[Wheeling/Dealing] Two weeks ago, City Weekly staff writer Eric Peterson wrote a story about the Salt Lake City Council considering a "bike share" program for residents. It would be modeled on successful programs in Paris, Barcelona and other European cities. Washington D.C. recently started up its own program, which allows people to pay a small fee to borrow a bike for short hops around town, then return it for another user.
Above: A bike sharing station in Seville, Spain. Note the debit-card unit next to each bike, where people slide a card to pay for the use of two wheels.
Eric blogged last week about Westminster College already doing something similar, on a smaller scale.
Yesterday, The Salt Lake Tribune hopped on with its own story about bicycle sharing networks and examined if one could take off in SLC. Reporter Derek Jensen pretty much focused on the notion that it wouldn't work. Based on past experience, naysayers said all the bikes would either fall apart for lack of maintenance or get stolen.
Sad. I don't mean to go all Commie on you here, but that story illustrates the vast difference between American and European sensibilities on public transportation and private ownership. Thanks to our ingrained sensibility of private ownership of everything in the U.S. we'll likely see a good idea worth testing fall flat. I'm convinced that one of the reasons bike sharing works so well in Europe is due to the general idea that societies work best when people accept a certain level of collective concern and ownership. It means we can all take a little chip out of air pollution and high gas prices by borrowing a bike, then returning it for others to share.
Europeans, whose cultures have evolved around shortages and difficulties (think Britain and France in World War II), as well as necessity for sophisticated mass transit (gasoline is around $8 a gallon in Switzerland right now) understand this.
We really don't have to horde or own everything ourselves in this country, do we? People with big vision could make this work, and it seems like a decent experiment in communal mentality, albeit on a very small scale. Wouldn't you love to see the bike sharing idea take hold here, just to prove it could succeed? (Holly Mullen)