Major media have a habit of blowing bike-share problems out of proportion. Witness the 2009 BBC story that cast theft and vandalism as an existential threat to Velib in Paris. Five years later, Velib is still going strong. The most recent entry in the genre is Christopher Matthews’ misguided story on the Bixi bankruptcy in TIME. Headline: “Why America’s Grand Bike-Sharing Experiment Is Failing.”
The main mistake Matthews makes is to conflate Bixi’s troubles with the fate of American bike-share overall:
The question now is whether this is the beginning of the end for the bike-sharing experiments that have spread quickly across the U.S. So far, officials from various bike-sharing programs are saying no.
This is a poor way to frame the issue, for a few reasons. While Bixi is the dominant supplier in the American bike-share market, it is far from the only one. Medium-sized systems in Denver, Miami Beach, and Austin use equipment from other companies, so the Bixi bankruptcy doesn’t affect all U.S. bike-share systems.
The American bike-share operators that do use Bixi equipment will probably have serious logistical challenges on their hands, but there are reasons Matthews couldn’t find a single source to back up his doomsday scenario. Bixi itself relies on subcontractors to make most of its equipment and software. In a worst-case scenario where Bixi is broken up, those firms could be tapped to supply bike-share systems with components that integrate with existing equipment.
Matthews doesn’t mention any of these contingencies. He just keeps making the same unsupported claim:
Bixi hasn’t been able to operate profitably and is now owned by the City of Montreal — which only two years ago approved a whopping $108-million bailout package to keep the company afloat. That may call into question the long-term viability of these programs.