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"No carrying and dealing with unwieldy locks."

"Unweildy locks"? I think you're making a big deal out of bike ownership problems that in my daily experience are quite trivial.

@Francis, perhaps we should triple the Bixi rental rate if you take the last bicycle from the rack :)

This post brought something forward that had been lurking in my subconscious, that the affinity of economists for blogging likely lies in the commonality whereby blogging and economics both seem to suffer from an arrogance that leads one to come to conclusions based on analyses that are far too simplistic to begin to even cover the topic at hand. I'm not meaning to pick on Frances here, all bloggers and economists seem guilty to one extent or another.

For example, in this post consider the 'ease' of dispensing with the notion that bike shares improve health by increasing physical activity because one study in one city noted that a majority of users are males between 25 and 44. Are we quite sure that men never benefit from increased physical activity? And what about the minority of users who aren't men (women, presumably), even if not a majority, there are still lots of them. And are we sure that the results of the study are accurate, and if accurate will remain that way over time, and are we sure it is the same on different places. etc.

And all those questions, any one of which might sway the 'economicity' of the program depending on our answer, all stem from just one point which was 'easily dispensed with'.

Once we try to enumerate all the layers of uncertainty surrounding all the possible benefits and costs, positive and negative externalities, network effects, infant industry questions, natural monopolies, 'irrational' behaviours, signalling effects, political feasibility, etc. etc., surely it quickly becomes clear that the question of the economicity of the program is unknowable. Of course, it doesn't hurt to discuss it, as long as those doing the discussing keep in mind that the reality is that we'll all decide to support or oppose the bike share program based on our gut feel or instinct, and the arguments about economicity are just rationalizations that we employ to support our pre-existing positions.

No offense Declan, but you're guilty of the same crime of which you accuse Frances (and economists/bloggers) more generally - "arrogrance that leads one to come to conclusions based on analysis that are far too simplistic to being to even cover the topic at hand".

Of course the analysis is simplistic - it's a blog - not the Journal of Health Economics or the CJM. I suspect Frances' objective is to stimulate discussion for potential avenues of more substantive research. It's fair point to question France's reasons for dismissing the likely health benefits (I didn't follow her logic there). But I note that the subsequent discussion provided a better reason for suggesting that the health benefits are modest - namely that bike share programs don't significantly increase the use of bikes in daily travel - and some evidence to back it up. Moreover, one might also think that bike share programs aren't likely to have significant health effects if the people who use the bikes are likely to be the people who are already fit (i.e., people who ride bikes). Granted, those are only theories which can be proven or disproven (not by me), albeit reasoned and not facially ridiculous theories, but that's the starting point for any evidence-based policy discussion.

To suggest that the "economicity" of a program is unknowable because the facts are complicated is to give the kiss of death to evidence-based public policy. Ironically, it's a call to precisely to make policy decisions based on gut-feel or instinct.

Declan: "Are we quite sure that men never benefit from increased physical activity?"

This was not the point of Frances' comment. I agree with her that the presumed health benefits can be easily dismissed. According to the research that was presented by other commenters, the typical renter is someone who is already physically active, young (under 50), and very unlikely to be either a smoker or significantly overweight. Since the primary benefits of cycling are cardiovascular, the marginal reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease is negligible for that population, if not zero. If there is a serious argument being made about using scarce funds to make the greatest reduction in (for simplicity) cardiovascular disease risk, you would put it towards smoking cessation. (I'm not actually not sure how much lower we can go on that in the short term, but that's a separate question.)

Sure, there are plenty of variables in the story. But the evidence on effective allocation of money towards population health is out there and pretty clear.

What Shangwen said.

If the question is - are there health benefits? - the answer is probably yes. But there are health benefits to all sorts of things, for example, giving everyone a free pony. Or bicycle.

The question is ****how do the health benefits of this particular intervention stack up against the health benefits of other possible interventions*** for example, giving free bus tickets to seniors without driving licences to encourage them to get out of the house more often. Given that the users of Bixi bikes are already a fairly health demographic, I don't really see that there is a convincing case. At least, I'd like to see something more than handwaving.

Follow-up thought: if you want to discourage unhealthy behavior and maybe encourage more cycling, just up the rate of drunk driving convictions for low-income males. NPV>0. You can always spot those unlikely cyclists....

"No offense Declan, but you're guilty of the same crime of which you accuse Frances (and economists/bloggers) more generally - "arrogrance that leads one to come to conclusions based on analysis that are far too simplistic to being to even cover the topic at hand". "

No offense taken, I wasn't trying to claim moral superiority, just expressing dismay at the futility of this mode of discourse.

"To suggest that the "economicity" of a program is unknowable because the facts are complicated is to give the kiss of death to evidence-based public policy."

Not entirely, there are other cases (such as banning lead) where the evidence is clear, but I think sometimes believing we have evidence just gives us a false sense of security (arrogance) which leads to worse decisions than we would make if weren't sure we had the 'right' evidence based answer.

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