Saturday, January 9, 2016

Capital Bikeshare, Washington DC

Union Station, Washington, D.C.
The idea of not owning a vehicle has broad appeal - imagine no insurance, no maintenance, no storage or parking fees, or parking passes. Gone is the fear of parking citations or feeding meters. The benefits go on and on including health benefits, reduced emissions, good parking and more. But some people have trouble imagining a life without car-ownership. The concept is pretty simple: Instead of paying an average of $8,698 annually (nearly $725 a month)[1], using a bikeshare or carshare is a way to replace or supplement vehicle ownership. The "share" part means a person rents a bike or car at one station and returns it to another station. And bikesharing and carsharing appears to be increasing in popularity, with systems in place throughout the U.S. in about 60 cities and universities.[2]

I recently decided to give it a try. Prior to visiting Washington DC for a conference, a quick online search revealed the www.capitalbikeshare.com website. I found that a bikeshare station was located right next to Union Station, where my Megabus trip ended. The D.C. Bikes smartphone app for an Apple (IOS) is available, and I used either Spotcycle or the Transit App for finding bike stations and planning routes.  It does take a little bit of planning; the apps and the website also show how many available bikes are there and how many empty bike docks are open, and only once during my visit was there a time when all the docks were full at a bike station near the Convention Center where the conference was located.

Upon arrival in Washington, D.C. my first day, it was a short walk from Union Station to the nearest station and I found the Columbus Circle/Union State bike station just across the street. Reading the website ahead of time is useful, but you can use the kiosk and printed posted information at the bike station to learn how it operates. I inserted my charge card, selected a 3-day membership, and was ready to go; I had learned early from a colleague that to minimize cost, keep trips to under 30 minutes, and there are no additional charges! So the trick is to find a station within 30 minutes and dock your bike. The kiosk was a bit hard to manipulate - you have to hit the keys pretty hard to get them to activate but that was about my only complaint. You are issued a code that you use to unlock a bike and then you are on your way.

You can choose to have a print out of the code if you want, and that also includes a timestamp, so I printed them each time (you can also print out summaries of your trips afterwards as well). The bikes themselves are sturdy, 3-speed bikes with front and rear lights, fenders, and even a handy front-rack with bungee cord to tie down a bag or other small item. Helmets are available too but I brought my own along, as well as my deglo-jacket. Frankly I never felt unsafe as speeds are low, vehicle drivers seemed pretty aware of bikes, and bike lanes do exist in many parts of DC. 

The Transportation Research Board is an annual  conference that has taken place for 95 years, so it seemed fitting to try Capital Bikeshare while there. And the popularity is growing - visit the Capital Bikeshare website and select the System Data tab to download information on trip history data by month. A quick review of the latest data revealed that for 706,004 trips completed within 3 months, 85 percent were completed by registered members and 15 percent by casual members like myself (1 or 3 day memberships). 

The average trip duration was 16 minutes and the longest trip was 23 hours, 50 minutes, likely a case where a bike was rented and then parked overnight before being returned to another station. Mileage data was not included, but I understand that the majority of trips are less than 1.5 miles in length[3]. Virginia Tech has released a request for proposals for a bikeshare program, here in Blacksburg, VA. I hope the decision makers bring it soon! While it may not be the option of choice for everyone, I am confident that with "over 36,000 students, faculty, and staff, with a vast majority living within bicycling and walking distance to campus"[4] that bikeshare in our area will also be a popular option for commuting to, within, and outside of the university campus. A Virginia Tech bikeshare program will benefit both the university members as well as non-university town residents who may want to keep their car (or bike) at home, or not even own one.


[1] Annual Cost to Own and Operate a Vehicle Falls to $8,698, Finds AAA. http://newsroom.aaa.com/2015/04/annual-cost-operate-vehicle-falls-8698-finds-aaa/ (April, 2015).
[2] Commuting, Shared-Use Mobility, Smart Infrastructure, Climate Change, and Rural Transportation Trends, http://www.vtrans.org/resources/VTransTrends_Commuting_and_Mobility.pdf (Sept, 2014).
[3] Arlington County Capital Bikeshare Transit Development Plan Fiscal Years 2013 to 2018. http://www.bikearlington.com/tasks/sites/bike/assets/File/TDP_Summary.pdf
[4] Virginia Tech Request for Proposal #0038495 for Bike Share Program (April 21, 2015) Info at: http://www.bidsvirginia.com/virginia_bids/bids-ADP14296226510000628.htm

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