Public Dollars Going to Bike Sharing in Saint Louis?
Bike sharing is growing in popularity across the country. In cities like New York, Miami, Chicago, and Kansas City, bike sharing allows pedestrians to explore the urban landscape without having to use a car, public transportation, or walk. Right now, Great Rivers Greenway (supported by Saint Louis sales taxes) is spearheading a study on bringing a bike share program to Saint Louis.
The study estimates that the cost to implement bike sharing in Saint Louis would range from $12.4 million to $14.7 million over five years. However, they also want to be able to use federal and local taxes to fund the system. That is both unnecessary and unfair.
It is unnecessary because many bike share programs across the United States are funded almost entirely by users and private sponsors, including the Kansas City B-Cycle. Far from being controlled by the city in a top-down fashion, Kansas City residents have taken to crowdfunding bike share stands they want to use. That kind of bottom-up, voluntary approach not only is innovative but it means no one pays for the bike share who does not choose to.
Supporters of public subsidies for bike share make arguments very similar to those made for public transportation, such as reducing congestion and helping people without cars. But while transit’s main beneficiaries are commuters and the economically disadvantaged, bike share’s benefits mostly accrue to the well-off engaged in recreation. As we wrote previously:
A survey of riders using Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C., found that 95 percent of users held a college degree (56 percent had a masters or doctorate). As for income, 80 percent made more than $50,000 per year and 45 percent earned more than $100,000 per year. For perspective, per capita personal income in the district is about $45,000 and less than half of all residents have college degrees. . . . Furthermore, from data collected in Kansas City, we know that most riders use the bikes on the weekends in the downtown core. In short, a city-supported bike share uses public dollars to support the weekend excursions of highly educated, upper-middle-class residents.
Bike share programs are a great way for cities to provide residents and tourists with a fun and healthy way to see parts of town. However, residents should remember that spending public resources on bike shares is a subsidy to the wealthy and, thankfully, unnecessary.