Sent: Tuesday, March 08, 2011 9:41 PM
To: Rep. Peggy Wilson; Rep. Lance Pruitt; Rep. Eric Feige; Rep. Craig Johnson; Rep. Cathy Munoz; Rep. Max Gruenberg; Rep. Pete Petersen
Subject: House Transportation: Please Vote No on HB 57
FROM: Peter Roberts, Owner Downtown Bicycle Rental, Inc., Anchorage.
TO: Members of the House Transportation Committee
RE: HB 57, Bicycle Program
For the following reasons, I urge members of the House Transportation Committee to vote NO on HB 57 – "The Bike Bill."
The Undisputed Benefits of Bikes & Small Business
No thinking person can dispute the many benefits of bicycles. People who bike instead of drive improve their health and save gas. The community benefits because when there is one less car on the road, there is cleaner air, less traffic, and less wear and tear on expensive-to-maintain roads. When people bike more and drive less, everybody wins.
No thinking person can dispute the many benefits of small businesses. After investing their time and risking their money, entrepreneurs sometimes manage to earn a profit and make a living. The community benefits because when businesses compete, the quality of goods and services goes up, and prices go down. Businesses pay salaries and taxes. When businesses thrive, members of the community work more and ask their government for less. Everybody wins.
The High Cost of No Price
Cognizant of the many benefits of bicycles, Representatives Seaton and Gruenberg have introduced HB 57. The purpose of this bill is "to encourage the safe use of bicycles as a mode of transportation. . . ." See Sec. 1, Article 2. To that end, HB 57 asks that a "fund" be established from "appropriations by the legislature," "federal money" and "other sources" so that "municipalities and nonprofits" can fund the "purchase, maintenance, and repair of bicycles, bicycle helmets, bicycle facilities, and bicycle trailers by residents of the community where the grantee is located." See Sec 2 Article 1A.
While the goal of HB 57 is laudable, in towns that already have bike shops, passage will have the opposite of the intended effect. The statutory scheme proposed by this bill takes profits earned by small businesses and gives it to nonprofits and government agencies so the latter can give away the same products and services taxed businesses are trying to sell. Successful bike businesses will actually be subsidizing their own demise. Outsourcing to municipalities and nonprofits what private employers already provide will sabotage the tax base and put people out of work.
It is axiomatic that people will not buy what they can get down the street for free. As businesses go under and taxes dry up, government will either have to raise taxes on everyone else, go deeper into debt, cut other (core) government services, or reduce grants from the fund. When the race to the bottom finally ends, not only will no one be selling, renting or fixing bikes, the government will be out of money. While HB 57 targets only a certain line of products and services, if such a scheme were extrapolated to the rest of the economy, no thinking person can dispute what would happen: Blight.
Bikes Don’t Commute, People Do
In the previous legislative session, Senator Seaton likened this bill’s progenitor (HB 132 which thankfully died in House Finance) to the Energy Rebate Grant Program. As you know, that program reimburses homeowners up to $10,000 if they improve the energy efficiency of their home. At first blush, the comparison sounds apt, but if you think about it, that program and the one proposed by HB 57 are really very different.
The energy rebate program begins at the bottom and works up. The program imagined in the Bike Bill starts from the top and "works" down. One program reimburses citizens that buy products and services from businesses; the other program gives products and services to citizens that businesses are trying to sell. There are other differences. One program builds a tangible, permanent improvement that keeps people warm for less money; the other gives away a quickly depreciating vehicle with many moving parts. The hope for HB 57 is that it will enable utility bicycle use -commuting. But bikes are also used for recreation. Insulating a house is one thing, changing people’s behavior is another. Bikes don’t commute, people do. People must want to change.
Instead of spending precious tax dollars trying to fix people, the government should shift its focus and fix broken bike paths and make other tangible, permanent improvements that make bike commuting safer and more likely. When HB 132 was discussed by this committee two years ago, Kristi Wood, representing the Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage testified that the "[T]he number one excuse she hears from people who do not commute by bicycle is that they do not believe they have a safe route. . . . She emphasized the need for more bicycle lanes, and bicycle paths." (HB 132 Minutes at 2:48:39 PM. March 19, 2009.) Like HB 132, HB 57 puts the cart before the horse. This time around, I urge all members of the Transportation Committee to weigh-in on the bill's true merits (or lack of them) and vote no.
(03-23-2009, House Journal, 0546: Do pass (2): Gruenberg, Wilson. No recommendation (3): Johansen, Munoz, Doogan)
Cash for Clunkers/Bucks for Bikes
In defense of HB 57, some say there are people who would commute by bike if they afford one. Fair enough. Draft a closely-tailored bill that targets such a person. Food stamps help people eat. "Bike vouchers" can help people commute. The pool of people that currently qualify for home heating assistance or a free monthly bus pass would likely also qualify for a bike voucher. Voucher applicants could be required to first pass an online safe bike operation and/or basic bike maintenance test. Vouchers for commuter bikes could be redeemed by businesses in the community that are already positioned to meet each individual’s unique biking needs. Instead of creating a program that empowers a government agency, why not create a program that empowers people?
Two years ago, the federal government stimulated the auto industry with its "Cash for Clunkers" program. A better bike bill would emulate the model. It could be called "Bucks for Bikes." If government-stimulated demand for bikes and their maintenance exceeds supply, the imbalance will be remedied by a resident who risks their capital, invests their time and hires their neighbor to meet it. In other words, they will start a small business. Everybody wins.
Past Testimony to this Committee Acknowledged Unfair Competition by
Nonprofits as a Legitimate Concern
In the last legislative session, when this committee heard public testimony on the previous edition of this bill, the administration sent two representatives from the Department of Transportation. Bob Laurie is the State Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinator. Jeff Ottesen is Director of Program Development." (No State gaming regulators were present.) The minutes from the meeting show two legislators and four members of the public acknowledged government-sponsored competition by a nonprofit as a legitimate concern. Nevertheless, supporters urged passage because the bill, like the current one instructs DOT to "develop regulations establishing criteria for issuing grants to municipalities and nonprofit organizations. . . ." This instruction kicks the can – a can filled with worms – down the road. Again. It is not credible to expect an agency to adopt regulations to remedy a well-known concern when the legislature declines to do it itself. After two years, the following statements could have and should have produced a better bill:
REPRESENTATIVE JOHANSEN referred to page 1, line 14, of Version E which reads "by municipal residents". He asked if the program will only be allowed for municipal residents. He further asked how the program would be monitored in a community like Ketchikan that has 9,000 tourists who disembark from cruise ships in one day, who may also want to use bicycles. He inquired as to how the mechanics of the program would work if the program is limited to residents. He then asked specifically, "How are you going to tell or is that your intent for it just to be residents?"
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON answered that this program would be incorporated in a grant request from a municipality. "Another words, if a municipality came in and said we want to have a program for tourists, not a mode of transportation, but a visitor service." He explained that while HB 132 is intended to provide a mode of transportation to residents, nothing restricts a municipality from allowing others to use the bicycles. However, the intent of the bill is to provide a grant to communities so Alaskans will have an alternate mode of transportation to use instead of motor vehicles. He said, "That's what this bill is for, it's not for recreation, it's not meant to compete with a business that would be renting out bicycles to the cruise ships, if someone has a similar business." He added that HB 132 targets local residents. Additionally, he said he hopes the program can help address obesity rates by encouraging Alaska residents to get more exercise to improve their health.
SUE ELY, Legislative & Communications Manager, Alaska Conservation Alliance (ACA), speaking on behalf of the ACA, offered support for HB 132. . . . "We are here to testify in favor of this bill and I think what I'd like to do is sing the praises of bicycles and talk about some of the barriers that I think this bill addresses." She suggested that the bill might include educating not just riders but also for motorists to better learn to interact with bicycle users. She mentioned bicycle lanes and street plowing are important to allow year round bicycle use. She said:
We want, like the bill sponsor said, we're not trying to get this out here for tourists. This isn't for joy rides. This is for people who don't have cars or don't want to use their car, or don't have appropriate transit or want to make a good choice for the environment. These people aren't going out there for joy rides.
MATTHEW TURNER, Bicycle Friendly Sitka (BFS), speaking on behalf of BFS . . . . He expressed concern that the DOT&PF needs to put into place mechanisms to prevent competition with existing bicycle rental or repair shops. He said:
My concern is to make sure that there are assurances that whatever programs come about as a result of this bill are not competing with existing bicycle shops, either rental businesses or repair businesses. And so, I know there's some nuance there, because I hope that it's specific enough to prevent government sponsored competition but still loose enough in its regulations and writing that folks can respond innovatively with programs to get bicycles to those in need.
He said he hopes the focus is to get bicycles in hands of those who cannot afford to purchase a new one in a bicycle shop. He opined that the long-term goal is to have those people become consumers of for-profit organizations in the future.
MS. WEST. . . . She pointed out that he was really glad to get people out on bikes. She stated that it is not about competition, but is about a healthy lifestyle and the "greenness" of riding bicycles.
ROBERT SHIPLEY, Anchorage Trails and committee Coalition, speaking on behalf of the ATGC, offered ATGC's support for HB 132. . . . He reiterated prior testimony emphasizing that programs need to be directed to cyclists and drivers. . . . He further suggested that the bill should be amended to include support for outreach and education safety programs.
LOIS EPSTEIN, Engineer, and Director, Alaska Transportation Priorities Project (ATPP), stated the ATPP is a statewide coalition consisting of conservation organizations, businesses, individuals promoting sensible transportation systems in Alaska. . . .She suggested that HB 132 may need to be amended to clarify its focus on education grants as well as on bicycling infrastructure.
Singing the undisputed praises of bicycles is not relevant testimony. As is the case with most things that sound good on the surface, the devil is in the details. If this bill becomes law, it will not change the behavior of drivers; but it will change the behavior of people who patronize bike shops.
For all of the foregoing reasons, I urge the Transportation Committee to vote no on HB 57.
Downtown Bicycle Rental, Inc.
333 W. 4th Ave. , Anchorage, AK 99501
Tel: (907) 279-3334, Fax: 279-8338