The Downside of Bike-Sharing Programs

Greg Beato enumerates how American bike-sharing programs fall short of their Parisian counterparts. Until the program evolves some more, the autonomy afforded by the private car or bicycle will continue to prevail.
September 9, 2008, 1pm PDT | Judy Chang
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"In giving up some of the autonomy you'd enjoy if you simply rode your own bike, you get other significant benefits in return, right? Well, someday perhaps. One thing that makes bike-sharing programs attractive, in theory at least, is that the bikes aren't yours. Bike theft is rampant pretty much everywhere there are bikes, and secure places to lock your trusty steed, especially for hours at a time, are exceedingly rare.

Offloading the risk of theft to a bike-sharing program makes sense-but in the case of SmartBike D.C., there's only so much risk you can offload. When a bike is safely locked in a docking station, you aren't responsible for anything that happens to it. Unlike Paris, however, D.C.'s docking stations are far from ubiquitous and aren't likely to achieve that state any time soon. (And even in Paris, bike theft remains a problem. Approximately 3000 Velib bikes were stolen and another 3000 vandalized during the program's first year of operation-some Velib bikes have reportedly been spotted as far away as Casablanca.)

In the case of SmartBike, if you want to run an errand in a part of the city where there are no official docking stations-aka most parts of the city-you assume the liability when you lock up the bike. If someone steals it on your watch, you owe SmartBike $550. If someone vandalizes it, you owe SmartBike however much it decides to charge you for the necessary repairs."

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Published on Tuesday, September 9, 2008 in Reason Online
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