Bikes-For-Hire and the British Coastline

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Mar 8, 2011    •    574 Views

London’s new bikes-for-hire program is about more than bikes.

Launched this summer, the program had to solve a mismatch between supply and demand. In certain places there were too few bikes for the number of people who wanted them. In other spots, the number of racks for dropping them off was inadequate. Checking the stats, one blogger cited the impact of weather and holidays on bike usage.

Also, the environmental impact was tough to assess. Seeing the trailers being used to transfer empty bikes to busier docks, concern developed that many were not attached to electricity-powered vehicles. Cutting emissions would be difficult because most people left mass transport to use bikes. The goal was to get them to stop using their cars.

Meanwhile, London’s planners, recognizing a potential tragedy of the commons, sought to avoid thefts and vandalism by buying heavy, 23kg, bikes and using a “complex system of keys and passcodes.

Finally, one transport economist said that the bikes were solving the wrong problem. People had enough bikes. Citing the lack of safe bike lanes, he said, “It’s just that people are afraid to use them.”

A last thought–is London’s health insurance program involved if no helmets are provided?

The Economic Lesson

Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot could tell us how bikes-for-hire take us to the British coastline.

Dr. Mandelbrot was the father of fractal geometry and the idea that the closer you look, the more you see. From a distance, the British coastline will appear straight. However, looking closer and closer increasingly reveals indents and zigzags. Consequently, Dr. Mandelbrot believed that it was actually much longer and even infinite. The significance? Something we might think is simple is really complex.

Perhaps many government programs, including bikes-for-hire, take us to the British coastline.


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