Drinking and bicycling, the economic perspective

People who go to the bar by bicycle spend more overall, but look like cheapskates.

That and other economic lessons can be gleaned from the preliminary results of a research team at Portland State University (funded by the same folks who recently discovered that less driving doesn’t hurt the economy). The bulk of the paper (download the PDF here) is an excellent economic overview on the existing research on the economic impacts of bicycling in the US.

The part that jumped out at me, though, was in a sidebar (at left) showing preliminary results from a study comparing spending with transportation mode in the Portland area.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that people who walk and bicycle to bars spend less each visit … but they visit more. People who arrive at bars by bike spend the least, an average of $14 a trip. Bar patrons arriving by other modes spend more, suggesting that they’re getting dinner along with their drinks. People who go to bars by bicycle sure look like cheapskates — until you notice that they tend to go to the bar, on average, far more than people using other modes.

The other big difference that pops out is the amount and frequency of spending at convenience stores. People who bicycle to these stores go there more frequently and spend more each time than people who use any other mode, spending on average $25 more per month. This baffled me until I remembered the primary product of these establishments: Beer.

This connection between bicycling and beer makes gut sense. This is Portland, where craft breweries and distilleries are a thriving industry. And if the city’s diverse array of bike cultures have anything in common, it’s enjoyment of these establishments and their products.

I’m speculating — though it’s speculation based on some serious participant-observation — that much of this drinking, even of convenience-store beer, isn’t of the binge variety. Bicycling means you have more disposable income, and I’ve seen many an underemployed person spend upwards of $6 on a delicious locally brewed pint rather than economizing to consume more, nastier beer for less. Which would mean in turn, that much of that extra spending is going directly back into the local economy.

It also would mean that these folks are riding home from the bar in a straighter line than you might think after looking at these numbers. Which is a relief. Be safe out there while you’re boosting the economy, y’all.

Update: I ran some of this by Kelly Clifton, the lead researcher on the study, and while she didn’t want to speculate on green dividends and disposable income, she did have this insight:

“I think the upshot is that cyclists (and peds and transit users) are competitive consumers. I think one of the reasons that autos spend more at bars is that those dollars might include more people (kids, for example); while cyclists are more likely to be singles (cyclists with kids not withstanding). I’ll be able to look at this in more detail in the final report, which is going to be public in about a month.”

Can’t wait for the final results!

Ready for more fun and alarming facts about bicycling and economics? Check out my small book on “Bikenomics.”

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11 Responses to “Drinking and bicycling, the economic perspective”

  1. Amy Murphy July 6, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the title of this one caught my attention: “Drinking and cycling? My two favorite things!”. That’s a fun report; I look forward to seeing the final results.

    • Elly July 6, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

      I did think of the Murphys while writing this!

  2. Forrest July 6, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    It’d be really great if we could sort that table!

    • Elly July 6, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

      Agreed! If someone makes it into a google spreadsheet, I’ll share the link.

  3. Doug G. July 6, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    One thing I’d want to know is if people who bike simply have more opportunities to go to a bar than people who drive, since factors like age, professions, parental status, etc. can influence how often we go out and how much we spend when we do.

    For example, if the drivers surveyed were older, married, and had kids, they may have fewer chances to hop down to the local bar for a beer than a young, single person who doesn’t need to speed dial the babysitter if last-minute plans pop up. I haven’t read the whole study yet, but did it account for ages/incomes/marital status/etc. of the people who arrived at these different businesses?

    Also, a car-owning couple with kids may spend more per visit on dinner or drinks because they know they won’t be doing it again all that soon, at least compared to someone with the flexibility to go out a few times per week. (And I say this as one half of a car-free couple with one child; we go out less frequently than our single friends, but then again find that bicycling frees up more money for us to go out since we don’t have to pay for parking, gas, maintenance, insurance, etc.)

    Either way you slice it, this study helps cut through the myth that cyclists aren’t “competitive consumers,” as Clifton smartly notes. We are. I’ve become increasingly interested in using bicycle parking as a means to grow cycling in Brooklyn, so this study is a very valuable resource. Thanks for highlighting it and for providing me with some good weekend reading.


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