Bike Shares Used to be Free

Paris with an E-P3: Velibs at Eifell Tower

Velib in Paris

Been thinking about an editorial about bike shares for a while. Having seen Boris Bikes, ridden Velibs all over Paris last year and just participated in one at SXSW with Tern Bicycles. Of course, they’re popping up everywhere, including Portland, and not without the expected big-money-politics controversies.

A rival bidder is trying to put the brakes on Chicago’s plan to launch the nation’s largest bike sharing program — by claiming the path was greased for an Oregon company where Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s transportation commissioner once worked.

Inevitable that bikes and politics in Chicago would result in, well, politics. Then last night a post on Oregon Live by samoht1 popped up in my news reader.*

The City Of Portland is currently soliciting bids to start a Bike Share program with about $2 million dollars available in Federal monies and help from the city..I find fault with this and will submit to My Oregon why in the very near future..Watch for it..

Watching for it I am!

Cause samoht1 said

Getting bikes was easy..The word went out we wanted bikes and hundreds of wonderful Portland people responded with a donation..Bikes galore flooded in..Bikes that were in garages,sheds, basements, and other forgotten spots found there way to us. They had not been pedaled for years but still able to provide a ride…We contacted non profits like Goodwill, St. Vincent DePaul, Police departments and others..We found out thousands of bikes were going to scrap iron piles and melted down and recycled..The Thrift stores had no bike mechanics and if one came in needing work or just a flat fixed it was scraped..We talked to them and they decided to donate them to us for free reuse.It must be noted we could not handle all the bikes..That’s how many are thrown away each year…Many people volunteered to fix the bikes and Multnomah County gave us a space to store and work on the bikes..We could not repair the bikes faster than they were coming in..I started using the Probation department ..People who needed to work off community service started to help..The whole thing turned into a big job..All free..After about 3 years we burned out on it..We had other things to do..By the time we shut the door we had put out about 2,500 bikes..It was a lot of fun but time to move on..Please remember these bikes were free..If someone took it home for use, so what..They probably needed it..You can not steal something that is free..We saved these bikes from the smelter pot and just gave them additional life as a bike..These were not expensive bikes as you can imagine but yet people thought someone taking one was a crime. It was not..We would rather have a crook take a Free Yellow Bike than yours..This was backed up with police statistics showing a decrease in bike thefts while we were operating the program..The project was about sharing with your neighbor and a bike the conduit…It was about recycling..It was about using a different mode of transportation..It was about neighbor to neighbor trust and community involvement…It was a wonderful sight to see when you place a bunch of Free Yellow Bikes out..I would sit back with a cup of coffee and watch them go..Many family’s did it as a family project..We provided the stickers and bikes if necessary..Many parents told me it was a unique experience doing as a family project and their kids enjoyed and learned about why to do it….

*Note: I don’t know samoht1 and haven’t verified the identify beyond seeing this post. But it seems the author is speaking truth to power. When I posted a link on Twitter, @smittyhoo responded with a mention of Yellow Bike Austin

Yellow Bike still exists in Austin, don’t put out bikes any more but u can build for free w\ time donation austinyellowbike.org


Yellow Bike Austin documentary

What do you think? Bike Shares are about lobbyists and government contracts now? All good? Should they run like Boris Bikes with a huge sponsor or like Velib where they went into it with a city-wide commitment. Is Mia Birk and Alta unstoppable?



3 Comments

Bike sharing shouldn’t be about big money, but it need not be free either. If the city chips in that’s nice (example Copenhagen, where already in the 90s you could retrieve a bike by simply slotting a coin in the lock like with a supermarket trolley, the coin was returned when you locked the bike again), maintenance can be a chance for the long-term unemployed. - If not, there are still schemes that work nicely with small money (example Düsseldorf’s Nextbike which is supported by advertising and costs a Euro per hour, I understand that’s roughly like Velib runs). A bike network totally run by volunteers as in the above example sounds lovely but is unlikely to succeed, the story ends, as above, when it runs out of volunteers.

Anarchic systems like Yellow Bike or the Dutch “borrowing” tradition haven’t been a total success. When Minneapolis was establishing the Nice Ride bikeshare, it specifically called out the failure of Yellow Bikes in the Twin Cities. And let’s not kid ourselves: Utrecht looks kind of cool with all those bikes, but it’s a lot of waste.

@smittyhoo is not entirely correct in saying that Austin Yellow Bike no longer releases libre yellow bikes. The focus of the organization has shifted from shared transportation to bicycle advocacy and maintenance training, but it still puts out bikes from time to time. In fact, I saw a group of recently released bikes on my street earlier this month. However, it is true that its emphasis has moved to a volunteer bike shop where the public can come in and learn how to work on their own bikes and volunteers restore bikes for a variety of purposes. I’ve volunteered with YBP, but I don’t speak for the organization.

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