Fairfax County Doesn’t Need Bikesharing

In today’s Washington Examiner, I noticed an article that said “bike sharing is on the horizon for Fairfax.” Oh no.

The 14th wealthiest county in the United States (which I live in) does not need a bikeshare program, and I say this as one of the poorer people in this county filled with government money.

Yet, our county government seems pretty bent on “wanting” bike sharing, I question whether we need bike sharing.

“The county definitely does want bike sharing,” said county spokeswoman Beth Francis. “We don’t have funding right now, but it’s definitely in the plans.”

I hope that, when we do have funding, there happens to be a lot of it lying around… because bikeshares lose money. Seriously, though, when the money is there, we should spend it on something marginally worthwhile, not subsidizing lunch bikes for rich people.

DCist, a very pro bikeshare blog, noted: “Regardless, even some cyclist advocates are doubtful that bike-sharing can work in such suburban outposts.”

Yeah, no shit. What, am I going to bike from Huntington to Reston? Why not put bike lanes on the FFX County Parkway? Even cyclist advocates are skeptical? Fairfax County doesn’t care! Fuck it, let’s do it anyway! It’ll be nice!

People are rightly skeptical that it would work in “the county” because bikeshare can’t even make money in Washington, D.C.! The Examiner quoted a bicycling enthusiast skeptic:

Bike Club Treasurer and Reston resident Ken Thompson member had more reservations.

“I can see it working well in a large metropolitan area, but I’m not sure how it would work here,” he said. “I think it’s too small.”

In U.S. News and World Report, this professor noted:

“I’m not aware of a bike sharing system that covers all of its costs simply from user membership dues and whatever fees you pay for a trip,” says John Pucher, professor at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

When asked for comment about why Capital Bikeshare wasn’t making money, D.C. Department of Transportation bikeshare project manager Josh Moskowitz said:

“It’s not our prerogative or priority to turn a profit. It’s to get people to ride bikes,”

Oh, great! Let’s get one of these for Fairfax ASAP. No program like it ever seems to break even, let alone make money, and those who run some of our regional programs don’t view that as a prerogative.

In short, even advocates admit it’s a money pit that just encourages people to ride bikes. Are you shitting me?

For full disclosure, I own two perfectly good bikes. Each cost me $100 or so at Walmart. I like biking, even though I hate cyclists who don’t follow the law.

A few thoughts:

1.) Is the goal to make the environment better? If so, bikeshares don’t seem to have a great record on that.

CEI’s Mark Scribner writes:

So if 90 percent of the 1 million trips made by Capital Bikeshare came from previous users of “green” transportation modes, why should we be so excited that the District Department of Transportation spent millions of dollars subsidizing bicycle use for mostly white-collar downtown office workers? Much of the initial Capital Bikeshare funding came from the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) grants. If the money was to be spent on “[auto] congestion mitigation” and “air quality improvement,” and assuming the [Montreal’s] BIXI mode-switching figures broadly hold in D.C., this was a clear misuse of federal funds. (Here’s FHWA’s CMAQ fact sheet.)

2.) Is it to help poor people get around? Bikeshares don’t fare too well in this department, either.

When DC started the program, it received $16 million in government support, including (as Reason magazine notes) $1 million to:

“address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment.”

Except that, according to Reason:

Capital Bikeshare’s latest user survey finds that 95 percent of its regular patrons have college degrees, 53 percent have a Masters or Ph.D., and 80 percent are white.

According to the American Community Survey, a full 52.3% of DC’s 25+ crowd have an associate’s degree or higher. In Fairfax County, that figure is 11% higher at 63.3%.

What reason(s) do I have to believe that Fairfax will have any lower use of this system by rich, educated people than Washington, D.C.? Great use of cash.

Hey, at least bikeshare bicycles make convenient getaway vehicles!

Bikeshares are a money pit, and Fairfax won’t see anywhere near the use that D.C. is seeing, and in D.C. it still isn’t breaking even. Plus, Fairfax lacks the interconnectivity that D.C. does, which means that a bikeshare program will likely fare even worse.

While I don’t support the following idea, it makes more sense than “investing” (read: losing money every year) in a bikeshare program.

So, I propose:

How about we get $1 million dollars and buy 10,000 bikes from Walmart and give them to the people we’d like to see biking (fat people, poor people without cars, etc.) — sure it’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars, but at least it isn’t a money pit.

Capital Bikeshare says it has about 1,500 bikes — so we’d have 6.666 times times that many bikes! For a fraction of the cost!

In conclusion, bikeshare for Fairfax County is absolutely stupid. I’d be happier if they spent a million dollars buying 10,000 bikes and giving the damn things away. Even though I don’t really support that idea, at least it would save money in the long run relative to a bikeshare program.


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