Bike sharing – wtf?!

Bad PR for bikes in the making.

Bad PR for bikes in the making.

I love bikes and promote their use to a point that drives my friends crazy. This doesn’t stop me from pointing out that not all bike-friendly government policies are created equal. My own city of Minneapolis is in the process of blowing an amazing amount of cash on a hugely bad idea.

Bike sharing is moronic to the point of causing involuntary seizures amongst the logical. I challenge anybody who isn’t a card carrying socialist to spell out a single redeming aspect of this plan. One of the great things about bikes is that they are cheap. A used bike is less than $50. Many bikes can be had for free and fixed up with a bit of elbow grease. Why does the government need to step in and provide a service that is easily attainable for anybody with a pulse? The system they’re proposing requires a credit card to use. Guess what? If you can qualify for a credit card you can probably already afford a bike. THIS SYSTEM DOES NOT NEED TO EXIST.

If bike access is a problem it would be cheaper to give out free bikes than build and support a bike share program. If you’re from Minneapolis write to our mayor and tell him that you oppose the bike sharing program as a biker. This kind of egregious government waste only makes it harder to sell valid and needed programs related to bicycle infrastructure. Stop wasting our money on “feel good” programs that accomplish nothing. If you need to feel morally superior go and slap a “Free Tibet” sticker on your car. While it won’t accomplish anything (just like the bike share program) at least you’re not wasting money in the process other than your own.


21 responses to “Bike sharing – wtf?!

  1. Here is a copy of my letter to the mayor:

    Hi, R.T.

    I’m writing to you as a bicycle commuter in opposition to the bike-share program in Minneapolis.

    Bike share programs have been an alarming failure in almost every city where attempted and is a solution to a non-existent problem. The barrier to entry in bike ownership is a myth as almost anybody who could qualify to “share” a bike under this program can certainly afford a used bike. All that this program will accomplish is the subsidization of bike thieves and bad PR for bike-related programs.

    Please do not erode the publics’ support for cycling as a form of transportation with the egregious waste that this program will result in. Use common sense and redirect those funds to separating car traffic from bikes…which is a proven and cost effective method of promoting a healthier/biking people.

    The bike share program is a proven boondoggle.


    -Tad Salyards (Mpls tax payer and daily bike commuter)

  2. I think there are also positive aspects of bike sharing programs although I agree, that something like that definitely shouldn’t be a prior campaign of city councils and e.g. good infrastructure and the promotion of positive aspects of cycling are much more effective.

    We do have a bike share program in Vienna, but it doesn’t work well because is not set up in a way that it could really reach the masses (the council itself doesn’t spend much money, it’s mainly supported by advertisement on the bikes). There are better examples in Paris and Barcelona, where such programs have basically started a bike culture (but there are also negative aspects such as vandalism and theft). A friend of mine in Barcelona even only started cycling because of it and is quite happy with it, but very unhappy with the missing bike infrastructure to go with it.

    The positive thing I see: people see bikes and that is a little bit of advertising itself – like “please ride me, it’s easy”. Many people never even get the idea that cycling is an option. If they try once it’s very likely that they will stick to it and shortly buy a bike themselves.

    On the other hand: I hardly ever use the bike share program in Vienna since the next station is too far away, because I have a bike myself and because the shared bikes are – to put it nicely – not very good. But every now and then I also use them (e.g. if my bike is at the mechanic or ride to the train station where I wouldn’t want to leave my bike for more days).

    But I completely agree that it would be cheaper and also more effective if they just give away cheap bikes and spend the rest of the money on infrastructure and promotions. It’s certainly not enough to start a halfhearted bike share program, that’s what I can tell for sure. All the best for convincing the people around you!

  3. This already failed in St. Paul about 15 years ago. I think the model was the store register have a penny, leave a penny model.

    Tad, I might just have to buy an Opa in honorary support of your rants. In the mean time, I hope that I can get one as a handout.

  4. It’s great to have you on the board, Anna. As a German speaker you’ve probably figured out that Minneapolis “Rad” actually refers to the German word for “wheel” or “bike” 🙂

    We’ll see if our mayor responds to my letter. He’s a fairly reasonable guy so I’ll not be totally surprised if he does.

  5. Hi Tad. Sure, that “Rad” caught my attention first :-). I quite like your blog and observations. It’s always interesting to see how cycling works elsewhere and what the correlations are.

  6. I was actually quite excited when I heard first heard about this program. I know that one of the bike programs that the study group was looking at was municipal bike sharing in Paris. I started reading about how that program was having to spend lots of money to replace or repair bikes. Then, over at the bike blog Bicycle Diaries, I read an interesting post that really changed my mind. Here’s the link:

  7. Something that is free has no value. It’s no real surprise that the Parisian model is failing. Paris also sees fit to have public employees to pick up dog poop (because dog owners don’t).

    It’s discouraging to see your own city getting snookered when share programs have such an awful track record.

  8. I have mixed feelings about the bike sharing system that’s been proposed by Mayor Daley in Chi-town (but lacks funding). One part of me agrees with you, especially since anyone who wants to ride a bike owns a bike. I can’t imagine people deciding to pick up a bike out of the blue and ride it around downtown, which seems like a death trap to those who aren’t used to cycling in it. Another part of me loves how it seems to be working in Paris and wonders if it would work here.

  9. Hi, Dottie.

    Please see Jolly’s link. It’s NOT working in Paris 😦

  10. Before getting worked up about the Velib program, it’s important to understand how the program functions and that one BBC online article and someone’s blog post may not be the entire picture.

    Regarding how the program functions – the city of Paris allows a vendor, the advertising company JCDecaux, to use outdoor advertising space in exchange for providing the Velib program. Velib actually costs taxpayers nothing.

    Also, according to PBS’ e-squared series, which includes an episode on Velib, bike ownership in Paris has (I believe) doubled since Velib was introduced. Presumably, people try Velib, discover they like riding a bike, and purchase one of their own.

    Lastly, in addition in reading about the alleged troubles Velib is having, I’ve also come across some accusations that this spate of negative publicity has originated largely from JCDecaux as the company tries to negotiate a better deal with the city of Paris.

    In conclusion, since Parisians are only paying a fee is they want to use Velib, the program is popular, has revitalized a cycling culture, and reports of it’s demise are somewhat in question, it seems premature to call Velib a failure – not just yet.

  11. Okay, great. The Velib program in Paris has a sponsor with deep pockets. Who pays for the Minneapolis bikes if they’re broken or stolen? Who pays for them originally?

    “Velib… has revitalized a cycling culture.” Really?

    I really do hope the program in Minneapolis works the way the proponents say that it will.

  12. I must say that I am exited about this program starting up in Mpls. While there are plenty of things that could go wrong in it’s implementation, I think it’s an opportunity to get more people on bikes that haven’t rode one since childhood. The more people you have on bikes the more pressure there is to create a better, more bike oriented infrastructure in this city.

    Judging by your use of Socialist as a four letter word, I’m wondering if you are still a little pissed that your man lost the last election. How has unregulated Capitalism been doing lately? But I digress.

    I like mayor Rybek’s willingness to get out and try stuff that moves us toward a more sustainable society. Stop and consider, what if this program works? What if people who were afraid of bikes or just didn’t know they existed, starting riding these bikes? What kind of city could Mpls. become, if bikes were giving greater importance than the car(vehicle of the 20th Century)? Maybe I am naive and overly optimistic, but I’m not afraid of a city where I can hop a bike at a moments notice. It’s real easy to cut things down and point out it’s potential flaws. If it’s coming, lets do our part to make sure it works.

  13. Hi, Spider.

    Thanks for your comments. Please don’t assume to know my political leanings. Truth be told, I voted for Obama, but that doesn’t mean I’m divorced from reality. I’m all for proper bike infrastructure, but bike sharing is not the way to go. Build the proper paths to make it safe to bike; that’s how to encourage new riders not by building yet another money hole that seems ignorant to the nature of man. Happy thoughts aren’t going to make this program work. I fear that it is doomed from the get go, but I’d love to be proven wrong.


  14. I lean so far left I’m like a two legged dog in a high wind. I also was very excited about the bike share program. It was only after hearing about other bike share programs that made me a doubter–I’m still not totally convinced that it will work the way it’s supposed to. Whereas, I’m completely convinced that dollars put into bicycle infrastructure will work (at least to get more people biking). I hate to be the other guy to Yehuda Moon…

  15. Sorry, I just had to put that jab in there. When I hear the word Socialist thrown around these days, it usually by one of my coworkers who wouldn’t know a Socialist from a hole in the ground. I don’t think this program goes all they way to Socialism.

    Is this bike sharing plan a risky venture? I honestly don’t know all the specifics, but I keep going back to “what if it does work?”. You say we need to build better infrastructure, and that is happening slowly. But at some point these paths are going to come into conflict with motor traffic interests. That’s when you’re gonna need the publics strong backing. If not, the “my way on the highway” folks are going to win. That’s what a successful bike sharing program can do. Put people on bikes and change their perspective, from the “car only” paradigm to one that is more bike centric. It’s hard to for people see things that way, if they aren’t on a bike regularly. That’s what this program aims to do. So I’m in.

  16. Completely unscientific evidence here, but I have been to Paris twice since the Velib program was instituted, and four times before. No question that the last two times I saw a lot more people on bikes, both Velib bikes and other bikes. However, I also saw several bikes on the Velib racks with parts missing, etc., and couldn’t actually rent one the one time I tried because the machine was broken. So it’s not an ideal system, and I understand a taxpayer’s reluctance to foot the bill. But I agree with spiderleg that getting people to try riding a bike is key. That is the barrier, at least in a city like Nashville. I guarantee if we build more bike paths, the only thing they’ll attract now is more joggers. Whereas if people could try a bike cheaply and without having to go to a specialty store where they might feel intimidated by their lack of knowledge about bikes, or if they could see that the city considers it a valid part of public transportation, we might get more riders.

  17. “Socialist” is the correct word. When people get something for free from the government, it’s properly known as socialism. That aside: For a better solution, look at what Austin, TX residents have done. Instead of involving government, a group of people got together, built bikes, painted them yellow, and put them on the street for anyone to use. Basically, a sign on the bike saying something like “please don’t steal me” is their security force. It’s all volunteer, not taxpayer funded, unlikely to piss off anyone. It’s against the rules to lock up the bikes or to repaint them, but there aren’t many other rules. The bikes come from a coop (built from cast-off bits) so there’s no up-front cost. Pretty cool.

    On a side note: What’s the author’s problem with fixed gear bikes? They work. I ride one when I don’t have the kid along with me, when additional safety measures are called for. Just curious.

  18. What’s my problem with fixed gear bikes? Well, I don’t have a problem with them per se, but their prevalence does say something interesting about our relationship with bikes. In countries where bikes are used daily as a basic form of transportation fenders, kickstands, and chain-guards (oh and brakes) are the norm. Here in the States all of these accessories have disappeared as bikes have been redefined as sporting equipment. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that fixies are so popular. It’s a logical progression of the American obsession with low weight/zero accessory bikes. Next thing you know we’ll start taking the seats off too. They’re far too heavy and not at all performance oriented  Fixies are highly impractical commuters. It’s a fad to be sure.

  19. Hi, biker in MPLS who stumbled across your blog. This post stuck out since you are on one had very interested in seeing more people use bikes for “boring” transport, yet you trash this system who’s goal is exactly that! Just because they are not doing it your way, does not mean it is bad.

    Specifically, I think you are missing some of the key features of this program, which are bike theft, bike storage, and bike maintenance all of which are eliminated with this program. That alone is worth $50 a year for me.

    If you want to look at failure, look at all the broken down “yellow bike” programs you noted. Volunteers don’t stay, bikes get trashed and stolen, and they all fail. And they play into the crunchy-granola-bike-coop stereotype which makes riding a bike an identity, rather than a convenient transit opportunity.

    Also, I have ridden the Vleb system in Paris, and from what I could see it was the best way to move about town. It was affordable and very easy after a few rides. Just check for flat tires and be on your way, from point A, to B, to C, to D, and back to A again. On 4 new bikes. It was heavenly.

    I would encourage you to revisit this on your blog, since this program has been such a success this year.

  20. Hi, Chris. Please see my most recent post. It seems that a little bit of crow eating is in order 🙂

    Let it never be said that I’m incapable of getting something wrong.


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