Disclosure: I’m not familiar with the BIXI business model, and I’ve got a bike, so I haven’t used the service.
In any event, evaluating the soundness of BIXI’s strategy and financial status isn’t really the point of this post. I’ve let the long-winded sanctimonious wankery slide of late, focusing instead on the short-hit, squirrel-on-crystal-meth model of the sibling blog over on tumblr, but a recent and typically thoughtful and well-reasoned post from Daren has prompted a return to the LWSW (oh, that’s nice — ed.).
It’s no secret that Toronto suffers from gridlock, poor or non-existent planning, outmoded urban design, and a transportation network that might have been appropriate decades ago in an era of cheap and plentiful oil. That it hasn’t been updated to reflect current realities isn’t news either. Simply put, it’s no longer possible to rely solely on private automobiles as our primary means of getting from place to place. The effects of congestion, pollution and the rising costs of energy make that obvious.
A thoughtful, rational, and sustainable approach to moving people and goods around quickly and affordably, therefore, has to account for a variety of needs, distances, purposes, and modes of transportation. That’s not just cars, but also cycling, walking, and public transit. Urban development and neighbourhood design need to consider that, as do the practice of planning and the renewal of public infrastructure.
A no-brainer, one would think. I’m not going to bring out all the arguments about cycling being a healthier choice and cardiovascular benefits and not burning carbon and not requiring huge amounts of space and parking and efficiency and yada yada yada. That’s all been done by smarter people and more committed cyclists. That encouraging cycling, as part of a well-thought-out transportation strategy, advances the public good ought to be self-evident by now.
Anyone bored or desperate enough to return here more than once will already know about this little corner’s fascination (monomaniacal obsession? — ed.) with the public good. One of the consistent themes in its discussion is a reluctance to evaluate it solely in terms of dollars and cents. And one of the most important overarching parameters is an insistence on framing things in terms of our identity as citizens, rather than as taxpayers or consumers of services. In brief, citizenship carries responsibilities and obligations as well as rights and entitlements.
It’s through that lens that we evaluate governance and the crafting of public policy, whether it’s at the national level or focused on local neighbourhoods. Simply put, public decisions must be evaluated in terms of how well they advance the public good. Our touchstone is achieving the greatest good for the greatest number. And it’s in that light that resource allocations and public priorities ought to be decided.
Specifically absent from these discussions, at least in this little corner, is any bloviating about the private sector. There’s an ideological bias about its inherent superiority that’s poisoned public discussion for far too long, and that’s been a natural consequence of evaluating everything in terms of dollars and cents. Public service and government don’t exist to make a profit or generate shareholder value or cement brand loyalty. They’re there to provide for public and social needs.
It’s hard to see how allowing rampant smog, congestion and gridlock advances the public good. It may generate short-term profits for certain private actors, but it costs everyone in terms of poor health, stress, lost time, and quality of life. Obviously, therefore, it’s in the public interest to encourage modes of transport that don’t contribute to smog, congestion and gridlock. That means using policy tools that facilitate the use of public transit, walking and cycling wherever appropriate, and those policy tools include investment in public infrastructure, road tolls, a pricing regime that reflects the real cost of parking and burning carbon, and yes, taxation and licensing fees.
And if it means public investment in services like BIXI, so be it. It’s a pittance compared to what our decades of reliance on private automobiles continues to cost us. As Toronto Council prepares to take control of the transit file from a mayoral administration that’s clearly not interested in governance, let alone sound policy, it needs to spare a thought for BIXI as well.
- Private sector dynamism versus public sector inefficiency
- @StrollCity Blinded by Bixi Bikes
- @Cityslikr, Riverdale Farm, and getting business out of government | #TOpoli #publicgood
- Running Government Like A Business or Family
- Video from Toronto #CriticalMass ride, July 29, 2011 | #bikeTO
- It’s time for Toronto to think bigger about bikes (theglobeandmail.com)
- Toronto’s BIXI program in financial trouble, report says (globalnews.ca)
- Toronto will ‘absolutely not’ subsidize BIXI bike share system, says Mayor Rob Ford (news.nationalpost.com)
- Bixi Toronto: City urged to take over financially struggling bike-share program (thestar.com)