Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Capital Bikeshare: an earmark for rich white people?

Reason magazine -- associated with the Cato Institute -- recently declared Capital Bikeshare a subsidy for rich white folks.
Capital Bikeshare, which rents bikes at more than 165 outdoor stations in the Washington D.C. area, serves highly educated and affluent whites.
There's nothing wrong with that, of course, except that the program has received $16 million in government subsidies, including over $1 million specifically earmarked to "address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment."
I'm no expert on Capital Bikeshare, but just based on a few perused articles I've read in the past and the Reason video, it's reasonable to conclude that the direct-effect of bike sharing has done little for DC area poor.  If one is going to evaluate it on that basis alone then indeed, it's a boondoggle.

But if we're going to ask ourselves ...
Why are affluent, educated, and employed whites riding taxpayer-subsidized bikes?
... in the greater context of whether a transportation subsidy is worthwhile, then it seems appropriate to evaluate it in the context of other subsidized transportation which would include driving, public transportation, and just about anything that comes to mind.  For instance, consider the subsidy to driving ...
Economists have long criticized the current system of roadway pricing, contending user fees should be structured so that different classes of vehicles would pay their respective costs. One such study found that single-unit trucks weighing more than 50,000 pounds contribute in user fees only 40 percent of the estimated costs of their use. Autos contribute 70 percent of their costs; pickup trucks and vans, 90 percent; and single-unit trucks weighing less than 25,000 pounds contribute 150 percent of their costs through the taxes and fees they pay.
If you think the important question is whether we should subsidize bike share or -- in the context of the Reason video -- if you think that we shouldn't subsidize rich white folks, then it may be the case that subsidizing rich white folks to ride bikes might reduce the subsidy they receive when driving.

1 comment:

  1. Another comment on this issue, perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek (note the publication date...