If you read my idealistic screed A Panacea the other day, then you might have taken issue with my idea to give people tax credits for bicycle and bicycle-related purchases. Maybe you’re not into government meddling in daily life in that way, or you thought, quite rightly, that tax credits are completely unhelpful to people who can’t find the cash for the bike in the first place.
I have told the story, here and in the olden days on Red Kite Prayer, about a dozen times, Christmas morning 1980. I emerge from my bedroom in the hazy dawn and walk into the living room where a shiny new BMX bike stands in front of the tree. This is my Rosebud moment, a reference point for pure, innocent joy.
I wonder how many kids don’t get that moment.
Maybe (probably) I’m naive in believing that getting kids on bikes as early as possible is key in solving the problems I outlined in A Panacea, namely our epidemics of anxiety and depression, global warming, pollution generally, affordable transportation, and inequality.
The thing is, we have a national transportation policy. We have a Secretary of Transportation. The government offers tax incentives and research support for all sorts of initiatives, like the development of electric and self-driving cars. The papers fill with articles about the benefits of plug-in hybrids vs. hydrogen cell or other technologies. But the government’s involvement with cycling seems mainly limited to green-lighting pay-to-ride city bikes and infrastructure spending on bike lanes.
The flipside to yesterday’s piece on the emerging oligopoly in the bike industry is that the big players inside cycling have been trying, with very little effect, to grow the number of cyclists for years. Every one of them has an advocacy budget, but the scale at which cycling needs to be promoted in order to move the needle is likely beyond their scope. In the end, the industry is an internecine battle for market share, not new cyclists.
What I’m interested in is getting bicycles into the hands of absolutely everyone willing to ride one. So this week’s TCI Friday asks, what is your best idea to get bikes to people who can’t afford a bike? I am a long way from being a transportation policy wonk or an economist. I’m really only spit-balling, so spit-ball with me.