Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Ten thousand public bikes bloom in Manhattan

Later this summer, New York City city will roll out thousands of publicly-owned bikes parked at stations, spaced a few blocks apart across three boroughs, where visitors, workers, and neighborhood residents will be able to borrow a bike for short-term rentals.

Lots of other cities have already pioneered the bikesharing idea (even Houston, Texas managed to implement bikesharing before New York did, with a much smaller 3-station downtown network that opened this spring). With origins in Paris and Montreal, bikesharing has always had a tinge of utopian socialism to it, promoting the shared use of public property over privately-owned vehicles.

But it's a socialist idea that works brilliantly, thanks to mobile technology: users can use their smartphones to locate bikes and a station near their destination, while bikeshare managers can locate lost or broken bikes with GPS, and dynamically track which stations need more bikes due to high demand. Lots of new business startups seek to duplicate the same communistic idea of letting people share their private property (whether spare bedrooms or automobiles) in exchange for small rental payments. Bikesharing makes cycling in cities easier, cheaper, and more fun, resulting in more people riding bikes for short trips in the cities where it's been established.

Private property, it turns out, is a hassle to take care of. But new technology allows people to enjoy the communitarian benefits of shared property thanks to the capitalist accountability of credit card security deposits and rental payments.

New York City's state-owned bicycles wholeheartedly embrace this ironic marriage of utopian environmentalist socialism with hard-nosed capitalism. They've been named "Citi Bikes," after Citibank, which contributed a $41 million for the naming rights.

Wall Street quants riding to work like Maoist factory workers (although even Maoists own their own bikes) will do so astride bikes plastered with the Citibank logo, and pay at stations that prefer MasterCard, another corporate sponsor.

And so here is a photo, via Streetsblog, of three transportation policy wonks (from left: NYC Deputy Mayor Robert Steel, Alta Bikeshare CEO Alison Cohen, NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan) and three billionaires (Mayor Michael Bloomberg, MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, and Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit).

In a few more years, bikesharing stations will be as much a part of our stereotypical vision of the generic urban landscape as newsstands and bus shelters are today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Community property is hardly socialist or anti-capitalist. If the means to produce bicycles were owned by the state or if all bicycles were seized as public property then it would be socialist.