewer resources than vinyl LPs. That makes it cheaper to use electronic memory than vinyl, and so that's why most people store most of their music electronically. Competitive markets *loathe* using resources unnecessarily.

Identify the market failure that is preventing competitive markets from providing bike sharing, and then we can have a serious conversation about it.

What about the argument that if we're subsidizing roads and public transit, we should subsidize bikes too. It's a "theory of second best" type argument, and has some merit.

But subsidies should be directed where the bang for the buck is greatest. Whenever possible, we subsidize the desired outcome, and let people achieve that outcome in whatever way works best for them.

In the post I say this: "As an argument for bike share, this [reducing congestion on public transit] has some merit, but how generally applicable is it? That is, how many cities are there where (a) a bike share program would make a noticeable difference to public transport ridership and (b) it is cheaper to build a bike share program than to expand the public transport network?" I also talk about alternative ways of subsidizing cycling.

In a city like Ottawa, where all buses lead to the downtown core (pretty much), the downtown core is walkable, and bike parking is not impossible to come by, the infrastructure benefits of bike share are pretty minimal. I would be willing to bet that the major effect of the program is to cut into the profits of the private bicycle rental companies.

I'd love it if someone could make the case that bike share is more cost effective than other ways of reducing congestion or pollution. But take a look at the feasibility studies. Search for some kind of analysis. There's really not much out there.

As for Paris - cyclists take the bikes down hill. Then people have to load the bikes onto trucks, take them up to the top of the hill, and refill all the depots at the top of the hill. Seriously.

Frances: "Identify the market failure that is preventing competitive markets from providing bike sharing."

What I know about bike share programs is - well basically that they involve bikes and sharing. But onward!

My guess is parking/bike stands. The city can build bike stands where it wants to, because sidewalks and streets are city property. A private provide would have to get access to spots to put stands throughout the city for a service to be useful. There may be a bit of natural monopoly to that problem if you are not to have incompatible bike-sharing services with inadequate stands.

Tom - that downtown parking spaces are expensive is not a market failure, it's a market in action!

The natural monopoly - or more precisely, the network externality -is the only good market failure I could come up with. That's how I would build an economic case for public bike share programs. But that'll have to wait for another post.

A paper arguing that Bixi has increased cycling rates in Montreal: http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/10/1/66

Padriac - thank you so much for that link. Two numbers leap out at me from that paper:

"The estimated modal shift associated with the implementation of the PBSP from motor vehicle use to walking, cycling, and public transportation was 6483 and 8023 trips in 2009 and 2010. This change represents 0.34% and 0.43% of all motor vehicle trips in Montreal."

"For example, Montreal’s BIXI (BIcycle-taXI) program, North America’s largest in 2012, makes available 5050 bicycles at 405 docking stations"

In other words, *even if we make the huge assumption that the shift in transport mode was due to the bike sharing program* the number of trips shifted was just over one trip per BIXI bike.

Given that the program costs hundreds of dollars per bike, that seems about as devastating an indictment of the BIXI bike program as you can get.

Frances,

"that bike share uses fewer resources in the form of parking etc than bike ownership doesn't mean that it should be subsidized by government."

I wasn't claiming that (at least not there). I was responding to this claim of yours:

"Why are we providing bikes when what people really need is parking?" followed by a discussion of Havana bike sheds.

What you seemed to be missing is that bike sharing is a big part of solving the bike parking problem (car sharing also). I don't want a special parking spot for *my* bike. I just want to use the same bike as everyone else, thereby keeping bikes in use as much of time as possible.


"I would be willing to bet that the major effect of the program is to cut into the profits of the private bicycle rental companies."

Maybe in Ottawa. It sounds like a fairly marginal, insignificant system. In the down town core of Montreal, close to 40% of bikes are Bixis. This has *nothing* to do with tourists or other casual bike renters. These are commuters who aren't taking bus/metro/taxi.

"I'd love it if someone could make the case that bike share is more cost effective than other ways of reducing congestion or pollution. But take a look at the feasibility studies. Search for some kind of analysis. There's really not much out there."

It has enormously increased bike traffic in my city. If there is a lack of studies to indicate that bikes are better than buses on the balance then I don't see how that supports a claim in favour of bus subsidies. A priory I should get at least the same subsidy as a bus commuter. I produce no CO2 and do essentially no damage to roads. Start taxing other commuters in a serious way for road maintenance, noise pollution, property tax value of road area, congestion, carbon tail risk, and noxious emissions and we'll see if we can compete on a level playing field.

If bus fare went up by a factor of three, I'd bet a lot more people would get off their asses and onto a bike. Except they wouldn't have anywhere to park them safely, so they'd start a bike share.

"Identify the market failure that is preventing competitive markets from providing bike sharing"

Like other public transit, it probably involves very high marginal returns to scale. Other than that, just the huge subsidy for all the bogus transportation methods. You want to argue in favour of ending all the subsidies, I'm all for it. That way walkers/runners can get treated fairly too. But don't go after the sanest method of public transport based on "argument by non-existing studies."

K "In the down town core of Montreal, close to 40% of bikes are Bixis" "It has enormously increased bike traffic in my city"

Where are these numbers coming from? A lot of Canadian cities now have open data initiatives and bicycle counters. These make it possible to track the level of bicycle traffic over time. I'd love to see some evidence showing that Bixi bikes are causing a big increase in bike use.

"Like other public transit, it probably involves very high marginal returns to scale."

What this means is that taking people from subways and buses, where the marginal cost of an extra user is very low, and putting them onto a new type of system that has to be build entirely from scratch, is going to be a very expensive proposition. It might make sense in situations like the one New York claims to be in, with a subway system that's operating way beyond capacity and is expensive to expand, but how many other cities fit that description?

And I go back to the points I made at the beginning and end of this post. If something is not being supplied in a competitive market, most likely it's because there isn't sufficient demand to make it profitable. If the good or service merits some kind of a subsidy, why provide the goods publicly, or in public/private partnerships, instead of writing a cheque, e.g. providing tax credits or grants to bike subsidy operators?

A little bird told me I should weigh on this. A few things come to mind:

1) Overall, the evidence for or against bicycle share programs is very limited with only a small number of studies and very, very few studies that are methodologically rigorous. So it's hard to make strong claims for or against certain effects (physical activity, pollution, etc). If you take a detailed look at the review study mentioned in the original post most of the evidence comes from users surveys or other non peer reviewed sources.

2) That said there is some evidence that at least the bike share in Montreal does increase physical activity (http://ajph.aphapublications.org.cyber.usask.ca/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300917). A big challenge from the research side is understanding what parts of the effects (whatever they may or may not be) are specific to the context of the city and what parts of the effects are generalizable across cities. I'd say there are no studies at all that can answer that question in a rigorous way.

3) Assuming 1 and 2 it's tough to say one way or another whether the programs are economically sound without resorting to anecdote and many assumptions that are more or less plausible.

4) Related to the point about the BIXI modal shift study mentioned above. I would argue that cost per bike is not a good unit for the critiquing the results. Cost per trip would be a much better measure. Not sure if anyone can find those data anywhere.

5) The bottom line is all transportation systems are subsidized by public money. Transport Canada estimates that in 2009–10, all levels of government spent $28.9 billion on roads and collected $12.1 billion in fuel taxes and $4.4 billion in other transport user fees, indicating that road user fees cover about 64% of costs (http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/policy/report-aca-anre2010-index-2700.htm).

People just aren't willing to pay the full costs for any form of transportation but they do want the benefits, so the public pays. The thing is that we have been paying for roads for so long that we kinda forget about it. If I want to prioritize my public spending, I'm happy to spend 10 Million less on roads (a small fraction of the 11 Billion we pay in total on roads) and put that into a Bike Share.

Frances,

It's my own rough estimate. I just biked home. On a 1k section of bike path I counted 18 bixis out of 50 bikes. I've estimated similar numbers before, but there are possible biases which I'll discuss later.

Daniel - always great to have contributions from people who are seriously knowledgeable about a subject!

That link takes me to a gated U Sask site, do you have more info on it?

Yes, I agree that trips/costs would be better than trips/bikes. However since costs are a function of the number of bikes, one can do a back of the envelope guesstimate of one from the other.

"The bottom line is all transportation systems are subsidized by public money."

So it's important to have an informed discussion about the best way of spending that money. Like a lot of people here, I'd much rather have my tax dollars going to support cycling infrastructure than rural roads - coincidentally, I personally benefit much more from cycling infrastructure than rural roads.

I'm not seeing even any kind of attempt to have that kind of discussion. I'm hearing lots of claims of things like health benefits, tourism, strong economic climate, etc, that are basically pretty much handwaving. Like take this from the NY feasibility study:

"In addition,for some households,
the introduction of a bike-share program may help them avoid or postpone the purchase of a car,
as trips to transit or other short trips could then be made by public bicycle"

The word "may" here translates as "I think this might be possible but I have absolutely zero evidence as to whether or not it's likely to happen."

As the bike share users who've comment here have pointed out, and the studies have shown, bikeshares don't replace cars, they replace taxis, walking, public transit, etc. Trips that can be made by car from home can more easily be made using your own bicycle from home.

Seems to me that the first order problem is urban planning and development. In most cities many people, especially young families, live in the exurban asteroid belts because that is where they can afford the kind of house they want. My guess (and it's just a guess) is that the people who do the most driving are people living in the outer reaches with young(ish) families. So if your goal is to get people to switch from cars to bikes, you probably want to start by understanding where they are going and why, and then thinking about how the built environment can make bikes (or walking) practical.

For example, here (http://goo.gl/maps/5JeX7) is a link to a map of the busiest rec centre in Edmonton. It's packed from 5am 'till closing. They have a huge parking issue on the weekends. It's smack in the middle of suburbs so full of kids that the schools (all new) are bursting. Have a look at the street view and "drive around" to get a feel for the area. With the exception of the subdivision directly across the street, can anyone imagine taking two kids under 7 or 8 years old to the swimming pool on bikes on these roads? It'd be completely irresponsible. Never mind bikes, imagine walking it. In February. There are no street trees, no shelter from the wind. Most of the time the sidewalks are impassable because they've not been cleared or have drifted over with snow. You're completely exposed to the traffic. The boulevards have speed limits of 70 in many places so your nervous system is under constant assault from the traffic. Even from the nearby bus terminus it's got to be nearly 1/2 km walk to get in the door. Not so bad on a sunny summer day, but in Edmonton sunny summer days are not the norm. Bikes could be free and they'd still be useless, unless the urban design is radically changed.

We don't have a bike vs. car vs. whatever problem. We have an urban design problem.

Rant aside, Frances makes good points, IMO.

Subsidizing bikes in this way strike me as being completely out of touch with the reality most people live. Especially in less dense Western cities. Individuals cope with the world as they find it. And most of find that we can't afford to live in posh central neighbourhoods where it is practical to use a bike or walk for much of the year. So you'll excuse me if I'm not too enthusiastic about subsidising the people with $1M dollar homes and his and her M5's parked in the driveway ('cause their off riding their subsidized bike).

Anyway, as Frances says "show me the market failure!".

Patrick, your position has been consistent throughout. But while I found myself completely opposed to it when I was arguing that bikes were cooler than cars, I now find myself in complete agreement with you.

But unlike you I wasn't at all gracious.

Frances: "I'm not seeing even any kind of attempt to have that kind of discussion [about optimal use of money]. I'm hearing lots of claims of things like health benefits, tourism, strong economic climate, etc, that are basically pretty much handwaving."

Amen. We can say all kinds of wonderful things about subsidized bike sharing, as we could about publicly subsidized organic food, ballet tickets, or psychotherapy for cats. I'm sure someone somewhere can attest a benefit. I personally attest that people with high incomes are happier when they receive government daycare subsidies. But is there no opportunity cost? Are professional men 25-44 in Bixiless cities staggering around groaning under the weight of their bellies, all for lack of cheaper bikes? If you tried to put that past a public health funding program you'd be sent packing.

Daniel: I checked out your website. I'm currently at the CAHSPR conference in Vancouver, and perhaps you are too. You've obviously done serious work on this so I'll drop my sarcastic tone. My question for you is: what is the best argument and evidence for promoting subsidized bikes as a public health priority? Does it have an edge over nutrition for poor children or post-natal follow-up visits?

"We can say all kinds of wonderful things about subsidized bike sharing, as we could about publicly subsidized organic food, ballet tickets, or psychotherapy for cats." ... "roast-lamb-and-mint flavour potato chips, or jeans in a size 32 inch waist/36 inch leg"

But as an economist...

It's hard to know where to begin to unpack this load of snobbery posing as "science." I suspect the place (or time) to start would be the 18th century and the etiquette of patronage and learned mendicancy. "I beg to remain, my Lord, your most humble and obedient servant, etc., etc., etc." Mr. John Locke started out from the premise that the earth and its fruits were given by God to mankind to enjoy in common. The problem for Locke was how an individual could appropriate to him or herself a portion of that common gift.

Fast forward 325 years and self-styled economists have long abandoned the premise (God/gifts) but cling stubbornly to an arguably anachronistic interpretation of Locke's tentative conclusions regarding private property. It is one thing to speak imaginatively about an "invisible hand" but quite another to invest in the metaphor shorn of its subject, which at one time could be named as "God" or if that sounds too religious, "providence."

My point, which may seem obscure to those who revile non-confirming views, is that "sharing" and "gift" precede "buying and selling" and "commodity" both anthropologically and logically. No one comes to market without having endured years, if not decades, of the familial gift. Send a newborn infant out to earn its keep and it will perish -- to state the obvious. But "as an economist" there is apparently no path from the logically and anthropologically prior to the ideal of truck and barter.

And where does the sarcastic tone come in to all this? I suspect that generations of grovelling to patrons has educed in economists a self-validating mannerism of pseudo-aristocratic disdain for those who they perceive as their inferiors -- that is to say non-patrons. "As a general rule," Dean Baker quipped a few weeks ago, "economists are not very good at economics." What they are good at is grovelling to the financial nobility and snarling at the great unwashed.

Sandwichman: I'm not an economist, though I do agree that subsidizing already-cheap equipment is a lot like psychotherapy for cats. I'm also a fan of Dean Baker, who does much more than issue snarky quips. He wrote a great book called "The End of Loser Liberalism", although most of the people who should read it never will. Pick it up. Spoiler: unfortunately he doesn't address the Bilderberg/Trilateral/Rosicrucian conspiracy that, clearly, is the historical key to understanding who economists are.

Patrick: your comments about less dense cities and urban planning, I agree with. As Russ Roberts once said in a podcast, the problem isn't that we don't subsidize public transport enough, it's that excessively subsidize private transport.

There are many ways to increase bike usage. Cities could allow private rental companies to use space at transit hubs as I saw in Potsdam, Germany. Or cities could create public spaces where there are bike stands, tools to borrow and people to teach you how to fix your bike. This is already happening at many universities. Also when I used a bike share program in Cologne the bike was horribly uncomfortable. Now what is good about a sore bum?

Shangwen wrote: "Spoiler: unfortunately he doesn't address the Bilderberg/Trilateral/Rosicrucian conspiracy that, clearly, is the historical key..."

A fine example of the mannerism of attributing irrelevant nonsense views to opponents to insinuate that their actual opinions are not worthy of reasoned consideration and response! This is exactly what I was trying to highlight -- the pathological reliance of "economists" on condescension at precisely the point where their arguments evaporate.

If one bothers to go back to Alfred Marshall's discussion of external economies, Pigou's discussion of uncompensated services and uncharged disservices, J. M. Clark's and K. W. Kapp's discussions of social cost and cost shifting, one will see that the issues of "subsidy" and "market failure" are not so straight forward as Frances appears to be implying. There is no background datum of a competitive free market in which allocation is rationally determined by price against which to foreground the alleged subsidies. Or let me refer to a 19th century precursor of the entire market failure question, Henry Sidgwick:

There is indeed a kind of political economy which flourishes in proud independence of facts; and undertakes to settle all practical problems of Governmental interference or private philanthropy by simple deduction from one or two general assumptions — of which the chief assumption of the universally beneficent and harmonious operation of self-interest well let alone. This kind of political economy is sometimes called "orthodox," though it has the characteristic unusual in orthodox doctrines of being repudiated by the majority of accredited teachers of the subject. But whether orthodox or not, I must be allowed to disclaim all connection with it; the more completely this survival of the a priori politics of the eighteenth century can be banished to the remotest available planet, the better it will be, in my opinion, for the progress of economic science.

Unfortunately, it appears that the "politics of the eighteenth century" rather than the legacy of Sidgwick, Marshall, Pigou and Clark has prevailed in what presumes to call itself orthodox economic science.

Sandwichman: "is that "sharing" and "gift" precede "buying and selling" and "commodity" both anthropologically and logically"

I agree with you. Sharing arrangements tend to evolve spontaneously as soon as people form communities. Right now I belong to two active but completely unofficial "car share" programs - one with a neighbour and one with a friend. There's also the bike share/camping gear share/canoe share/snowblower share etc.

My sense is that bike share programs will work best if they build upon these already existing sharing arrangements, from private bike rental operations to informal sharing among friends and neighbours. That's the complete opposite of what we're doing right now with these large scale, technologically-driven bike shares.

Sandwichman - (if I'm following you) it seems to me that Frances is, in fact, defending the car bound great unwashed who are unlikely to find much utility in having their money taken from them and given to e.g. economics profs living in posh neighbourhoods who want to satisfy their eco-vanity by going to the local organic coffee shop on their bike-share to put their apple products on prominent display.

Patrick, No, you're not following me. The expression, "the great unwashed" can refer to any designated out-group. The car-bound may be the unwashed from the perspective of latte-sipping bicyclists but from the perspective of the "as an economist..." the alleged unwashed are those who don't genuflect to the notion -- in reality, as well as in the abstract, unreal model -- that market-prices allocate scarce resources optimally.

Frances, I suppose you would also eagerly make the same argument for military procurement, monetary policy, corporation law, intellectual property and K to 12 education? Spontaneous, voluntary sharing arrangements are already at a tremendous state-imposed disadvantage from the get-go.

I'm not arguing that all subsidized bike sharing initiatives or any particular program is "Pareto efficient" or even well conceived in some broader sense. What I'm saying is that if you are going to compare subsidies for bike sharing with something else, you should be comparing it with something that actually exists, not with some imaginary free-market price system that optimally allocates scarce resources. There is no such animal and never has been.

The reason that such an "economy" could not possibly exist is that the production of goods for the market depends intrinsically on the active participation of human subjects who come into the world without the immediate capability of subsisting by participating in market exchange. Thomas Hodgskin figured that out 186 years ago, John Maurice Clark reiterated it some 90 years ago. The market economy depends crucially upon -- and often is parasitic upon -- the non-market economy of reproduction. It is a fallacy for economists to assume that what is outside the market is external to the economy. That might make their models more tractable but it also makes them utterly meaningless. Furthermore, if they were to be consistent in making such an assumption, they would also have to exclude from consideration an extremely large portion of the so-called market economy, namely that portion where allocation is not optimally determined by the price mechanism in competitive markets (see above reference to military procurement, etc.).

Patrick, love that comment.

Frances says: "bikeshares don't replace cars, they replace taxis". There seems to be a non-sequitur here.

I live and work in downtown Toronto. I have a posh, way above average price house close to downtown (it actually is an old, uninsulated, poorly renovated skinny little house), no car, and use bike share. I pay a lot of property tax due to the high value of my house, there is free street parking on my street (again, I have no car), and there are huge swaths of road near my house, and along the way to work, dedicated to cars.

I understand that the bike share solution that is being implemented is not really an economically ideal solution, but there don't seem to be a lot of other informal solutions that have sprung up, and good luck using a "write a cheque" system to subsidize private bike share schemes or even bicycle use here. On the other hand, the huge resources that go towards sustaining the car infrastructure, including the massive amounts of free parking and free use of road in the downtown area, and even moreso outside of the downtown core, the regulatory scheme for taxis that is a massive public subsidy to the owners of taxis in Toronto (and taxis are cars too) are much more significant and economically wasteful. Now, I suppose it doesn't make sense to add an economically inefficient program on to an already massively inefficient transit/road system, but given the relative costs and benefits to the urban environment, it seems to me to make a lot more sense to subsidise a bike share program than to continue to subsidise cars.

Patrick says (sanctimoniously): "it seems to me that Frances is, in fact, defending the car bound great unwashed who are unlikely to find much utility in having their money taken from them and given to e.g. economics profs living in posh neighbourhoods who want to satisfy their eco-vanity by going to the local organic coffee shop on their bike-share to put their apple products on prominent display."

But, by the same token, why should the prof living in a posh neighbourhood be subsidizing car users, with municipal roads/parking being largely subsidized by property taxes (that are incidentally much higher in the posh neighbourhoods)? I bet the cross subsidy to cars is a larger by a huge margin.

And, characterization of what the prof is doing with his time, including whether she is going to an organic coffee shop and using an apple product seems to be a non-relevant point, and just character assassination.

Why is the basis of this argument bikes versus cars? If it's about pollution, take the subsidy to bike shares and give to workers or employers who support working from home. Surely commuting is a worse gas burner than grocery runs or casual driving. But if it's about privileging bikes as a symbol of enlightenment or urban sophistication, then we can lump it in with all-day kindergarten and geothermal heating as a misallocation of scarce funds.

People are talking in the absence of a true picture of scale. The amount of driving is enormous. There is no bike share program that can make a dent in that. If you want to reduce driving, there are far better ways. If people drive less because of, say, a carbon tax, why do we care what alternatives they choose, whether it's biking, staying home, or walking?

Patrick - "economics profs living in posh neighbourhoods who want to satisfy their eco-vanity by going to the local organic coffee shop on their bike-share to put their apple products on prominent display."

Econ profs aren't actually like that. Lawyers or sociology profs perhaps.

Plus it's impractical to take the bike-share to the local organic coffee shop because typically there won't be anywhere to park the bike-share bike.

Sandwichman - well, when it comes to military spending, I've ranted about that a few times before, i.e. the problems with the whole national defence is a public good argument. As to education - I think one can make a case that the existing public system built upon pre-existing infrastructure i.e. schools run by churches and charities, as well as private schools.

whitfit - see Rachel Goddyn's comment above about the kind of alternative models that would be worth looking at, e.g. providing space for private bicycle rental companies in subway stations (the Potsdam model).

On property taxes - I hear you. The incentives this creates for urban sprawl and unsustainable living are definitely worth a blog post.

I'm a long-time reader of this blog, but my economics chops are weak. Nevertheless, as a 25-44 year old male, living and working downtown (Ottawa), bike-commuter, and an occasional Bixi user, I've been inspired by the discussion to contribute.

It was noted above that most bike-share trips are substitutes for trips by transit, taxi or foot, and may therefore relieve (some) pressure on transit systems. But, at least in Canada, bike-share programs do not operate all year. And even during the portion of the year that the programs are operating, the substitution between bike-share and transit trips is likely somewhat dependent on weather. Surely there's data on this point, but most cabbies I've spoken with report that cold/rain/extreme heat = good business, as people who would otherwise walk or wait at a bus stop flag a cab instead. Similarly, while there's many "hard core" cyclists and pedestrian commuters out there, most of us put away our bikes when November rolls around or when the day's weather looks uninviting. I imagine this applies, at least in part, to those who commute or run their daily errands on foot.

But transit systems have high fixed costs, and must be designed around peak usage. Transit providers can't run fewer trains and buses when the sun is shining, and don't lay drivers off in the summer months. Barriers to entry and exit are lighter for cab drivers, and working hours more variable, but I think this argument is somewhat true for them as well. If you find the same number of buses driving and taxis idling on a sunny summer day as a cold winter day, do bike-share programs really result in meaningfully less pollution/fewer carbon emissions, or lower transit system costs?

whitfit - I wasn't entirely serious, but it IS the visceral reaction of many people, who like myself, are proud members of the great unwashed, stuck out in 'burbs we'd rather not live in but due to a variety of constraints are forced to cope with. We deal with the world as we find it.

And surely you realize that even non-drivers benefit enormously from roads. Bike share? Not so much. No doubt car owners and drivers should pay more than they do, but that's a different question.

Ok - one more comment, addressing market failures and public bike share programs.

There are big network effects to having a uniform, broadly distributed, high tech (meaning credit card/key fob, 24 hour access) bike share system. Being able to ride from point a to point b, c, d, x, or y and make one way trips makes a big difference. This can't be accomplished with private operators at a transit station, which may require limited point to point, or round trip use of the bicycle. Also, small scale bike share systems are hard in a big city, where keeping track of the bicycles, theft, and trust issues can't be easily and efficiently resolved by a large number of small systems. In Toronto, the old yellow bike system was a failure. Now, just because the system is better when it is broad and uniform doesn't mean that the public sector needs to/should provide it, but it seems that it is difficult to create such a network is difficult with private sector entities.

Shangwen says: "Why is the basis of this argument bikes versus cars? If it's about pollution, take the subsidy to bike shares and give to workers or employers who support working from home..." and

"People are talking in the absence of a true picture of scale. The amount of driving is enormous. There is no bike share program that can make a dent in that. If you want to reduce driving, there are far better ways."

I totally agree - but you also miss the scale of the cost of bike share programs. It is also hardly a dent in the capital cost and budget for transportation of a municipality like Toronto. It is a tiny cost, so saying it has a tiny effect is not necessarily fatal to it.

and "If people drive less because of, say, a carbon tax, why do we care what alternatives they choose, whether it's biking, staying home, or walking?" I totally agree. That is the end goal where the angels start singing. Just ask Stephane Dion. I would also add a congestion charge - electric cars use a lot of real estate too.

whitfit - all that is meaningless in a world where people shop for a family of four once a week at the big box store and commute 15 or 20 minutes on highways to get to work. Seriously, think about how and where most people really live. The problem is not too few bikes, it's how we inhabit the landscape.

Steve - thanks for that comment - absolutely spot on!

A few points (from a Montreal point of view):
1) The "great unwashed" vs "latte-drinkers". Most areas serviced by Bixi have a high density of tenants and relatively few homeowners. I would guess that it is not a subsidy paid to the rich. Most likely, Bixi users have lower incomes than other Montrealers (this is, of course, speculative).

2) If everything goes well, Bixi should not incure future losses. By and large, I think municipal policymakers understand Bixi does not generate huge externalities when added to existing roads and public transit infrastructures.

3) However, it makes life a lot more enjoyable in Montreal from spring to autumn (both for Bixi users and public transit users; and maybe even for drivers). The city saw an opportunity to kickstart a project. It is common that governments need to subsidize the creation of completely new networks, because private firms perceive the risk as unmanageable. Given the scale of the city's budget, spending a few millions in the first years of a project that could serve tens of thousands of residents does make sense.

4) Bixi is very useful when the subway system breaks down, which happens on a relatively common basis. It adds robustness to the transit network.

5) If, after ten or so years, the bike-sharing projects become profitable, we might see private firms start projects in other cities. In that scenario, the initial public subsidies might be considered as the proof of concept that the private sector needed to start investing in bike-sharing.

I'm repeating, but if I may: Bixi and Hubway, the two bike shares I'm familiar with, are both very visible and dramatic additions to the streetscape, both are extremely convenient for the individual user (I thought they were really, really cool), and both are very cheap compared to what we spend on cars. Because it is way, way too early to get a read on what benefits these programs will have over the longer term, I think it is well worth the relatively small extra cost. I understand your concerns, but I think it's worth trying these things out for a decade or two before we assess.It makes me happy every time I ride my bike past Hubway stations, even though I rarely use them, since I ride my own bike everywhere.

EC: "and both are very cheap compared to what we spend on cars"

Let me tell you about my bike share program. Nick Rowe rescues old abandoned bikes and repairs them. Then he lends them out to friends and family.

It's very cheap compared to Bixi bikes.

The point is it's not enough to look at a program and say it has benefits. The point is ***how do the costs and benefits compare to the alternatives*** and ***what are the reasons for thinking that markets won't solve this problem on their own****.

There may well be some cities and some circumstances where bike share is viable and cost effective. But I think the jury is still out on this one.

I grew-up in and went to University in Montreal. I agree that it's a good candidate for bike share. At least in the summer. Though I kinda wonder what kind of regular cyclist wouldn't have their own, but whatever. If it's a good idea, let an enterprising entrepreneur do the project. Why is a public subsidy required? Where is the market failure?

On the other hand in Edmonton, where I currently live, bike share is a lousy idea. And that's probably why the private sector hasn't stepped-in. Unless and until we solve our massive sprawl problems, bikes and walking as alternatives to cars will remain a pipe dream. And we have a HUGE problem with urban design that starts with individual buildings, never mind whole neigbourhoods. Just look at the design of the new Royal Alberta Museum. Nice, eh? In summer. Now imagine all those blanks walls, and open spaces with no trees and no shelter during a prairie winter. If we can't even get one building so that it's fully functional in our climate, how are we ever going to get whole neighbourhoods to be walkable and bikeable all year round?

I despair.

Patrick: a hidden benefit of Bixi is that they're immediately reusable. They don't stand all day outside your office. Cars take three spaces : one at home, one at work and one at the mall. Using our own bike to commute repeat the mistake.
I wish I could use my bike to go back home now. But it's still in storage on my balcony. Outside, with the wind from the sea and the wind-chill from the ride, it would be below freezing...
And in summer ( julyat noon) I am on holiday.

"What are the reasons for thinking that markets won't solve this problem on their own?"

Markets are good especially at developing products and services where the benefits can be readily monetized and captured by the entrepreneur and the costs can be shifted to third parties -- in short, direct benefits and diffuse costs. In this case the benefits are likely to be diffuse (decreased congestion & air pollution, a positive social presence on the streets, conviviality) and the costs relatively direct.

"How do the costs and benefits compare to the alternatives?"

Alternatives of what aspect? Relieving traffic congestion? Promoting healthy activity? Providing transportation services? Conducting a social experiment? Feeling good? The problem is that a bike share program is by its nature multi-faceted in its objectives. Comparing the costs and benefits to "alternatives" would either have to tolerate a certain degree of impressionism or reduce policy objectives to Procrustean narrowness.

Given that bike sharing is social experiment, it is all the better that "the jury is still out" at least until enough experience, adaptation and evidence have been collected to make a considered judgment.

"Relieving traffic congestion"

Problem is, the data doesn't seem to be on your side. At best, something like 1% of commutes are on bikes. Why? I doubt it's because there is a shortage of bikes. In part I suspect it's because there is a surplus of long distances to get to work, school, shopping. Winter doesn't help. Not to mention the kids and other flotsam and jetsam that comes along for the ride. Even in good weather, have you ever tried returning home from the big box store with 2 young kids in tow and a weeks worth of groceries - on a bike? Or taking a ball bag containing 10 soccer balls, a first aid kit, cones, and pinnies to soccer practice? Not. Going. To. Happen.

"Procrustean narrowness"

You mean like not being able to imagine how and where most people *actually* live and work.

Patrick,

It's always such a pleasure to talk past someone whose mind is made up and will not be confused by either arguments or facts. Could it be that the bike sharing is not intended to be for the "most people" who you presume to be the only ones worthy of some sort of public policy initiative? Not. Going. To. Innovate.

Sandwichman, declaring something innovation doesn't make it so. Who is the policy intended to benefit? And maybe if you clearly stated what problem you're trying to fix. If you're just doing social experiments, then I'll go out on a limb and suggest that "most people" would prefer you do it with your own money, rather than taking theirs.

Look, if you actually read what I've been saying, you'd see I'm, in some ways, really on your team. I'm not against bike sharing subsidies because I have an irrational hatred of bikes, but rather because it's so plainly not going to work on the kind of scale that is going to matter. And it's a HUGE distraction from the underlying problems of urban planning and design. I'd love to live in world where bikes and walking replaced cars in the city. But that is not the world we live in. People live in suburbs long distances from work, shops, service, and recreation. They have groceries, ikea furniture, kids, elderly parents to transport over those long distances in Canadian winters. Bikes suck for all those everyday transportation needs.

The current organization of daily life didn't happen randomly, and we are now stuck with trillions of dollars worth of residential building stock and associated infrastructure that requires cars to function. Without cars, all that stuff becomes more or less useless, and hence worthless. IMO, if your goal is to get people to ride bikes, then the innovation lies in finding a way to convince them to stop investing in sprawl, and think of long term plans to faze out the existing sprawl without ruining the millions of people for whom their little piece of sprawl represents their single largest investment and only savings. That's no small undertaking. If you solve that, you'd also solve a big chunk of the GW puzzle too. But I digress.


Sandwichman: "Could it be that the bike sharing is not intended to be for the "most people" who you presume to be the only ones worthy of some sort of public policy initiative?"

It could be. On the other hand, if that's the theory than it's doomed to fail, since in a democracy "most people" are the ones who pay the bills (or at least, they think they're paying the bills - though, given the limits of municipal revenue tools in Canada, i.e., a reliance on property tax, "most people" may actually be paying the bills in this instance) and elect the politicians who make the decisions. Unless you can sell them on a clear benefit to them of prying open the public purse to subsidize bixi-type programs (and, as I discuss below, there's good reason to believe you can't), those progams are not long for this earth (obviously, if they can pay for themselves, that's a different story, but then we wouldn't be having this discussion).

Ciceron: "I would guess that it is not a subsidy paid to the rich. Most likely, Bixi users have lower incomes than other Montrealers"

I can't speak for Montreal, but that's unlikely to be true in Toronto (downtown real estate prices being what they are). Moreover, the mechanics of the Bixi system almost certainly exclude the poor. Think about it, you need a credit card to rent a bike. You know why poor people choose to pay 400% effective interest rates at payday loan shops (rather than 30% on a credit card)? They don't have credit cards (well, and they're bad at math). In Toronto, not only does the Bixi system not serve the poor, it effectively excludes them. Patrick is not wrong to suggest that it's a project for the latte-sipping classes. At the very least it's a project for the credit card class.

Whitfit: "is a tiny cost, so saying it has a tiny effect is not necessarily fatal to it."

True, but only if there is even a tiny effect. I would go so far as to say, in Toronto, at least, it likely has NO effect on pollution, congestion, etc. Look at where the Bixi stations are located in Toronto, it serves an area that's effectively bounded by Bathurst St. on the west, Parliament on the East, and Bloor St on the North. Now, there's probably a pretty compelling reason for that limited geographical scope (that's the only area where the population density is likely to be enough to make it feasible, a larger system would likely be even less economically viable than the current one for the reasons that Patrick identifies) but it also means that you wouldn't expect to see to the program have any meaningful impact on shifting people out of cars since the people who live in that downtown core choose to do so (and pay a hefty price for rent/real estate) in large part because it relieves them of having to drive to work/shop/play. Bixi is just a subsidized bike rental service for people who would otherwise walk, take transit or ride their own bike.

I note that Frances interpretation of the Montreal data suggests that that's been Montreal's experience as well.

Patrick,

My personal appreciation for bike sharing has *zero* to do with any desire to be eco groovy. I want to get to and from work and around town quickly, without being stuffed in a bus or taxi or worrying about where I'll leave my bike, or whether it'll be raining when I have to return. And I don't care if I have to pay double or triple what I'm currently paying for that privilege. And it annoys me that subsidies for stupid modes of transportation render my preferred mode uneconomical. So if we can't get rid of everybody else's subsidies I have absolutely no problem taking one too.  

"all that is meaningless in a world where people shop for a family of four once a week at the big box store and commute... Bikes suck for all those everyday transportation needs."

OK, this program is not actually about *you*. You got your buses and highways and monster trucks, right? It's for those of us who live or work in the core of a real city. It's all about enabling efficient transportation in the core. If it buys me an extra 40 minutes per day (and it does) I'll allocate about half of that to work, and you and the rest of the public will get 50% of my extra output. You're welcome.

The lower bound on the marginal value of the bike share to me is the 30 bucks/day I might otherwise spend on taxis if I choose to get to work as quickly as on a bike. And yes I'd be happy to pay 3X as much as I do for my bike share membership. But that's not an option because thanks to your monster SUV subsidies, my bike share isn't commercially viable.

"At best, something like 1% of commutes are on bikes."

In Montreal Bixi runs about 20,000 trips per day, almost all of which I'd bet are commutes. There are, I believe, 300,000 workers in the core. So one ride per 15 commuters *by Bixi*. And the majority of bikes aren't Bixis. Anyways, if the scale is small, so is the cost.

"it's so plainly not going to work on the kind of scale that is going to matter."

Just keep repeating that, and it'll become true!

Here's a thought experiment for you. Imagine imposing a fair congestion charge in a big city (no, not Edmonton or Ottawa - seriously, we're talking about big cities, and again this is not about you.) Let's say $30/day. Now how appealing is it going to be to grab that bike? You don't know? The studies don't exist? Well let's just forget it then. Bike shares must be useless.

Bob,

"I note that Frances interpretation of the Montreal data suggests that that's been Montreal's experience as well."

Frances "interpretation" is based on a phone survey of montrealers asking if they've increased their level of physical activity as a result of the Bixi system. Seriously.

Patrick: "The current organization of daily life didn't happen randomly..."

No. But it also didn't happen as the result of a coherent, comprehensive plan. It happened incrementally with a lot of it adapting to "the way things actually are." (And of course the bulk of collective decision-making usually deferred to those with the greater financial power. But to point THAT out would be heretical.)

Bob Smith: "Bixi is just a subsidized bike rental service for people who would otherwise walk, take transit or ride their own bike."

What's wrong with that? Walking takes longer than riding a bike and transit isn't as flexible. So to encourage non-auto traveling, you supplement it with additional options. Why does one have to assume that the purpose of bike sharing is to get people directly out of their cars?

Have you, Patrick, or you, Bob Smith, ever done a transit planning assessment? I have. That's why I would be reluctant to pronounce a verdict on bike sharing based simply on my prejudices and a handful of anecdotes. It is astonishing to see that adding the phrases "as an economist..." and "cost/benefit" to a smattering of anecdotes and biases elevates the whole discussion to a matter of principle. Wow. Just wow.

The so-called costs and so-called benefits in a so-called cost/benefit analysis are estimates based on projections of monetary values including monetary values assigned to non-monetary phenomena, the inclusion or exclusion of which are largely conventional and somewhat arbitrary. In short, a cost/benefit analysis may be either an exercise in collaborative introspection or a manipulative "objectivity" p.r. spin.

K: "Frances "interpretation" is based on a phone survey of montrealers asking if they've increased their level of physical activity as a result of the Bixi system. Seriously."

K, seriously? That's not what the study asked, did you even read the study? (http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/10/1/66) I can't speak for others, but I'd find your criticism of its design much more compelling if it indicated that you'd actually read the thing.

"Let's say $30/day. Now how appealing is it going to be to grab that bike?"

Well, let's look at a real life example, shall we? London has a congestion charge (not $30/ day, I don't know why you think that's a "fair" charge, London charges closer to $17). London has a bike rental scheme. If anything, London might be expected to be more favourable or a bike sharing program than a city like Toronto, since it's old enough not to have been build around cars (and its winters, while wet, aren't frozen). And yet, after several years of operations, Transport for London still has no idea when (if ever) that scheme will stop losing money (and this, despite a lucrative sponsorship deal with Barclays bank). So, even in favourable conditions, where alternative modes of transportation are properly priced, that's a bike sharing program that's a money loser.

As for usership, it apparently averages 23,000 "hires" (not neccesarily discrete users) per day. I couldn't tell you whether that's good or bad, but it works out to just under 1,000 hires an hour (though since much of that use is during peak communiting hours, that understates the net effect.

Interestingly, at least some of the commentary on the London scheme appears to confirm Patrick's intution about bike share programs being programs for the latte-sipping class. According to the Guardian:

"But a residual concern remains who is using the scheme: overwhelmingly white men aged between 25 and 44, many of whom earn more than £50,000 a year. For a scheme that has already cost £79m, with a further £45m for the extension to cover the Olympic Park next year, can we really justify this "posh-boy toy"?" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/bike-blog/2011/jul/10/boris-bikes-hire-scheme-london)

Moreover, the fact that the democraphics of the bike hire users match those of bike users generally suggest that all the scheme is doing is shifting people off of their own bikes onto rented one. T

K: "What's wrong with that? Walking takes longer than riding a bike and transit isn't as flexible. So to encourage non-auto traveling, you supplement it with additional options"

Fine, that's a nice theory. Make the case. Where's the evidence that it does that? Spare us the ad hominem sniping about Patrick or my "prejudices and a handful of anecdotes" (by anecdotse, I suppose you mean my factual description of the Toronto bixi program and its obvious limitations in terms of getting people off the roads, or the quite reasonable observation - consistent with the experience in London - that it doesn't serve the poor) and put forward some actual facts of your own. Give us some reasons why you think the arguments we're making are making are incorrect.

I'm not opposed to bike sharing programs, per se, but if you're going to be asking the public to subsidize it on the basis that it, either directly or indirectly, reduces congestion, polution, whatever, make that case. It isn't obvious from the Montreal study that was referred to above (i.e., actual research as opposed to speculation and wishful thinking, and I note, research originally cited in defense of the bixi program) that that happens, and if it does it's at an exorbitant cost.

Sorry, I should have attributed that quote to Sandwichman, not K.

More anecdotes!

"no idea when (if ever) that scheme will stop losing money"

Any idea when the police department or the sewer system will stop "losing money"?

Gotcha, facts that Sandwichman doesn't want to hear = anecdotes. Funny, we're not hearing a lot of facts (anecdotal or otherwise) from you.

"Any idea when the police department or the sewer system will stop "losing money"

Pretty weak strawman. I mean, Rob Ford weak. The public benefits of police or sewer services are fairly obvious - the public benefits of bike sharing are not.

K - fine. So if it's so great then why does it need *me* to subsidies it.

Bob Smith: "Spare us the ad hominem sniping about Patrick or my 'prejudices and a handful of anecdotes'"

Last time I checked "ad hominem" meant criticizing a person rather than their argument. To say that your arguments are prejudices and anecdotes is to criticize your arguments. Spare us the bogus fallacy claims.

"Make the case. Where's the evidence that it does that?"

You misunderstand what I'm trying to say. I'm not advocating bike sharing here, I'm objecting to the marshaling of a priori assumptions and cherry-picked anecdotes to pass judgment on a particular subsidy scheme considered in isolation.

There seems to be two rather peculiar premises to this rush to judgment: either 1. if the service was worthwhile, the market would provide it or 2. for the service to be considered a public good, it would have to serve "the reality most people live" (with "most people" possibly standing in for "people like me").

All that I'm saying is that YOU have failed to make a persuasive case AGAINST bike sharing. You've simply raised a number of potential objections. That's what I mean by anecdotal. That's not good enough. That doesn't mean there isn't a case to be made against bike sharing -- simply that it hasn't been made here.

The prosecution fails to makes its case; the defense rests.

K - On congestion charge: sure, do it. But why privilege bikes? If the congestion charge makes bike share attractive, then why not let the private sector do it? Where's the market failure?

Again, I'm not against bike shares per se. I'm against public subsidies for bike shares. I have yet to hear anyone articulate the market failure that public subsidies are supposed to address. What problem are you trying to solve?

Sandwichman - You're damn right it's good enough. When it comes to spending public money, which is scarce, and there are no lack of worthy recipients, I think that the onus is on you to make a credible case FOR subsidiezed bike sharing. So far all I've got from you is some hand waving about social experiments, feeling good, and vague claims about fitness for the 1% (as per StatsCan stats on percentage of commuters on bikes).

By your own admission, it's not terribly expensive to setup. So if the barriers to entry are so low and the benefits so great, then why not invest your own money in the scheme. Obviously, somebody is just leaving money lying around on the ground.

Sandwichman,

When you suggest that someone's arguments are based on prejudices, that's an attack on the person making the argument, not the argument itself.

Oh, and speaking of fallacious claims: " either 1. if the service was worthwhile, the market would provide it or 2. for the service to be considered a public good, it would have to serve "the reality most people live" (with "most people" possibly standing in for "people like me").

Neither I nor, I think, Patrick have made those arguments. The market might not provide worthwhile goods, we both accept that proposition. That isn't a strange concept that's somehow foreign to economists. They call it a "market failure". What's the market failure? Likewise, for the service to be a "public good" it has to provide some benefit that isn't fully captured by the person who receives it (if the benefit is purely private, almost by definition, it isn't a public good). What's that benefit? Proponents of bike-sharing argue that it reduces congestion and pollution by getting cars off the road, fine, but the facts don't back that up.

"The prosecution fails to makes its case; the defense rests."

This isn't a criminal trial (where the crown has the onus to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt). The better analogy would be a civil trial, where the party that makes its case on the balance of probabilities wins. Subsidies for bike-sharing programs have been defended on the grounds that they reduce congestion and pollution. The only real evidence presented in this discussion suggests that they don't have any material impact in that regard (i.e., one switched ride per bixi bike) at a significant cost, although we've provided circumstantial evidence as to why bixi bike programs shouldn't be expected to shift riders off the road (i.e., they primarily serve people who already commute by transit or bike - i.e., the downtown core of Toronto or London, for example). Now, if you don't like that evidence (making it an "anecdote" in your mind), that's fine, but in the absence of ANY evidence that bixi bike programs do materially shift commuting patterns, that's the evidence that stands.

Moreover, the case isn't just between subsidizing bike sharing vs. doing nothing, the real discussion should be what's a more cost-effective way of getting people out of their cars (or better social uses for that money ). Frances hit the nail on the head earlier, by wondering if we wouldn't be futher ahead to subsidize bicycle parking (or maybe shower facilities) than bike rentals. But unless we critically examine the purported benefits of bike sharing schemes - which is precisely what we're doing here - that discussion won't happen.

Patrick: "I have yet to hear anyone articulate the market failure that public subsidies are supposed to address."

Bob Smith: "They call it a 'market failure'. What's the market failure?"

There are (at least) two schools of thought on the question of "market failure." You seem not to have heard about the other school of thought. Perhaps this not-hearing could be remedied by listening?

Joan Martinez-Alier has argued that "Externalities are not so much market failures as cost-shifting 'successes'." This sums up a tradition that has not accepted the a priori assumption that actually-existing market exchanges approximate the optimal allocation that would presumably result from the operation of ideal competitive markets.

To put it differently, "market failure" is a misnomer. The ideal market's optimal allocation that market failure allegedly "fails" is a figment of the imagination. Neither are the actions of human beings better understood as "angel failures."

There are indeed relationships that can be illuminated by the assumption of the equivalent of a friction-less plane. For example, it makes it easier to explain mechanics to grade nine physics students. But don't trust an engineer who insists that the performance of a machine can be optimized entirely by the elimination of friction. Friction also performs functions.

Bob Smith: "When you suggest that someone's arguments are based on prejudices, that's an attack on the person making the argument, not the argument itself."

Um. I suppose when I suggest that someone's arguments are simply unsubstantiated assertions or are plain wrong, I'm also attacking the person? Look, I paid five pounds for an argument; this is just contradiction.

B.S., again: "Now, if you don't like that evidence (making it an "anecdote" in your mind), that's fine, but in the absence of ANY evidence that bixi bike programs do materially shift commuting patterns, that's the evidence that stands."

Sorry, Bub, er Bob, but the bike sharing programs you're talking about were no doubt approved by public authorities on the basis of submissions made by proponents, supplemented by the advice of staff. They may or may not have lived up to the original expectations. At some point in the future there will be a review process. I don't have to "make the case" for a program that has already received approval and funding. Sorry, I don't.

For me, this discussion is not about subsidizing bike sharing but about evaluation criteria. The so-called orthodox argument of, on the one hand -- as Sidgwick put it -- "the universally beneficent and harmonious operation of self-interest well let alone" and on the other hand "market failure" is not, IMHO, the only way to skin this cat. But if the only tool you know is a hammer...


Sandwichman: "is not, IMHO, the only way to skin this cat. But if the only tool you know is a hammer..."

My apologies for the grotesque image of skinning a cat with a hammer. But having broached the topic of cat skinning, I can't resist sharing the following:

It is a fallacy to suppose that cats are skinned alive. In the first place, to skin a cat when alive would be utterly impossible; and, secondly, it does not make any difference in the quality of the skin. The origin of the fallacy is probably that a cat is easier skinned immediately after death than if allowed to become rigid. It is very remarkable how fashions set by English ladies influence wild and tame animals even in the most distant parts of the world. I am very glad the ladies have made cats fashionable, as at last some use is found for these animals, which, being untaxed, are so abundant that any night, and in any weather, cats — many of them half-starved — swarm in the London streets, and the poorer the neighbourhood the more abundant are the cats.

The market failure is affordable travel for the masses. The response in the past has been to build networks of roads and highways involving large amounts of public money. That has worked well for a time. In the Toronto area, with rising population densities and increasing traffic congestion, this approach is becoming less feasible. Assuming that we want to continue growing and promoting economic activity, most people agree that the only solution is public transit.

Given the larges costs associated with traffic congestion and the massive amounts of money that public transit requires, I think it’s worth experiment with different proposals. I don’t know but I think bike share programs are a relatively cheap form of transportation and are worth trying out especially if it can be better integrated with existing public transit. I would make it free and just require a toonie deposit to encourage people to return the bikes to a rack.

"the bike sharing programs you're talking about were no doubt approved by public authorities on the basis of submissions made by proponents, supplemented by the advice of staff. They may or may not have lived up to the original expectations. At some point in the future there will be a review process. I don't have to "make the case" for a program that has already received approval and funding."

Oh well, if the government said it was a good idea.... Have you met Toronto's mayor? http://gawker.com/for-sale-a-video-of-toronto-mayor-rob-ford-smoking-cra-507736569

"This sums up a tradition that has not accepted the a priori assumption that actually-existing market exchanges approximate the optimal allocation that would presumably result from the operation of ideal competitive markets."

Tomotoe, Tomato. Now you're just arguing about the definition of a "market failure" (i.e., that it includes what others might characterize as a success. That doesn't in any way address or refute the positions Patrick and I are taking.

"I would make it free and just require a toonie deposit to encourage people to return the bikes to a rack."

That's been done. It was also known as the "how'd you like to "buy" a bike for a dollar" program. And funny, with no record of who "rented" the bikes, if they were returned, they were in rough condition.

"I don’t know but I think bike share programs are a relatively cheap form of transportation and are worth trying out especially if it can be better integrated with existing public transit."

Fair enough, but they've been tried out, and so far have not been obviously successful (or cheap).

Bob Smith: "Oh well, if the government said it was a good idea.... Have you met Toronto's mayor?"

ad hominem AND non sequitur. But if you insist:

TORONTO, Ontario — Toronto’s mayor says the city’s troubled bike-sharing program should be "dissolved" as council gears up to discuss its fate Tuesday.

Rob Ford says the city should get rid of the Bixi program because it is losing money.

City staff are recommending the city take over the program and TTC Chairwoman Karen Stintz may suggest putting it under the transit agency’s watch.

But Ford does not think that is a good idea either, saying it would not solve the money problem, just move it to another jurisdiction.

Of the $4.5-million loan the city gave Bixi, it has only paid back about a quarter of it.

Last month a city staff report said the program was having trouble covering its operating costs.

"It should just be dissolved. It’s not working. The program’s been a failure," Ford said. http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Toronto+Mayor+Ford+says+Bixi+bike+sharing+program+should+dissolved/8348375/story.html


Well, even an alleged crack smoking blow hard can be right once in while.

Actually, I think Rob Ford and his ilk really illustrate the point I'm trying to make. Keeping in mind that the guy had enough support to get elected. It's probably accurate to say that Ford and his supporters are generally pretty hostile to stuff like public transit, bike share, etc ... Why? I submit that it is because it doesn't offer much to people living in the 'burbs - generally seen as the core of his support. They have to spend a ton of money on two cars just to make their lives workable, and they understandably don't want to pay for stuff that isn't going to benefit them in any way.

"That's been done. It was also known as the "how'd you like to "buy" a bike for a dollar" program. And funny, with no record of who "rented" the bikes, if they were returned, they were in rough condition."

Fine, have them tap on with a presto card.

"Fair enough, but they've been tried out, and so far have not been obviously successful (or cheap)."

Compared with building and operating subways, LRTs, streetcars, I'd say the bike share program is pretty cheap.

Patrick,

"If the congestion charge makes bike share attractive, then why not let the private sector do it?"

Yes! I keep telling you I don't mind paying more, but that the efficient market price can't be charged because competing modes of transportation are subsidized. The "market failure" is that the free market got broken by government subsidies for motor transport. In an efficient market there *would* be unsubsidised bike shares, but in this world I can't have *my* preferred mode of transportation without also getting a subsidy. I DON'T WANT YOUR MONEY! I just want what would exist already all by itself, if we weren't all massively subsidising your lifestyle.

Bob,

The marginal cost of adding another car commuter in a congested city is huge. I.e. many multiples of the wasted hours of that particular commuter. Despite the congestion charge, central London is still highly congested, and the current 10 quid charge is a pathetic compromise compared to the marginal external cost of driving.

"That's not what the study asked, did you even read the study?"

I did read it, but you're right. They asked if people used more active forms of transportation and correlated that with whether the person had tried a Bixi. I see no evidence that they asked people how many trips they shifted to the bike share. As far as I can tell, they just assumed the average user shifted 5, 10, or 15% of their trips. The questions were clearly designed to find out if people were more active/healthier as a result of the bike share (it's a journal about nutrition and physical activity). Very little there that can be used to assess the impact on congestion and travel times in the core, which to me is the critical externality.

"that the democraphics of the bike hire users match those of bike users generally suggest that all the scheme is doing is shifting people off of their own bikes onto rented one"

Now there's a wild conjecture. I doubt it. Try finding a place to keep your bike in a typical London flat. And outside is out of the question. Apparently the mean time between theft of a London bicycle is 23 months (look it up).

"if we weren't all massively subsidising your lifestyle."

But there's the rub. Firstly, I and most others like me are simply coping with the world the way we found it. We are price takers. Secondly, we live in a democracy. Assuming there is a subsidy for 'my' lifestyle (I made $0 in the last year so if I were you I'd be careful about assumption about my 'lifestyle'), then it would be awarded by the consent of the governed. If you can convince the rest of the people like me that my lifestyle needs less subsidy, then go for it. In the meantime, I don't want to pay for your silly bike share program any more than I want to pay for your concert tickets or your latte.

Patrick,

Yup, economics rarely triumphs, and policy is about power, etc, etc. I thought you wanted to talk about market failures.

Bob,

I'll see your conjecture, and raise you another conjecture...

Huge cities are a) congested and b) chock full of slow moving taxis. I *conjecture* that in such cities the principal use of bike shares is to shift rich, latte-sipping yuppies out of taxis and onto bikes, which, thanks to the congestion go about as fast as the taxis. You get some air and you don't have to listen to crazy talk.

I win on both counts, lifestyle not withstanding.

"The marginal cost of adding another car commuter in a congested city is huge. I.e. many multiples of the wasted hours of that particular commuter. Despite the congestion charge, central London is still highly congested, and the current 10 quid charge is a pathetic compromise compared to the marginal external cost of driving."

Ok, well, the Montreal study figures that the it shifted exactly one car trip per bike. As Frances observed, unless the marginal cost of another car commuter is in the hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars per driver, that's not an efficient way of reducing congestion. Maybe that study is wrong, but funny, the proponents of the bixi service (i.e., the company hitting cities up for massive subsidies) don't seem to be going out of their way to produce competing studies.

Moreover, it's not even clear that the bixi-type systems are the most efficient way of promoting bicycle use. What about, say, subsidizing bicycle parking, or shower facilities? What about spending money on bike lanes? Do we really believe that the biggest barrier to people using bicycles to commute is that without a subsidized bike rental operation, people won't be able to get their hands on bikes?

And the "conjecture" that people in downtown Toronto (an area well served by public transit - with closely packed and regular subway, bus and street car routes) aren't likely to be driving in the first instance, in sort of like a conjecture that the Inuit don't generally wear bikinis in January. I could be wrong, but I'd take that bet.

ML:
"Compared with building and operating subways, LRTs, streetcars, I'd say the bike share program is pretty cheap."

What's the basis for that comparison? In absolute dollars, maybe, but the proper comparison is on a per ride basis. And recall, in most cities - certain in Toronto - the bixi-type services only serve the most densely-populated areas, whereas transit serves the entire city. If the TTC, for example, only served Toronto's downtown core, it would be a hell of a lot less expensive than it it now. If we want to talk about cost, let's compare like-with-like.

K: "Apparently the mean time between theft of a London bicycle is 23 months (look it up)"

That long? A few years ago, when Igor Kenk was running the show in Toronto, no one owned a bike in this city, you just rented it from the bike thiefs. After it got stolen, you wandered downtown and "rented" a "used" one.

"

"Fine, have them tap on with a presto card."

Yeah, you can do that (and bixi has a yearly pass you can use - though they still want a credit card number). But unless the presto card is linked to a credit card (and, at least under the current system, they don't have to be, though regular users all do) bikes are going to go walking. A number of cities tried making their bikes too ugly to steal (I think the UofT student council tried a free social biking program with hideaous yellow bikes - they all disappeared within days), but that apparently didn't disuade vandals and thieves. When Paris first set up its system, 80% of its bikes where either stolen (and apparently sold in third-world markets, where their rugged construction was prized) or vandalized (dumped in the Seine, hung from lamposts - you know, good old fashioned fun) - the Paris city counsel had to reimburse the private company running the program.

"Well, even an alleged crack smoking blow hard can be right once in while"

And the fact that crack smoking morons can get elected, suggests that Sandwichman's blind faith in the wisdom of elected officials is misguided. As if elected officials aren't driven by pretty much everything - emotion, ideology, lobbyists, vested interests, self-interest, etc. - except reasoned evidence. Personally, I'm of the view that voters should be critical of what their elected officials tell them. But if Sandwichman feels differently, well, the world needs followers.

B.S.: "Sandwichman's blind faith in the wisdom of elected officials"

Laugh, laugh, laugh. Your interpretation is so off it's (ir)on(ic). You must be confusing me with "majority rules" Patrick. But thanks for the Kenk! No, seriously.

This thread is done. Stick a fork in it.

So says the almighty Sandwichman.

I haven't read the whole thread, but even as a dedicated Toronto cyclist I'm a little skeptical about the merits of Bixi... it seems to me that it mostly provides bicycles to people who already own bicycles and would have ridden them anyway, and that's a pretty lame thing to subsidize.

The danger of bicycle theft is overstated... buy a decent lock and use it, problem solved.

I never have to pull out my smartphone (don't have one anyway) and wonder if there is a bike available, because I ride my own bike, and it's always available, 24/7/365.

I should have said that I'm good with K's point that he shouldn't subsidies my 'lifstyle' (understanding the Royal he and me). I agree that measures like carbon taxes and congestion charges are all pretty clearly fixing market failures. Let's do it.

Now, extend me the same courtesy. Either produce the market failure that subsidies for bike shares will fix, or stop trying to pick my pocket.

One positive externality of the city-sponsored Bixi program that I haven't seen: it sends a message that the city is bicycle friendly. Bikes are here. They belong on the roads. Here, the City is even *providing* you with a bike to ride on the road! How clear can the message be?

That said, if we're spending public funds on making the city a bicycle-friendly place, I think more bike parking would be vastly more cost effective. You could build a lot of post and ring for 4 million bucks.

Patrick,

"stop trying to pick my pocket."

Honestly, I don't even mind paying for your bus. But I don't see how it's any less picking my pocket, than the bike share is picking yours.

Darren,

Even with a $150 lock, you still can't leave your bike out at night. I think stealability is an intrinsic design feature of standard bikes. Bixis, and their parts are apparently of no interest to thieves (or not removable), a feature that the free market is apparently not capable of equalling. Maybe there's a trade off between easy repair, and difficult theft, which isn't a problem for Bixis as repairs are only made in huge specialized shops. As Bob says, it was basically impossible to defend against Kenk.

That just about sums it up: "test"

K, what kind of bike are we talking about here? No, you can't leave your Cervelo out at night, but I've had no problems with my $500 beater bike and $80 lock, and I've left my bike pretty much everywhere, for years. (the nice weekend bike stays inside, but it only comes out on weekends anyway).
Anecdote: I talked to a Toronto police officer several months after they arrested Kenk, and he said the rate of bike theft in Toronto had plummeted since his arrest. I don't know if that's held up.

"But I don't see how it's any less picking my pocket, than the bike share is picking yours."

Not to rehash the thread, but the case for subsidy must be made in each case. You can't just say: "well, your favourite thing gets subsidized, so my favourite thing should get subsidized too!" In the case of BIXI, I'm just not seeing it. There's a cheap and easy alternative to BIXI, riding your own bike, that has zero negative externalities. (Frankly the disadvantages of BIXI look overwhelming to me and I've never been tempted to try it in spite of being a daily cyclist).

The alternative to taking the bus is usually taking your car, and that is neither cheap, easy, or without externalities.

Subsidizing one of those things is not like subsidizing the other.

@Sandwichman, you might have better luck engaging people if you dialed down the attitude by about three notches.

I'm in Montreal with limited internet access right now - I don't have time to moderate, so if the discussion starts getting nasty I'll just close the thread.

One thing that struck me walking around downtown Montreal yesterday evening around 6:00 p.m. - in contrast to Ottawa, I saw lots of people riding Bixi bikes. And using the tried-and-true empirical strategy of asking my taxi driver, I learned that Bixi bikes have actually made a difference to the number of people taking taxis here.

But as I walked past three Bixi depots in a row with no bikes in them, it occurred to me that there's one huge difference between a bike share and public transit: because bikes are much more rival, the marginal cost of an additional Bixi bike user is much higher than the marginal cost of an additional, say, metro user. When another person uses a metro, I can still get on. But that person who took the last Bixi bike prevented me from renting one.

I'm not sure that the rivalness of Bixi bikes is properly reflected in the pricing structure.

"I'm not sure that the rivalness of Bixi bikes is properly reflected in the pricing structure."

I one buy an annual Bixi pass, one is allowed 45 (it used to be 30) free minutes per trip. There is a charge for extra time. I would guess this is to address the rivalness issue.

Darren: "@Sandwichman, you might have better luck engaging people if you dialed down the attitude by about three notches."

Thanks for the unsolicited advice. I don't have any trouble engaging people and have no illusions about persuading people who disagree with me. So what's your point? What I say makes you uncomfortable so you want to discount it by attributing it to "attitude"? Well, my advice to you, sir, is to deal with your own discomfort and not project it onto others.


Bob Smith: “What's the basis for that comparison? In absolute dollars, maybe, but the proper comparison is on a per ride basis.”

I was thinking of all costs, including costs on a per ride basis. I was just going on personal experience where it costs next to nothing to ride a bike as compared with public transit or driving a car.

According to Wikipedia, the TTC’s operating cost was $1.45 billion and they have a ridership of 514 million passengers per year for a cost of $2.82 per ride. According to a Star article, Bixi’s operating costs in Toronto are $1.5 million and they have had a ridership 1.3 million trips since the launch in May 2011. Assuming it has been two years, the per ride cost is $2.3 per ride. I was expecting a bigger difference, but it is a small system with only 1000 bikes and it has just started up.

You may be right about the problem of theft and it’s not that I support this particular program. I just see travel in the Toronto area as a major problem and I believe in experimenting and trying out different solutions.


"Bob says, it was basically impossible to defend against Kenk."

True, on the other hand, the Paris experience suggests that even Bixi-type bikes will be stolen and/or vandalized. Surprisingly, Toronto's bixi system seems to be doing OK, although I wonder if that's a function of it being concentrated in the relatively dense downtown core. Or maybe they learned from the Paris experience in designing more rugged locking systems.

ML: "According to Wikipedia, the TTC’s operating cost was $1.45 billion and they have a ridership of 514 million passengers per year for a cost of $2.82 per ride. According to a Star article, Bixi’s operating costs in Toronto are $1.5 million and they have had a ridership 1.3 million trips since the launch in May 2011. Assuming it has been two years, the per ride cost is $2.3 per ride. I was expecting a bigger difference, but it is a small system with only 1000 bikes and it has just started up."

Right, but the fact that it's starting up, in this instance, actually works in Bixis favour. For reasons of both politics and public policy, the TTC serves a vast area of relatively sparsely populated city. A noon bus running throught the wastelands of Etobicoke (but I repeat myself) costs the same to run as the bus running through the city core, but likely serves a fraction of the number of people. Moreover, a TTC "ride" could include a trip from Scarborough in one end to Etobicoke on the other (not that its clear why one would want to take that trip). The nature of the bixi system is that its trips are going to be much shorter. So when you're looking at the TTC's per-ride operating cost, you're looking at an average of high cost suburban routes and low cost downtown ones, and cost that includes "long" rides and "short" rides. Bixi only serves the downtown core (Bathurst to Parliament, and the lake to Bloor), and it's rides are inherently shorter. So if you're comparing per ride cost, you have to compare like with like.

I'm all for experimenting (though I'm happy to let Montreal do the experimenting for us, let's free ride on their research), but if we're going to experiement, we have to crically assess the results on a proper oranges-to-oranges basis.

Subwayman: "This thread is done. Stick a fork in it." - May 30, 2013 at 08:01 PM

Frances,

My boyfriend lives in Montreal, and the rivalness of Bixi bikes is a huge problem for him. His apartment is very small, and doesn't have space for a bike. Parking a bike on the street is not an option in his neighbourhood.

He's in Law School at McGill, working as an RA this summer. He has often tried to take a bike to work—only to find that all the parking spaces are full. He then has to spend quite a while going around to all the bike racks, trying to find an empty space. Then, on the way home, he has the same problem—everyone is doing the same commute, but they usually leave earlier or later than him.

Your post made me feel really uncomfortable, because I like the idea of bike shares. Dealing with parking for bikes is really annoying, but it would be great to be able to hop on a bike to go to a store, or the Byward Market, or work... but I already have a bus pass because I need it—I take the bus out to Centrepointe for work twice a week, and wouldn't have time to bike there—and Bixi doesn't exist there, anyway. Nor in Vanier, where I also work thrice a week.

I don't agree that bike shares are for the rich, though. Certainly, credit-card using class, so people with decent credit and jobs, not the poor. But Centretown and Lowertown are not posh neighbourhoods in Ottawa. And while downtown is certainly expensive in Toronto, I have a lot of relatively poor friends (couples with household income <$30000) l who live just outside of it and who love Bixi because they can have days where they get to travel around the city for little money & get exercise.

So I do feel that bike shares are awesome. And yet, I feel the truth in your arguments. It kinda pained me to read your article just because I have been supporting them. But I think you are right. Bixi has little effect on all the good things we want, but costs a lot of money, and has several large flaws.

I guess I'll go back to my long-standing arguments for a Land Value Tax, as that would have a real effect on eliminating the subsidization of sprawl (instead, it would incentivize density, allowing more land for nature and everyone), and thus would reduce the dependency on cars and transit. And, instead of opening the public purse, this would be revenue-neutral, replacing our silly property tax. We would get more effect for no money! Combine that with a carbon tax, and make people who drive on the roads pay for them, and you'll get much nicer cities. Of course, we should also get rid of public transit subsidization (it promotes sprawl).

(I'm a believer in Georgism; the land belongs to all, but your work belongs to you. We, of course, tax the opposite: if you have lots of undeveloped land, it's almost free; if you spend a lot of money to build an office tower, it's heavily taxed. Not only does that provide disincentives for development, but it is also morally perverse. Of course, the world has changed since Henry George, and I also believe that this should be complemented with sales taxes and maybe a small income tax).

Frances,

"because bikes are much more rival, the marginal cost of an additional Bixi bike user is much higher than the marginal cost of an additional, say, metro user."

On average, I don't think that's true. It's trivial to scale the system up and down. The stands are solar powered, perfectly modular, and require no infrastructure. I've seen them add racks in a few minutes. It doesn't seem very different to me than adding an additional bus to a route.

"But that person who took the last Bixi bike prevented me from renting one."

It's not really a hard constraint. The cost is usually a couple of hundred meter walk from one station to the next. But you do need the (free) Bixou app to tell you how many bikes/free racks are available at each stand.

"I'm not sure that the rivalness of Bixi bikes is properly reflected in the pricing structure."

What Ciceron says. The pricing structure is designed to keep the bikes in the racks. Over 45 minutes and you basically get a fine. That said, the stands in the core 500m X 500m are pretty well empty of bikes by 5:45pm. Though it's still no more than a 300m walk to get a bike, it's pretty clear that the Bixi fraction on outgoing bike paths drops precipitously around that time. But then, sometimes the buses are full too. Before 5:30 there are plenty of bikes.

"Surprisingly, Toronto's bixi system seems to be doing OK"

The Bixi frame is automatically bolted onto the rack. You'd have to cut a 5 inch wide piece of metal off the front of the frame to steal it. You cannot achieve that level of locking with a regular bike. Also, it locks in about one second, and it takes about 3 seconds to unlock it (if you have a key). No carrying and dealing with unwieldy locks.

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