Tycoon's Pet Newspaper Thinks For-Profit Citi Bikes Are Socialism

"Just Buy a Bike!" the editors of the New York Observer encourage their readers today. That is, if you must ride a bike—and the only reason the Observer editors can think of that you might want to is "to feel morally superior"—you should not participate in the Citi Bike bike share program, inaugurated this week.

Bikes, they write, are "cheap" ("less than the price of dinner for two at some of the city’s finer dining establishments," which puts us at, what, $800ish?), and obviously you have enough room to store one in your townhouse.

The Observer objects to Citi Bike not because the bikes are hideous or dangerous—the editors mention, but shrug off, the possibility of "accidents involving goofy tourists," which for many New Yorkers is a plus—but because of... socialism. Yes! Citi Bike "represents another governmental incursion into the private marketplace." THE RED MENACE, slowly pedaling around every corner, in half-hour increments!

Okay, but. This is 180 degrees wrong. It is exactly backwards. Citi Bike, run by Alta Bicycle Share, is a for-profit business, and functions as a massive marketing campaign for Citi Bank (flashback to the Times in 2011: "The department said contractors also had to consult with city officials on all sponsorship plans, to avoid making the bikes into rolling advertisements." HEH). The city government has, essentially, sold some of its parking spaces to a private concern. It has reduced its "incursion."

And anyway, what private marketplace? The government is already "incurring" into the private transit marketplace by, uh, building roads that people can use for free, and owning parking spaces for which it levies artificially low rent, and refusing to charge market prices for the use of its roads. If anyone's receiving a huge city subsidy for their preferred mode of transportation, it's not the people driving the big blue bikes.

(So, I don't know: If I "feel superior to the rest of" New York while riding my Citi Bike, it might because I'm not suckling at the government teat like a car driver.)

What do The Editors want? The Observer thinks that instead of "impos[ing] its own solution," the government should "encourage business to develop creative solutions to gridlock." "Business" can't "solve" gridlock because gridlock is a problem of pricing a good—the road—over which the state has a monopoly. The government needs to "impose its own solution." The market solution (short of auctioning off all our roads) is to introduce a variable pricing model, like a congestion tax, that would internalize the previously external costs of gridlock. Attempts to introduce a tax or fees like this are routinely defeated, usually by politicians who represent people who drive cars.

(The "creative" solution would be to ban cars from New York City forever.)