Seattle Bike Share Wobbly On Finances

Boise Greenbike is a bicycle rental in Boise, Idaho, USA.If Seattle’s bike-share scheme with costs estimated at about $2 million per year is any indicator of what the future offers in Boise, peddling public bikes will hit taxpayers in their cushioned seats.

Reporter Brier Dudley posted a well researched piece in the SEATTLE TIMES which offers a breakdown of per mile bike costs came out to about $13 per ride. He paints an alarming picture of insider trading and private vendors making cozy with local officials to secure long term contracts.

We need to create some oversight of the Boise system which seems to come under the purview of Valley Ride, the bus operator.

The GUARDIAN has talked with a PhD candidate in Dublin, Ireland who is working on a worldwide survey of bike share schemes including Paris, Copenhagen, London, and of course BOISE. He told us the majority of the schemes are based on a model of a private vendor securing financing and exclusive deals with municipalities.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. If the real cost of driving a car were paid through a gas tax alone, few people would drive many miles. A recent study said that a tax of $4.36 per gallon would be fair right now, and probably $7.62 per gallon in the near future. Alternatives to the car should be subsidized as long as we subsidize cars.


  2. But it’s such a cute idea… what’s a few million per year matter anyway. After all the money wasted on the bus and narrowed streets… who’s gonna notice.

  3. How can you possibly call yourself a reporter when you go out willy nilly and talk to experts? (“The GUARDIAN has talked with a PhD candidate in Dublin, Ireland”) I thought reporters were supposed to recycle news releases, not look into things.

  4. @ J Smith;

    thanks for the link, but it sounds like soft science to me. The proposed $4.36 gas tax is to offset the negative social impacts of those evil cars. The proposed gas tax was increased to help offset a lower rate of labor taxes which the author felt was more harmful to society. So he is taking the liberty to side step the purpose of the article to focus on the cost of cars and throw a bone to the workers party and suggest those who drive cars should pay some portion of the employment taxes of those who dont. A wealth transfer from car owners to bus riders.

    Study also suggest that more fuel efficient vehicles will increase the social costs of driving and justify even higher gas taxes???

    Really??? smaller cars, less pollution results in more social harm???

    The whole concept of the article is am expanded version of a carbon tax for those who hate cars, and the study suggests without cars we will have healthier pregnancies and babies? Really the author had to throw in the “think of children” heart string.

  5. I think green bikes downtown for tourists is a good idea and worth some CCDC or GBAD dollars to support; but the idea that public entities should pay for these bike stations around the valley as part of the daily transportation system for locals is a joke.

    If the green bike entrepreneur wants to invest their own money in these bike stations, then I would agree to provide public space and right of way for free, but the fixed and operating costs should be born by the entrepreneur and users, no need for tax money.

    At $4 per hour, go to Walmart and buy a bike for $50, 12-13 hours and you have broken even.

    I agree with Erico49, the Gaurdian is missing the official talking points that all alternative transportation efforts in Boise are stunning successes and great ideas.

  6. Yossarian_22
    Feb 19, 2016, 9:29 am

    If you pick on bikes, you have to pick on cars too. J. Smith is correct, cars have been subsidized from the very first day they laid down asphalt for them, specifically. We have erected a massive infrastructure for the auto. Freeways were sold as a Defense implement after WWII. So was the Internet.

    Now, Boise City obviously wants to have a uniform bike programs with shiny new bikes and racks, etc. I would have been ok with the City going to The Boise Bike Project and having them put together a fleet of refurbished bikes for use by the public. But that would have been a non starter….probably because of the sweet deals being conducted in the background.

  7. So ho much did St Luke’s spend to sponsor the bikes?

    When you make over $35 million a year in your hospital system it is hard to find enough places to spend your money. They try hard by building and expanding due to “public need”?

    If St Luke’s does not pay to play then the bikes go away.

  8. Nobody ever said the bikeshare program would make money.

    More importantly, why administer the program by Valley Ride?
    And is the project well run?

    Boise parks & rec would be much more appropriate place to deal with it.

    I do like seeing people actually using those bikes.

  9. jj’s point of “the costs should be borne by the entrepreneur and users, no need for tax money”

    While a valid point, if you apply that to lots of other things our society would not be where we are today.

    Encouraging people to get off their fat butts to exercise and trying to make that easier and affordable is a good thing, particularly now that we are all in the same health insurance pool.
    The real cost to society for NOT doing things such as bikes, parks, and trails is MUCH higher than paying for a fancy bike downtown.

  10. From the article about Seattle’s system… the budget problems have been caused by administrative costs plus overly optimistic projections about ridership and advertising sales.

    How does that compare with Boise’s effort, after the first year in operation? How many rides? What does the balance sheet look like, in early ’16? Inquiring minds want to know. I went to the website, but it doesn’t have much in the way of hard numbers. (The startup was paid using a federal grant… you know, from the federal government aka TAXPAYERS, who everybody knows are flush with surplus cash! /sarcasm)

    I’ve been an advocate of the program… as long as the ongoing operating costs can be recovered from system users and sponsors (no tax dollars). I’ve also been skeptical that they can do it – most Boise residents can afford a bicycle and somewhere to store it (unlike the Big City), and I don’t know if the tourist trade and occasional users can sustain it. I would LOVE to be proven wrong!

  11. JJ – Sorry you are confused, but the “externalities” of cars are huge, and are paid by society, wars, and environmental degradation. Our entire country is designed around the personal automobile, and our foreign policy dictated by it. Remember way back when GM bought up all the trolley lines and destroyed the tracks and cars to make us all car dependent? I’d tack the bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan debacle onto the gas tax too. We wouldn’t be trying to run the whole world if we didn’t have thirsty cars, while only producing 70% of the oil we use.
    As for more fuel efficient cars translating a higher gas tax, you must have missed the news headlines about Prius drivers driving a lot more miles than the normal driver. Yep, it’s true, the more fuel efficient the car, the more it is driven. This means more wear and tear on the roads and the whole infrastructure, but less fuel, so less tax money generated, hence, the taxes would need to be even higher.

    As to the comment about Walmart bikes being $50… First off, I’d say it has been a long time since you could buy a bike for $50, and, if you could, it wouldn’t last one month sitting outside all the time, and being heavily used. Cheap department store bikes are garbage. It costs at least $500 to get a bike that isn’t destined to be a garage queen, and even those wouldn’t last 6 months under the conditions of the bike program.

  12. JSmith, I am not confused, I just don’t think the idea that we can attach social costs to everything is an idea that is feasible, nor logical, and the model used by car-haters to apply a true cost of the car based on their belief of its social impacts is the same logic our politicians use to sell their pet ideas that don’t pencil.

    Obama-care was not to cost a penny, remember we were promised it would pay for itself by avoiding the social costs we incur from a portion of the population being uninsured and unhealthy. Now that Obama-care is actually costing billions a year and health exchanges are failing and closing, how did that work out?

    Politicians and activists dreamed up social cost accounting, when real accounting didn’t support their agenda.

    If we sum up the social costs of all our decisions (alcohol, tobacco, fast food, bio fuels, hydro plants, nuclear plants, coal plants, roads, cars, air conditioning, motorcycles, homes, cows destroying the ozone, air travel, soda pop, children, etc) we end up with a negative economic value added for the human race. So let’s save the planet and slit our wrists.

    A second issue, is even if we paid the true social costs of cars through gas taxes, you can not trust the government to properly manage those funds. The 1998 Tobacco Settlement Agreement is a prime example. Between 1998 and 2010 States collected $244 Billion dollars from the tobacco industry, and per the settlement the funds were to be used for the social costs of tobacco, mainly help fund medicaid and anti-smoking education. A report by the CDC in 2010 concluded that only 2.4% of the funds was being used for the intended purpose of the settlement, the remainder was put into state’s general funds for a variety of unrelated programs.

    To bring it back to the topic of green bikes…. the argument for public funding of these bikes (and other alternative transportation) is such programs are worthy investments of public funds (our taxes) because the community gets a return on our investment since these options provide for a healthier population which results in cost avoidance. But the math behind these arguments rarely works out, which is why all the consultants use forecasts and assumptions, because they lack actual examples where the promised benefits have been realized.

    As an aside, what is the social costs of bikers burning their feces in the foothills and starting wildfires? Is it the bike or act of defecation we should be taxing to fund our wildfire programs?

  13. JJ – In Europe, they taxed gasoline heavily, and their cities are compact. In America, we encouraged sprawl by not charging the real cost of gasoline and we ended up sprawled all across the landscape. When gas prices soared, some folks couldn’t afford the gas to get to their distant jobs. We’ve really screwed up. The flying cars never arrived, the “too cheap to meter” nuclear power was a lie. The hydrogen economy, biofuel savior, and “Saudi America” have all turned out to be illusions. So here we sit, with oil companies dropping dead at an alarming rate, just waiting for the next oil crisis, all because we subsidized gasoline and created a country that will cannot function without cheap oil. It is really too late to do anything about it because the era of expanding energy supplies is over and we are saddled with a massive infrastructure that won’t work going forward. We will probably have cheap gas for a little longer, then slide into gas rationing, and then no gas at all.

  14. I-35W Bridge
    Feb 25, 2016, 10:28 pm

    Isn’t there many many bridges they could be spending this wasted money on?


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