Director of Government Reform
I have fond memories of riding my mountain bike in the hills of Busse Woods as a child. My godfather, Sean Costin, is an experimental bike designer and has set world records in racing recumbent bicycles. I even continue to watch the Tour de France in the post-Lance Armstrong era.
I love bikes.
But my love for bikes doesn’t trump my love for freedom or disdain for cronyism.
Buttressed by an $18 million federal grant, the city of Chicago will implement a bike-sharing program sometime in 2013 at an extraordinary cost to taxpayers.
Chicago recently signed a five-year contract with Alta Bicycle Share worth $65 million dollars. The goal is to open 400 bicycle sharing stations with 4,000 bikes across the city early next spring despite a projected budget shortfall of $298 million for fiscal year 2013.
It must be nice to be free of the responsibility of balancing a budget.
The Chicago Reader pointed out that the first-year cost of the program would come out to $28 million in combined subsidies from federal and local authorities. That's $9,600 per bike.
This doesn’t even include the rental costs of the bikes themselves, which will cost $7 per day, or $75 per year.
It should come as no surprise to those familiar with Chicago politics that the bidding process has been plagued by a lack of transparency and questions about insider dealing.
“Alta's bid for equipment, installation, and start-up costs came in at $21 million; Bike Chicago's was $13 million,” according to the Chicago Reader article.
Officials didn’t comment on why Alta’s bid was accepted but Bike Chicago’s wasn’t.
It must be a coincidence that Gabe Klein, Chicago’s Commissioner of Transportation, was a consultant for Alta before being appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011.
Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson has begun an inquiry into the deal.
Proponents of the bike sharing program tout the possibility of reducing congestion and air pollution in Chicago. But if it is such a good idea, why should we force strapped taxpayers to support it?
What’s next? A shoe-sharing project to promote walking and running? I probably shouldn’t give them any ideas.
Bike sharing is not a core government service, especially for a city with budget and pension deficits that demand immediate attention.
The taxpayer-funded program should be scrapped entirely. Let private companies that stand to profit from the venture take the risks of implementing such a system.
Crony capitalism is a spreading cancer, and Chicago’s bike-sharing program is yet another example of it.
Lest we politicize every area of human behavior, it is best to keep bikes free of politics.