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Build Bridges, Not Walls (A Note On Bike Libraries vs Bike Subsidies)


Do you remember the first time you used Google? You went to a website, and there was nothing there except an empty text field. You typed in what you were looking for, and presto - there were your results. Magical. Simple. Today, there are roughly 6 billion Google searches done every day, almost one per living human being every day.


That was an example of a pretty general rule: When you want people to do more of a thing, it is really helpful if you make it easier to do that thing. Conversely, when you want people to do less of a thing, then go ahead and make it harder for them to do that thing.


Today, there is a surge of interest in getting people to move using ebikes and other small vehicles. They're healthy, they reduce traffic, they reduce air pollution, they require less public infrastructure than other transportation modes do, etc etc. We're all better off the more people use ebikes & their close vehicular relatives.


In this spirit, Congress is now considering the EBikes Act, which would create a tax credit for ebikes. It will no doubt get more people on ebikes, if it is passed. But, before we get too excited, let's all think about the user experience here, and who those users might be. In order to access this generous subsidy, all you have to do is get together a few thousand dollars, buy an ebike, keep the receipt, include the expense in the appropriate place the following year when you file your taxes, ... um, we are definitely not in Google-search land anymore.


Here's the user experience for someone using a bike library: Present your library card, take your bike.


A tax credit, or a rebate, or any other such system, keeps the work load down for the people who set up the system, but it pushes the work onto the user. That's not the Google-search formula. It is building walls, not bridges -- very well-intentioned, perhaps-sometimes-useful walls, but walls nonetheless. Particularly that part about needing to have the cash up front to buy the ebike; that one's a big, heavy wall.


As an analogy, if you wanted people to get outside and be able to run around, you could offer a tax rebate for people to buy a house with a big yard. Or, you could build a park for thousands of people to share. Who do you think will be able to use that tax rebate? Compare it to who can use that park. Buying a house is a bigger wall than buying a bike, but when you're talking about an ebike purchase price of several thousand dollars, both walls are going to keep a lot of people out.


Ebikes create public benefits. They reward the user, but they reward everyone else as well. Whether you are an employer who benefits from employees staying healthy and happy as ebike commuters; or an apartment operator who benefits from healthy, happy residents who don't need as much car parking; or a city that benefits in myriad ways from residents moving by ebike -- the point is the same: lay the groundwork, so more riders will ride. Bicyclists get along with bridges way better than they do with walls.


Speaking of making things easy: FreeBike can set it all up for you. Get in touch. Cheers!

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