The Dallas Morning News
We can see where this is headed: taxpayer subsidy, says David Blewett
There are two arguments to be made for Dallas’ bike-share program. The first is economic and the other is fantasy.
In late December, I wrote a column stating that Dallas’ bike-share program had relatively few customers and no model to achieve profitability. It was therefore doomed. I expected proponents of dockless bike sharing to make an economic rebuttal.
I was wrong.
Every argument advanced ignored the economics of bike sharing and focused on the fantasy of how great it will be. I heard how bikes would help us lose weight and clean our polluted air; that bike sharing would alleviate traffic jams and reduce congestion. Riding bikes saved trees. It was suggested that as we rented more bikes, we would get healthier as a society and our health care costs would go down. That all sounded great, but there was more. I even heard how bike sharing was a deciding factor for large corporations like Amazon moving to Dallas.
After considering these arguments, I have changed my mind and now see how dockless bike sharing can work. I see that I was focused in the wrong direction on business and revenue vs. expenses. I was not focused on magic.
Now, I love magic and I love bikes. But magic bikes? I had no idea magic bikes existed. Apparently, many of our urban problems can be solved with 20,000 bikes staged around the city and a few hundred people renting them every day. That’s super cool.
I should have seen it coming, though. These bikes have been multiplying like colorful magical rabbits. Green ones, yellow ones, silver and orange. They are everywhere. In parks, in rivers, in trees. They appear in the middle of the night with no obvious means of getting there. They are free for your first ride and only a dollar a ride after that. In January some were free the entire month. And everybody loves free.
These bikes even have the power to change words. Bikes are now called mobility tools. And blocked sidewalks are called easy access points. Abandoned bikes are called optimal availability
resources and bike litter is called progress.
We are told that the program is working and that the new generation of our city management planned on the chaos of having too many bikes so that we could gather data to better write future regulations. Magically.
The largest bike company in Dallas, LimeBike, was able to attract 70,000 riders over a six-month period. That number roughly matches the number of riders DART buses have each day. That’s cool. And at a dollar a ride, that’s $70,000 in revenue earned over a six-month period. So the bike companies will never need government grants or tax payer subsidies because — wait a minute — these numbers don’t make sense.
At $70,000, that’s $385 per day in revenue on approximately 10,000 bikes. That means only 3.8 percent of their bikes got rented one time per day. No wonder we see so many of these bikes lying around all over Dallas posing as modern art. No wonder the bike companies focus all their arguments on fantasies and illusions. There simply is no economic argument for dockless bike sharing.
Yet the bikes are here, and somebody paid big money to put them here. Proponents continue to twist reality and try to convince us bikes are integral to our public transportation system. They say users of public transportation need help for what they call the last mile from a bus stop to their home.
But DART bus riders pay about $1 per ride just like riders for bike share, and we taxpayers subsidize bus riders with an additional $5.85 for each ride. So, I think we can see where these bike guys are trying to take us. The only possible end game for the bike-share companies will be a taxpayer subsidy to whichever bike company receives the city contract.
The illusion of shiny happy people pedaling to and from their places of work or social activities is wonderful. I must admit, I secretly wish there were magic bikes that could solve our city’s traffic problems or deliver high paying Amazon jobs to our city center.
But reality says bikes are just bikes. There really aren’t any magic bikes. Nobody should be allowed to dump their bikes in our parks and sidewalks. And we taxpayers should not have to accept or pay for their litter. Even if they promise a variety of social benefits and that there’s nothing tricky up their sleeves.