Missing Bikes

All 27 bikes that were used for the Pony Express Bike Share program are now missing and may have been stolen. The MPO is working to replace the fleet and seeking ways in altering the program to minimize theft.

If there was a Glass-Half-Full Hall of Fame, Chance Gallagher would have a plaque.

The city’s entire fleet of public-use bicycles has gone missing this year, either stolen or not returned. Gallagher, transit planning manager of the St. Joseph Metropolitan Planning Organization, expressed a vague hope to our reporter that a few of these missing bikes might at least be getting some use, somewhere.

“Hopefully, they are and they’re getting good use out of them,” she said.

We suppose it’s better than dumping a bike in the river or selling it for scrap, but it’s all the same for a Pony Express Bike Share program that went from 40 to zero in just two years. That fleet was whittled down to 27 at the start of this year, due in part to heavy wear and tear, but officials now acknowledge that every single one is gone.

The program was launched with the aim of giving St. Joseph a little of the hip, shared-economy vibe you see in places like San Francisco or Austin, Texas. Instead, we got a lesson in why St. Joseph can’t have nice things.

At least the money came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rather than the city’s own budget.

In the end, those who brought us the bike-share program are guilty only of trusting the people in St. Joseph and believing its citizens ought to join the 21st century. Those who stole these bikes are the real villains here. They are perpetrators of the kind of petty crime that gets buried in the statistics but manages to take a little wind out of the city’s collective sails.

The theft of a bronze Parkway skater statue, which was finally replaced this month, is another type of crime that can strike at the soul of the city, plus its pocketbook. For what may have been a few dollars in scrap, the city had to pay $15,000 to replace the statue.

There’s already some talk of free bikes making another return. Officials have suggested pursuing a grant to purchase more bikes, although we suggest they take a “fool-me-once” stance on this one. At the very least, the problem seems to be less the way that bikes break down, as some have suggested, and more an issue of security.

Perhaps it’s time to consider GPS tracking or more stringent check-out measures for those who wish to grab a bike.

We don’t fault those bike-share advocates for trying. We don’t blame them for thinking about trying again. We do think it’s absurd to think that the same thing won’t happen again.

Applying for federal grants might be a little like riding a bike, in that you never forget how to do it. But those who want to take a bike-share program for another spin should first take a look at what went wrong and make the proper course correction.