Here’s a curious turnabout:
The American Automobile Association, which since its founding in Chicago in 1902 has catered to the concerns of motorists, has begun a pilot program in Oregon and southern Idaho to rescue cyclists stranded on the road.
“You’ve been riding to save gas or stay in shape,” says the AAA Web site for Oregon/Idaho. “For that, you deserve credit. Now AAA Plus provides you with added benefits to recognize your efforts and your lifestyle.”
Some details from the Web site:
— Bicycle transportation service is provided for the rider whose bicycle is disabled.
— Service will be provided to any point of safety within a 25-mile radius of the bicycle breakdown.
— Service applies to all bicycles and tandems, including rental bicycles.
— Service is only available within the AAA Oregon/Idaho coverage area, which includes Oregon and the southern 34 counties of Idaho.
DailyFinance.com, an AOL money and finance Web site, said the reason for AAA’s decision to debut roadside assistance for cyclists “is anyone’s guess.”
The organization “has never had a history of being bike-friendly,” DailyFinance.com said.
“In fact, its very roots go back to the early 1900s, when road systems sprang up for the ubiquitous bicycles and the general population decried automobiles as noisy and dangerous. AAA lobbied for automobile respect; and over the next century never ceased to beg for increased highway funding, lower gasoline taxes, and reduced vehicle regulation. What’s more, the association lobbies against public transportation funding.”
The Web site pointed out that Oregon and southern Idaho is fertile turf for a rival roadside assistance service, the 7-year-old Better World Club, which describes itself as “an environmentally friendly auto club.”
Like AAA, the Better World Club provides services throughout the United States, including roadside assistance for cyclists.
DailyFinance.com said the Better World Club sprang up “not just to offer roadside assistance without the questionable political funding, but to actively lobby for a more environmentally friendly transportation policy.”
Perhaps another reason for AAA wanting a piece of the roadside service action from cyclists is the growing number of bicycle commuters. USA Today reported Aug. 3 that the number of bike commuters rose from about 483,145 in 2003 to about 664,859 in 2007, a 37.6 percent increase, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Probably as a result of the growing number of cyclists on the road, in the Canadian province of British Columbia, the BCAA announced in May that it was launching roadside service for cyclists. the program took effect June 1.
But that increase in the number of bike commuters may be less motivated by a desire to promote environmental causes and more by economic hardship.
“Bicycling has been a historical way in the United States to deal with financial problems,” said an Aug. 12 letter to the editor in the St. Petersburg Times in Florida.
“For many people now in their 80s, bicycling provided inexpensive transportation during the Great Depression and the gas rationing of World War II. To survive the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, people used bicycles. In the recession of 1982, again people used bicycles to save money.”
The letter noted that the U.S. Census Bureau found in 2005 that 28.22 percent of American households make less than $25,000, all the money earned by everyone living in the house.
“If you do the arithmetic, you’ll realize that this group of Americans either can’t afford a car or must give up the car to be able to afford personal insurance, college for their kids, saving for retirement and other modern essentials,” the letter said.
“People who have never experienced the above often say negative things about bicycling because they don’t understand how bicycling has saved so many people during financially difficult times.”
Here’s a curious turnabout: