Comparative local government law in motion: how different local government law regimes affect global cities' bike share plans.

Author:Rodriguez, Daniel B.
Position:Introduction through II. A Typology of Different Local government Law Systems A. The Local Government's Relationship with the State, p. 123-153

Introduction I. Background: The Theory of the Global City and the Policy of Bike Sharing A. The Global City and Comparative Local Government Law B. Bike Share Plans II. A Typology of Different Local Government Law Systems A. The Local Government's Relationship with the State B. The Local Government's Relationship with Other Local Governments C. The Local Government's Relationship with Entities Located Below It D. Relationships Within the Local Government E. Summary III. Bike Share Plans Implemented by Diverse Local Government Law Systems A. Adoption of the Bike Share Plan B. Funding of the Bike Share Plan C. Placement of the Bike Share's Docking Stations IV. Ramifications and Limitations Conclusion INTRODUCTION

At the heart of the contemporary study of comparative local government law lies a paradox. On the one hand, the discipline relies on an assumption that there is a great deal of similarity between different cities across the world--an assumption evinced by adjectives such as "global," "international," or "world" that scholars routinely affix to the cities they compare. (1) If no minimal baseline of commonality is assumed, the whole exercise becomes futile. What is the point of comparing things that have nothing in common? On the other hand, what can be more local--as opposed to "global" or "international"--than local government law? The local is in the name, and for good reason. Local government law structures the smallest-scale political institutions, those that are the closest to the specific community. Thus inevitably this body of law reflects the community's particular culture and politics. Much of local government law is dedicated to the regulation of space: local government law's scope of interest, indeed its job, is parochial by definition.

This Article suggests and pursues one method for tackling this paradox presented by a field of law dedicated to the global attributes of the local (or the local attributes of the global). (2) The Article explores one common, "global," policy adopted by many cities despite the particular, parochial nature of their local government law regimes. The Article seeks to figure out how the particularities of the local government legal system affect--or do not affect--a policy the city imports from elsewhere.

The policy picked here for this exercise--bike share plans--is in many ways highly reflective of our times. In the age of the global city, bike share plans have become irresistible to cities throughout the globe. (3) A local bike share scheme involves placing bikes in stations spread throughout a city and inviting individuals to rent a bike at any station and return it to another in exchange for a payment set in accordance with the length of time during which the bike was used. (4) These bike-share plans have grown extremely popular in a very short span of time. Today Chicago's and London's streets are dotted with the blue bikes forming part of Divvy and Barclays Cycle Hire, respectively; Hangzhou's and Mexico City's with the red of Hangzhou Public Bicycle and EcoBici; Buenos Aires's and Taipei's with the yellow of Ecobici (5) and UBike; Toronto's and Wroclaw's with the black of Bike Share Toronto and nextbike; Rio de Janeiro's and Milan's with the orange of Bike-Rio and BikeMi; Copenhagen and Changwon (South Korea) with the white of GoBike and Nubija. (6) These cities, along with more than seven hundred of their brethren worldwide, (7) are all closely, and rapidly, following in the footsteps of Paris's original silver Velib' bikes, launched less than a decade ago, in 2007.

The almost universal rush to adopt this one uniform policy presents itself as testament to the emergence of the global model of the modern city. Such a city is always concerned with the same array of problems: congestion, environmentalism, tourism, a professional upper-middle class, and a booming center. Consequently, it consistently toys with the same solutions considered elsewhere for these common concerns. In their global mold, cities thus end up adopting identical policies--say, bike sharing--regardless of their specific location. Still, inevitably, even for the global city, the specific location must matter. The homogenous and homogenizing policy of bike sharing is adopted by different legal systems--systems of local government law that correspond to the local particularities of the place where each operates. The result is bike share programs that, though identical in their animating principles and goals, vary greatly in their details.

And unlike the variance in the selected color scheme, some of the other details in which bike share programs vary are extremely important. For example, they relate to the bike share's source of funding--public, private, or a mix of the two. They involve the plan's integration with other transit options. They include the mode and level of user payments. They regard the identity of the authority running the plan. They respect the choice of location for the bike stations. (8) As opposed to technical distinctions in number of bikes or stations, or in the operating technology, most of these differences cannot be written off as the mere upshot of physical disparities between cities or the humdrum result of the disparate rollout times of the plans. Thus, while writers and international organizations extoll the benefits of the bike share plan as a policy suitable to all places, necessitating little more than adjustments to the geographical layout of the adopting city, (9) in actuality the bike share plan is a prime example of the global modified to the dictates of the local.

Many of such dictates of the local are dictates of local government law. This Article sheds light on the mechanisms by which a local government law system first enables the adoption of a policy of global origins but then alters that policy to fit in with the system's own idiosyncratic characteristics. In other words, this Article demonstrates how local government law matters in the age of the global city. To do so, this Article offers a first of its kind classification of local government law systems. (10) It thereby provides a general service to the study of comparative local government law: it suggests a way to analyze the most important attributes of a local government law system, wherever it may be, and compare that system to other systems based on comprehensive and coherent standards. Putting local government law systems side by side in this innovative manner, this Article examines the process by which the differences and similarities between them affect the resultant policies they adopt; in this particular case, the bike share policy they adopt.

Part I of this Article sets the academic and factual stage for this exercise. It first explores the literature in the comparative local government law field. It traces the impact that works in geography, sociology, and economics expounding on the "world city" or "global city" have had on legal thinking. It situates the Article among the different strands of existing scholarly analysis and explains the novelty and utility of its strategy of examining one policy across different local government law systems. It then proceeds to explain why bike share plans are particularly well suited for this strategy. For this purpose, the history and current state of bike share plans are chronicled. Relating the reality of bike share plans to the theoretical literature, the plans are shown to be real-world manifestations of the academic world or global city hypothesis. Part II describes the local legal backgrounds against which these plans, characteristic of the world or global city, were adopted. It puts forward four axes along which local government law systems throughout the world differ, and places those systems on different spots along those axes. Specifically, the axes Part II isolates are: the relationship between the city and the state (patterns of local empowerment); the relationship between the city and other local governments (patterns of local fragmentation); the relationship between the city and entities located below it (patterns of micro-localism); and the relationship within the city government (patterns of separation of powers). This categorization of local government law systems is then employed in Part III to explain similarities and dissimilarities between bike share plans disparate cities adopted. Specifically, Part III focuses on three key elements of a bike share plan: process of adoption, funding scheme, and choice of location for bike docking stations. Finally, Part IV draws avenues for future research based on the Article's framework and discusses the limitations of the framework--and of comparative local government law in general.

Independent of those limitations to be discussed at the analysis's conclusion, two caveats must be acknowledged at the outset. First, this Article offers a case study of one policy: bike share plans. While, as will be explained, that policy is particularly useful for the Article's theoretical purposes, no one would argue that it is the most important policy cities are currently adopting. Contemporary cities are confronted with grave social and economic challenges often left unaddressed by timid or impotent higher levels of governments. Cities must respond to rapid social change, transformation in production, extreme inequality, budget shortfalls, informal settlements, vagaries of a globalized real estate market, unprecedented urban growth, and more. The importance of bike share plans pales in comparison. We do not argue otherwise. We do believe, however, that the nature of a bike share plan as a low-stakes affair allows a useful exercise in comparative local government law. More contested policies face much more of an uphill battle before they can be adopted, and thus their spread is more checked in place and pace. (11) As a result, it is often impractical to seek a comparison of cities'...

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