Fact Check: Gas prices increase bike sales?

By Patrick Emerson
Oregon Economics Blog

Eco-nomics: Bike Sales Up with Gas Prices.  From the USA Today I learn that, unsurprisingly perhaps, bike and scooter sales have surged with gas prices:

Sales of new bikes rose 9% in the first quarter of this year, compared with the same period in 2010, and sales of road bikes — commonly used in commuting — jumped 29%, says Scott Jaeger, senior retail analyst with Leisure Trends Group, a Boulder, Colo.-based retail tracking firm.

Sales of gas-powered scooters are up even more: nearly 50% in the first quarter compared with a year ago, says the Motorcycle Industry Council, a trade group.

“We see spikes when fuel prices rise,” says Ty van Hooydonk, the group’s spokesman, noting many scooters average 60 to 80 miles per gallon.

But is is really due entirely to gas prices? I suspect that there has been a lot of investment in bike infrastructure in many cities, not just Portland and that this has a big impact as well on the bike sales portion. This is mentioned in the article as well:

“It’s too early to say definitively that bike sales are up because of gas prices,” says Tim Blumenthal, president of Peopleforbikes.org. He expects gas prices to escalate more and take bike sales along with them.

Also driving bike use is the boom in bike trails and bike-sharing programs, Blumenthal says, adding the federal government has made an “unprecedented” $2 billion investment in trails in the last two years.

Last year, Boston installed 20 miles of bike lanes and New York City added more than 50 miles, says the League of American Bicyclists, which designates 179 communities in 44 states as bike-friendly, up from 25 in 2003. It cites new bike-sharing programs in Denver, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis.

But the idea that people respond to higher prices by changing their consumption patterns is an old one in economics (and one of the criticisms about the way we calculate inflation), and thus I say unsurprising when I see the statistics given the rise in gasoline prices. [HT: Joseph Rose]

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