Monday, May 19, 2008

Sad. Wheels Off

[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)


  1. Communal mentality? In SLC? Are you sure you're talking about the right place?

  2. The other day, my wife observed as two teen-aged gangsta wanna be's hopped on a little girls bike and rode off with it, presumably to the nearest pawn shop. My wife yelled after them, they yelled back and just then, the little girl came outside to find that two ass faces had ridden off with her pink girlie bike.

    A while back, my own bike was stoled from my back porch. I came outside to ride to work to find the large chain that secured my bike lying in two pieces on the ground.

    A few nights ago, one of my best friend's bike was stolen from her back yard. It was hidden behind a partition wall. The thief simply walked into her back yard, hopped on and rode off. My friend is now out her main transport to work.

    This is but a small taste of SLC's "community mentality" pertaining to bikes.

  3. well put, holly. i think it is worth a go. i actually think it could work. i wouldn't be surprised if it didn't, though, because of the "mentality" foundations you spoke of. not too mention, there are simply a lot of jerks. regardless, it's still worth a go. jerks shouldn't stop progress.

    i have travelled europe, and even lived there for a while. some of the communal elements, like bike programs, were clearly evolved as compared to our system.

  4. More references to Europe concerning this bike program. Folks, we ain't Europe. We ain't like Europeans. The mentality of most Utahns are as far removed from Europe as is possible.

    There is no "community mentality" in America, and certainly not in Utah. Not on a broad scale, anyway. Our's, as Americans, is the "what's mine is mine and what's yours is yours", mentality. That's why great programs like the bike thing flourish in Europe while the same programs flounder here.

    I'd like to see the bike program enacted here in SLC whether it flies or not, just so I can see some of my tax dollars go to something that I actually support.

  5. When you scanned to pay the fee to use the bike it could charge you a deposit to cover the value of the bike then when you returned the bike you could scan again to get your deposit credited back? Might help deter thieves.

  6. That would certainly work for a certain population of the prospective bike users. But I wonder if enough users would have the available funds in order to take a hit like that every time they rented a bike.

    Demographics would be essential to this project. Organisers would need to know what kind of person would be intersted in such a thing. They'd need to know what kind of funds prospective users had. They'd need to know that most prospective users had debit cards, or better yet, credit cards available to them.

    Perhaps organisers should run a small pilot program in central SLC in order to access viability? Place a few bikes near SLC's main train station (front runner) and perhaps a few near certain TRAX stops.

    Just because I'm cynical doesn't mean that this couldn't work, right? I envision bike with flat tires, covered with sorry looking graffiti and tags. I see drunken savages riding around town on stolen bikes. I envision much vandalism. I am a pessimist and would very much like to be proven wrong.

  7. Whoever owns this blog, I would like to say that he has a great idea of choosing a topic.


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