AAA, long a foe of the two-wheeler, launches roadside assistance for bikes

AAA has never had a history of being bike-friendly. But this year, the organization debuted its own bicycle roadside assistance plan. Is the idea of AAA for bikes crazy? Though the organization, KFC-like, recently shed its full name embracing the automobile and now goes officially by its acronym, it has never been particularly bike-friendly.

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. AAA has long indicated that its membership of 25 percent of the U.S. population desires those thing (though critics point out the association doesn't describe its lobbying activities to prospective members, who instead sign up for the emergency roadside assistance and the nice maps).

Seven years ago, my landlord was telling me about his latest investment as an angel in the new Better World Club.This was the first I'd heard of AAA's anti-environment lobbying activities and he explained that Better World Club had sprung up not just to offer roadside assistance without the questionable political funding, but to actively lobby for a more environmentally-friendly transportation policy. What's more, the new association was offering the nation's first bicycle roadside assistance program. Today, the company offers nationwide bicycle roadside assistance, either as a standalone for we car-free types, or as part of an automobile roadside assistance package. (It's $39.95 for bicycle-only package.)

Why AAA decided to pick 2009 to debut its bicycle roadside assistance in Oregon and parts of Idaho-- Better World Club's home turf -- is anyone's guess. Perhaps its Oregon/Idaho chapter was seeing a reduction in memberships due to competition. Perhaps bike commuters with cars left at home -- a growing percentage of Portland, Ore. residents --demanded it. However, AAA's plan is not nearly as good a deal as the plan offered by Better World Club as part of the "plus" service ($39 more than basic service) and not available as standalone option.

Many commenters on the nexus of bikey opinion in Portland, the BikePortland.org blog, thought it was a welcome harbinger of change in the U.S. transportation climate. Others, however, reminded us once again that paying for roadside assistance plus bicycles is hypocrisy; as you're paying an organization to actively lobby against bike paths, bike-friendly traffic laws and other green concerns. Most telling was this comment from someone identified as Bjorn: "AAA continues to actively lobby against bicycle bills and did so this year in Oregon. I dropped my membership over it and told them as much. Perhaps others did too and this service is their attempt at public relations, but I don't think their anti bike legislative practices will change due to this program." I agree.


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