June 21 2012
DC’s Biking Boondoggle
Vicki E. Alger
Who doesn’t like bikes? They’re fast. They’re fun. And, in a growing number of cities, they’re virtually “free.”
Thanks to $16 million in government subsidies to Capital Bikeshare—including a $1 million earmark to “address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment”—highly educated, well-to-do DC residents can bike to work or Dean and Deluca with ease. As Reason TV reports:
Capital Bikeshare, which rents bikes at more than 165 outdoor stations in the Washington D.C. area, serves highly educated and affluent whites. …The program is part of a recent explosion in taxpayer-subsidized bike rental services, which have also hit the streets of Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston , Denver, Boulder, Houston, Minneapolis, Broward, Madison, Omaha, San Antonio, and Des Moines. Capital Bikeshare’s latest user survey finds that 95 percent of its regular patrons have college degrees, 53 percent have a Masters or Ph.D., and 80 percent are white. Fully 0 percent have only a high school diploma and just 7 percent make less than $25,000 a year. More than 90 percent were employed and 14 percent reported they were college students, suggesting that very few welfare recipients are using the service. …Why are affluent, educated, and employed whites riding taxpayer-subsidized bikes?
Using the subsidy breakdowns Reason provides, along with Census poverty data, here’s how much each low-income person could receive instead if the government were truly interested in assisting their transportation needs, rather than the preferences of the affluent:
Location: Taxpayer Subsidy: Amount per Low-income Person:
DC $10.3 million $108
Montgomery County, MD $ 3.1 million $ 70
Arlington, VA $ 1.9 million $155
Alexandria, VA $ 600,000 $ 66
How about using those funds for transportation vouchers? With those amounts, low-income people looking for work could buy a basic bike if they wanted. Or they could purchase—or come close to purchasing—a $75 annual Capital Bikeshare membership (which should be discounted if necessary given all the taxpayer cash they’re getting). Why not offer people looking for work something similar to the $30 Metro Smart Student rail and bus pass for unlimited job-search related travel?
Nanny government does not know best—as this latest example of funneling taxpayer-funded subsidies to the affluent under the guise of helping the poor shows.