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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Socialism in Action: Part 1

Bike Sharing

The main tenet of American conservatism seems to be that it is a tonic against the evils of socialism. Only unbridled, unchecked, and unregulated capitalism can keep us from the horrors of actually trying to build certain elements of our society collectively. They invoke the words of Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, and even goofball Ayn Rand to tell us of the sort of paradise that can only be accomplished through competition in the market place. Ask them to point to an example of this sort of paradise and they stutter and cough and change the subject and eventually call you a socialist. I could point to many societies here in Europe that I think the United States should emulate, at least in many ways. Let’s start right here in Valencia and our new bike share program.

What could be more socialist than a system of bike sharing for an entire city? At 18€ a year it would be hard to find a more democratic price for this program in which users can get a bicycle from one of hundreds of stations around town and ride it for 30 minutes. If they need more time riders can simply dock their bike at a station and take another one for another 30 minutes, and on and on all day, every day. As it turns out Valencia’s bike share system, called Valenbisi, is mostly a private operation run by JCDecaux, a leading outdoor advertising firm.  The city actually makes money on the system in exchange for granting advertising contracts to JCDecaux.

I am an extremely satisfied user of the system and can tell you that if this is socialism then give me more. I think it is one of the truly great ideas in urban transportation. That word “urban” scares the shit out of many American conservatives because they cull their ranks mostly from folks who have never lived in a city. I have stated before that city life in itself promotes a sense of cooperation not generally found in the suburbs. A bike share program wouldn’t make sense for many red state people where suburban driving distances are too great to effect on a bike. Too bad for them.

As is the case with so many other things in Europe dealing with socialism, it is a mix of capitalism and socialism.  The end result is hard to dispute. The Valenbisi system is truly a marvel of urban transportation using 19th century technology mixed with a high-tech infrastructure. 

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