Portland’s city Bureau of Transportation is about to award a contract to one of several companies for the operation of a city-wide fleet of rental bikes. This excellent idea will save the city money, help promote clean air, assist people in staying healthy, reduce traffic congestion, and increase “eyes on the street” to help law enforcement. Here’s why:
1. Riders. Bike sharing is an innovative individual system of public transportation. Every mile ridden on a bike is one less mile traveled for a gas powered vehicle. Cuba jumped on the bike bandwagon in the 90’s and met some resistance. Cuba has now targeted well-to-do people to ride bikes on commutes of less than 5K. The reason for the earlier failed attempts to get people to ride bikes were complaints about heat, arriving exhausted, rain, lack of bikes, and pollution problems when riding near gasoline or diesel powered vehicles. Since none of these issues has yet to be solved, biking in Cuba is still in its infancy. Portland hopes to overcome these obstacles through education programs. The city that works can get enough riders for this program to succeed.
2. Theft. Everyone dismisses these programs due to the high incidence of theft. Portland can solve this problem by designing the bikes so that no one would want them. Ideas that have proven successful are solid rubber tires, only 1 gear, coaster brake only, and an ugly paint job. Some communities have placed electronic chips on the bikes so they can be tracked and recovered if stolen. Also, if the bike rental program is introduced with some sense of community and ownership, theft is likely to be reduced to a sustainable level.
3. Maintenance. As one could surmise, bikes ridden each and every day by a variety of people will need constant maintenance. Some towns have placed ads on the bikes and used that money for repairs and maintenance. None have succeeded thus far. However, don’t sell Portland short. We have many businesses in the heart of town that would be willing to pay a lot to have their message emblazoned on a rental bike. Other thoughts are to hire out-of-work teens to do the maintenance. Towns that have tried this have also failed, as most teens are ill-equipped to fix much of anything, and training costs ballooned. The teens were often late or absent from work, too, so the bike repairs were not done on time. However, don’t sell Portland’s teens short. They have risen to the challenge many times before and when called on can do so again.
4. Liability. What if someone on a rental bike gets hit or hits someone else? Who is responsible? What if the bike is not maintained properly and someone gets injured because of that? Who will pay? Sadly, most towns have not figured this one out yet. One way is to make sure the entity renting the bikes doesn’t own anything that could be taken in a law suit. Portland hasn’t’ solved this problem, but no one else has either, so it is no reason not to move ahead with the program.
5. Costs. Not one bike share program has ever made any money. But money is not the issue. Saving the environment is and no price is too steep to pay for that. Portland has plenty of money in its budget to cover this program.
6. Eyes. The more people ride bikes the more they see. The more they see the more they can report. All should be encouraged to help our city police department by calling in when they see suspicious activity. This is simply an added benefit, but one that should not be discounted.
This program will work. Portland is not like other cities. Things really are different here and we must all work together to hope and pray that this program succeeds, as I believe it will.