It has been widely reported that New York City’s City Bike needs millions of dollars to put the blue bike-share system back in the black. Hard hit by this long winter, equipment damage from Super Storm Sandy, and computer glitches that made it difficult for tourists to rent bikes for a day, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that the bailout won’t come from the wallets of New York City taxpayers.
“At this point, city budget money is not on the table,” he said. “We will collaborate with them to help them find ways to be more efficient and more effective.”
Some might applaud the well-known progressive for drawing the line in defense of tax payers, but given the amount of money coming from tax payers wallets for every other mode of transportation I hope the Mayor changes his mind. Citi Bike is the only bike-share system in the country that does not get any public funds. But it might also be the only transportation system in the country that relies entirely on user fees and sponsorship, every other system, from walking to transit to driving is subsidized by tax payers.
Despite the problems with the business model, Citi Bikes have become an integral part of the way New Yorkers get around and I think it is worth some investment of public funds to help them get over this hump. Streetsblog is reporting that Mayor de Blasio is hoping that Alta Bike Share, which runs Citi Bike, can find private money to fill the funding gap in the nation’s only large bike-share system not to get public funds. In the same article, writer John Petro makes the case for using public funds to save the immensely popular program given Citigroup already kicked in $41 million over 5 years to get naming rights.
“After all, the city subsidizes the East River Ferry, which averages 3,200 daily riders, but not Citi Bike, which was averaging 35,000 daily riders in November and consistently exceeded 10,000 daily rides in the winter. The approximately $2.5 million that goes to ferries could benefit more people if it was spent to bolster Citi Bike and expand it into working class neighborhoods.”
In that perspective, kicking in some public funds seems pretty reasonable to me, after all, despite what you often hear, virtually every transportation system is heavily subsidized by tax payers. I can’t count how many times I have had to refute the “people who ride bikes don’t pay for the roads” argument. I have repeatedly tried to debunk the myth that gas taxes and registration fees cover the cost of driving. Even the most conservative estimates show tax payers subsidize the cost of the automobile travel by 50% since 2007, as the chart below illustrates.
Further, Bixi and Citi Bike have simply joined the not-so-exclusive Unsustainable Transportation Club, that includes members like the Federal Highway Administration and the State of Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation. The Federal Highway Administration predicts our own national Highway Trust Fund will be in the red by August of this year: “Based on current spending and revenue trends, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund will encounter a shortfall before the end of fiscal year (FY) 2014.” Some state DOTs are estimating we could be in the red as early as June.
And what is the most likely solution to the Highway Trust Fund problem? Are our leaders looking for a sponsor or to raise user fees like the gas tax? Nope, even money says Washington will give the Highway Trust Fund a multi-billion dollar injection of public tax dollars from the general fund to keep it afloat. Don’t be shocked, this happens all the time at the federal level and even here in Wisconsin. After all, over the last wo budgets, Wisconsin has made similar transfers of hundreds of millions of tax dollars to supplement Over the next ten years in Wisconsin, the funding gap between our transportation funding sources and estimated costs of roadway repairs and maintenance varies between $2 billion and $18 billion.
There is a “devolution” move by a couple of Tea Party members to cut virtually everything from the FHA budget except funding for the interstate system, but that bill seems little more than a statement of principle. In the extremely unlikely event that U.S. Rep. Tom Graves & U.S. Sen. Mike Lee manage to pass their Transportation Empowerment Act in Washington, I will be willing to listen to user fee funding arguments, but until pigs learn to fly, we will have to accept a certain level of public subsidies for all our various modes of transportation, from driving to walking and everything in between.
So while I wish Alta Bikeshare good luck seeking new sponsors and rate increases above the 24-hour and weekly prices of $9.95 and $25 respectively, I would hope that NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will budget for a transfer of some public funds to keep the incredibly popular blue bikes from turning red. Or maybe they should turn red, since the equally popular red B-cycle systems in Madison and other cities seem to be on solid financial ground!
Last week Madison B-cycle kicked off its fourth year of operation with six new stations, 35 stations total, and 350 bikes There will also be new membership options that will be payable in monthly installments.