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Jones: Soaking the rich with free bike subsidies

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Posted: Monday, January 21, 2013 1:49 pm

A quick Google search yields no fewer than six bicycle rental shops with addresses in Phoenix, expanding the search to include neighboring cities brings the total to a couple dozen shops.

Considering the reviews these businesses have on the ratings website Yelp, people appear to be satisfied with the services they offer. However, if the city of Phoenix moves forward with its plan to implement a government-created bike-share program, it would probably behoove the employees of those shops to start looking for work in a different industry.

A government bike-share program, city officials argue, would be an environmentally-friendly way to reduce congestion. And, given today’s anemic economic recovery, the city of Phoenix suggests taxpayers “could” potentially not be burdened with bankrolling the idea. Toward that end, the city has expressed its intent to have private institutions submit bids to run a bike-share program with only minimal government oversight. A 100 percent privately-funded program is not likely, though, given the city’s own report, which cited 11 model cities that currently have bike-share programs — none operate without the benefit of taxpayer subsidies.

Are potential users of government bicycles not already riding bicycles because they lack a subsidy or the blessing of local government? Not likely. Consider the most recent survey of bike-share users from a similar program in Washington, D.C. According to Capital Bikeshare’s own statistics, 95 percent of its regular patrons have college degrees, and 53 percent have a master’s or doctorate. Absolutely none of the users have only a high school diploma and only 7 percent make less than $25,000 a year.

Capital Bike Share’s studies have concluded its users tend to be young, white, highly-educated males. Another bike-share program in St. Paul, Minn., boasts nearly identical demographic trends. All of this data begs the question: “Should the city of Phoenix be exhausting precious time and resources on an exotic government service for the affluent?”

Furthermore, should Phoenix go the way of the 11 other cities with bike-share programs and be forced to provide taxpayer subsidies, is Phoenix in a position financially to expand recreational services at a time when its pension funds are underfunded by $2 billion? If City Hall has money to burn, perhaps we should first consider retiring the 2-cent food tax that disproportionately impacts low-income families, or restore the 15 percent budget cut to the city’s police force.

Subsidies or not, Phoenix’s proposed bike-share program would arbitrarily pick the winners and losers in an emerging competitive market. Homegrown businesses will suddenly be faced with a decision to either compete with a government-backed monopoly or close shop. Given all the uncertainty of today’s economic climate, don’t we owe our intrepid entrepreneurs a little more deference and a little less gambling? Mayor Greg Stanton recently made headlines when he went on a “food stamp diet” to publicize perceived inadequacies of that federal program. Why then would he pursue a policy that would likely add a few more citizens to the food stamp rolls?

• A Phoenix native, Dan Jones is a graduate of Arizona State University and, as a Fulbright Scholar, is currently in Malaysia continuing his studies.

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