July 17, 2008
Community Bikes in Arkansas

The U of Arkansas is starting a community bike program. Some details:

“Razorbikes” will allow university students, alumni and faculty to borrow at no charge and use 48 numbered bicycles, returning them to racks scattered around campus.

Associate transit director Mike Seither demonstrated the program Tuesday using seven pale green Pacific cruisers, which retail for about $ 120 each but were donated by Regions Bank as “seed bikes.” Razorback Transit workers will complete the supply by refurbishing bikes abandoned on residence hall racks at the end of each semester.

“Students buy bikes and they just leave them here when they’re gone,” Seither said. “The idea was to find a use for them rather than leaving them on a rack somewhere, taking up space.”

Eligible riders must sign up for the free program at the university’s parking offices after agreeing to safety rules. The four-digit lock codes are a combination of the bike’s registration number and a universal number, which will change every year to encourage new registrations.

A couple of observations. First, if students routinely abandon bikes at the end of semesters then it isn't obvious that there is a large unmet need for bicycles. Second, students need a code to unlock the bikes but, based on the article, it doesn't appear that checked out bikes will be associated with specific users. A user needs a code but apparently the code would be the same for all users; hence there does not seem to be a way to determine which person checked out a bike if the bike is damaged or not returned. My guess is that this program will fail like others that do not have a check out system that associates a specific person with a specific bike. Since the bikes are basically abandoned, except for the ones donated by the bank, a failed program won't produce a great loss.

Speaking of other programs, the same article mentions a couple of failed open access bike programs in Arkansas:

Bentonville began its program in 2005 using the Police Department’s growing collection of unclaimed stolen bikes. The city’s Parks Department painted the handlebars orange and stenciled them with “Bentonville” in black letters. Less than two weeks after workers placed 16 bikes on five designated racks, all but one were stolen.

In 1999, Little Rock made 15 flame-orange single-speeds available for public use, but about half of them disappeared. When park officials relaunched the program, riders were asked to leave their names and telephone numbers, sign a waiver saying they understood the bikes were public property, and return them.

The artilce also notes that Copenhagen's program, frequently hailed as a successful program, uses GPS chips to track bikes.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:43 AM in Economics

The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it. -Adam Smith

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