In light of the criticism they received, Reason's Nick Gillespie has a new post defending their attack on Capital Bikeshare's subsidies as wasteful assistance to the well off.
He tries to distances himself from the deceptive implications that Kennedy made when she claimed that the subsidies were meant to "address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment." Deceptive because that made up only a small portion of the total subsidies given so far and the program that was to be funded by that money hasn't started yet. Will Somner of the CityPaper charitably called that "cheeky", to which Gillespie only replies:
Cheeky isn't the word I'd use.
OK, so what word would you use for something so obviously deceptive? I'd call it lying.
Am I alone in finding it telling that he places this bit of criticism - the most stinging in my opinion - at the end of his defence. And he never responds to the accusation that they're being deceptive except to say that he'll be glad to check in on the program next year to see how much things have changed. How about running a correction on the previous story? Wouldn't it be good journalism to note this fact? But Gillespie sees nothing wrong with it.
He equally brushes aside legitimate criticism that the other pillar of their report - the survey - is highly unscientific.
according to Bikeshare's own survey (which some defenders of the program point out relies on web replies, is self-selecting, uses months-old data, etc.) that zero percent of current users have only a high school diploma.
That isn't just a parenthetical. It is a critical point. The survey is limited in these ways and in that the survey is only of long-term members, not daily members, which may represent a very different group of people. To state these concerns, without replying to them, and then continuing to use the data is irresponsible at best.
But even if we let that go and focus on what Gillespie sees as the thesis, things don't get any better.
The video makes the bold and apparently novel argument that while biking is fun and wonderful and all kinds of awesome, there is no good goddamn reason that cash-strapped taxpayers should be subsidizing the preferences of elites.
Well, "argument" is probably too strong a statement. I would call it a "claim" because it is never one they pursue. They never ask Chris Holben and they never look at reasons for the subsidy. If they did, they'd see that there is a very good goddamn reason to subsidize CaBi.
Primarily it can be summed up as this: the cost of the subsidy to Capital Bikeshare is exceeded by the benefits of the subsidy.
Capital bikeshare has caused a mode shift in transportation toward more biking.* That is a mode shift from dirtier and noisier forms like driving, taxis, buses and even rail; and, with the exception of walking, from more sedentary modes. In so doing it has helped to reduce congestion and freed up parking (or land previously needed for parking). It has also increased transportation options, enabling trips that previously weren't deemed worthwhile. According to estimates that MWCOG submitted with their TIGER II application, these benefits are worth about $1.50 per mile, meaning that we've already reaped about $3,000,000 in external benefits from the program and should continue to do so for some time. And since CaBi is earning a small profit on operations, even the real cost of the program is less than the $16M in subsidies that Gillespie cites.
To put this into the sense of an equation, if A is the subsidy, B is the external benefits that exist because of the subsidy and C is the benefits that users gain because of the subsidy. The good reason for the subsidy is that A < B + C and the even better reason is that A < B. With the latter almost surely being true.
Gillespie's logical fallacy lies in pretending that the only beneficiaries of bikesharing are the users. That isn't true.
And this is really the flip-side of DeBonis' point that "Taxpayers subsidize every mode of transportation in some measure." Not only do we subsidize every mode directly, but by not charging for air, water and sound pollution; contributions to global warming; storm water runoff; resource consumption; congestion; while using eminent domain, creating parking minimums, providing for an insurance/legal system that transfers crash damage liability from users and exempting gasoline from the sales tax we provide real subsidies that are 20 to 30 times as large as the direct ones. Capital Bikeshare doesn't need any of those subsidies, so on a user by user, mile by mile or trip by trip basis, Captial Bikeshare is a total bargain.
In a sense what DeBonis is saying is we're going to pay people to travel no matter which mode they take, if we can pay people $1 to bike, and keep from paying them $5 to drive, then that is the better choice.
Gillespie would prefer to ignore the reality of that choice. He writes with sarcasm:
it is a red herring to point out that the folks using a tax-subsidized program could afford to pay for it on their own.
Yes, in that it's an trivial observation that ignores the critical question of who will provide it.
First of all, users ARE paying for it on their own . In the first year, the system turned a profit on operations and it has continued to net revenue above costs - that's without considering the external benefits listed above. When you consider those, the taxpayer is getting quite a bit for their dollar. And users are "paying" even more for the system with reduced pollution and congestion and lowered healthcare costs.
But if not for the government subsidy, no company would move into the market on its own, and I say this because no one has. Businesses can't pay stockholders with cleaner water, and the operation of bikesharing doesn't make enough of a ROI in cash to attract business owners. While there are private companies doing this, it's paid for with advertising revenue from free use of the public space. They'd be just as happy to put ads on the streets without bike-sharing systems attached. The right to advertise is the subsidy. So the reality of the situation is that no business will move into the market without a subsidy, which is the response to one of his later questions.
if you can afford to rent a bike, why not do so on your own dime?
Because no private company will provide you the option. In order for a private business to make enough money to make it worth the risk, they'd need to charge so high a rate that it would drive users to one of their other options - the other subsidized transportation options that DeBonis mentioned. That's another reason the "everything is subsidized" point is relevant.
Gillespie also makes some crazy-wrong claims like the claim that few poor people will use Bikeshare "to get to and from work in an area known for some of the most unpredictable and disgusting weather on the Eastern Seaboard." I'm not sure it is known for that, but the claim ignores the fact that people already bike commute in DC, including poor people. And people bike commute on Capital Bikeshare. The time to make the argument that no one will bike to work in DC or no one will use CaBi to do so has passed. It's like he's still arguing that LeBron James doesn't have the toughness to win an NBA title. The question is already settled.
He also tries to cast support for the program as some sort of moral failing
I get that the folks above dig the program and don't mind commandeering some of our money to help them feel good about things.
Which is, of course, not the reason that anyone has said they support it, and is not the reason the program exists. In fact, as Kennedy did in her video, he continuously miscasts the purpose of the program and then attacks it, poorly, for not fulfilling that purpose.
But if we're going to spend a million bucks on subsidizing commutes for poor people, why not just buy them bikes?
Because, once again, providing bikes to poor people isn't the only goal of the program and even if it were, a helicopter drop of bicycles isn't a particularly cost effective method to meet the goals. The program so far has served more than 140,000 unique users. There is no way you can buy and maintain that many bikes for $16M.
He ends with a question that reveals his complete misunderstanding of economics
If even such a minor and fanciful outlay as subsidies for a bike-renting business elicit such pushback, is it any wonder that we're so fucking broke at all levels of government?
I don't think bikesharing, a profitable program with benefits to everyone in the community, is emblematic of the problems within our government's fiscal condition. Tax cuts that don't achieve the stated goals of paying for themselves, wars that cost a trillion dollars more than promised, and tax loopholes written by and for certain industries, with dubious benefits to taxpayers are far more accurate symbols. Whatever fiscal problems we have in this country, bikesharing - even when the start-up cost is subsidized - is not the cause. But it can be part of the solution.
*Before someone criticizes me for using the same survey I criticized Gillespie for, let me note that while I think the methodolgy probably skews the demographics, I doubt it skews the mode-shifting. At worst, the actual mode shift might be less pronounced, but it would be incredible if a complete accounting of users and their post-CaBi choices showed that they didn't bike more and use other modes less.