Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reasons to Be Car Free in DC: Bicycle Sharing

Capital Bikeshare station in Columbia Heights
Last week the popular transit program Capital Bikeshare introduced a rewards program that encourages users to ride bikes from full stations to empty ones. This is a good sign. The Reverse Riders program came about because so many bike docks in residential areas are emptied each morning as users ride to work and other destinations. 

Bicycle sharing programs are rare in the United States and DC has the largest as of this writing. Capital Bikeshare has close to 14,000 annual members and grows each week. Users can purchase memberships and rent bikes from designated stations around the District of Columbia and Arlington County, Virginia. 

Members can rent bikes for up to 24 hours, but the system is designed for short trips; no more than a couple of hours at most. The first 30 minutes of a rental incur no cost. Pricing increases from $1.50 for up to an hour all the way to $70.50 for 24 hours. Obviously bikes are rented for a variety of reasons; but to me, I feel that work commuting and leisure riding are the top two reasons for rentals. 

Capital Bikeshare uses a ratio of 1.5 available docks to every 1 bike in the system. In a perfect world, this would provide bikes at each station for checkout and empty docks for bike return. It doesn't always work this way though.

Stations can have a variable number of docks and stations in work centers tend to be larger. The combination of DC topography (hilly in places, mostly flat downtown), travel patterns and popularity have resulted in sometimes lopsided station availability. That is to say, that during morning rush hour, stations in residential areas may be empty or close to empty and stations downtown tend to be full or near full. Hence the Reverse Riders program. CaBi is working to manage these usage trends. The program launched in September of 2010. Let's see where we are in September 2011. I suspect the system will be much improved.

I love Capital Bikeshare. DC has been building bike infrastructure pretty aggressively for the last 10 years. This is huge feather in that hat. It gets people who may not have ridden before onto bikes and gives residents a healthy and green alternative to the sometimes unreliable Metro. It is another Reason to Be Car Free in DC. Check out the others!

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