This thing that wouldn't work is a success so let's stop wasting money on it.
Our old friend anti-bike activist Kathryn Papp of Alexandria is at it again [You may remember her from such popular opinions as "all bikes should be registered', "Capital bikeshare funding hurts libraries," "Bikesharing won't work in Alexandria" or "The bicycle lobby is out of control"]. This time she is arguing that Capital Bikeshare actually has worked in Alexandria and is, in fact, a success but that it's time to stop expanding it anyway until the city can
prove it will be fully paid for through private sector funding.
Correct the many violations of city ordinances, federal mandates, equity issues and lost civic trust that has resulted from deliberately evading and misleading residents and decision makers with deceptive information and surprise station placements.
What these violations, mandates and issues are are left unnamed. I have heard grumbling that one station was placed in a different place than where a public oversight board had approved it, but that that approval is not necessary, as they are just advisory - but perhaps someone can weigh in
Also, despite opening with the words "The success of Capital Bikeshare is a testament to the foresight of the U.S. Department of Transportation..." she ends by pointing out that it isn't really a success at all. I did not see that twist coming. Usually you don't undermine your own statements in an op-ed.
The clunky, heavy, ill-equipped bicycles that Bikeshare has unloaded on the city only hold back what could be and — in the face of climate change — should be a fully shared citywide activity.
Create a cycling program that benefits everyone, and one done in a cooperative spirit of excellence and fair play.
The op-ed is all over the place, but it appears that the thesis is that, despite the program's success, Alexandria should get out of Capital Bikeshare and into...a vague something else.
If Alexandria stops expanding CaBi then the City will be leaving money on the table. CaBi benefits from the network effect, such that each additional station adds value to the others, at least until the time you get to saturation (two stations next to one another don't do much unless the site is very busy), and no one - no even Papp - is arguing that we're there yet.
Demanding that it be paid for entirely through private sector funding is both unwise and, for Alexandria, impossible. The reason why almost every city in the world subsidizes bike-sharing (even NYC, where Citi Bike pays nothing to place it's stations on highly valuable Manhattan property) is because the positive externalities make it worthwhile. In it's TIGER II application, MWCOG identified a host of environmental, health, safety, access, travel time and travel cost benefits. People will pay for some of these benefits but not others. And so a privately run bikeshare company doesn't really make money on improving health or air quality or safety. But governments do. Those kinds of tragedy of the commons issues are exactly what government are supposed to deal with, and so for them - if these benefits are included - they're making money. For example, in the 2010 Tiger application, MWCOG estimated a total benefit from these things of about $1.20 per trip. The operations were subsidized $1.7 million in 2014 and there were nearly 3 million trips for a per trip subsidy of only 58 cents. So walking away from a program that returns ~60 cents in benefits every time someone uses is would be foolish.
The kind of program Papp seems to support isn't possible if we relied on nothing but private-sector financing. There just isn't enough money in city-wide bikesharing to make it profitable. Maybe you can make money by limiting to high traffic and high wealth areas, but then that limits the benefits to the city and it's residents while doing little to deal with equity issues. If you want a for-profit enterprise then they're going to want to make as much of a profit as possible, and that means bypassing poor neighborhoods, "break-even" stations, and marginal value things like $2 daily memberships. They aren't going to see transitioning customers into private bike ownership or increased transit use as a good thing. And as for a private sponsor, there are issues there too. Arlington law doesn't allow it last I heard, and no one has stepped forward to offer to be the sponsor. It's one thing to say they should do so, it's another to make it happen. It's not like the local governments that own CaBi haven't thought of this already.
So yeah, I'm dubious of Papp's claim to suddenly be supportive of cycling or bike sharing, and read this more as an effort to end Capital Bikeshare in Alexandria, which is a success despite claims that it would not work in Old Town.
[Below the fold I take the column apart piece by piece]