Housing Complex

Bikeshare as Community Benefit?

It'll just cost you $50,000. (Lydia DePillis)

Here's the thing about Capital Bikeshare: The more stations there are, the more valuable the whole system becomes to its users, since they can access bikes in more places and get closer to where they need to go. The system is beautifully scalable; new stations can go wherever they're wanted. The problem, of course, is paying for them. At $50,000 a piece–which pays for bikes, the rack itself, and the solar set-up–adding new stations isn't cheap.

But some people have money and incentives to add nice things around buildings: Developers. And community organizations have started to ask them to include bikeshare stations in community benefits packages, which is a-OK with the District Department of Transportation. At an ANC 6C planning and zoning committee meeting Wednesday night night, a committee member asked Eric Siegel of the Cohen Companies–which is building a 500-unit residential complex at 250 K Street NW–if he'd be willing to finance a CaBi station on the sidewalk outside the new building. Siegel said he'd take it under consideration, and he should: It's not only a deal sweetener for the surrounding community, it shows the Zoning Commission (from which the company is seeking permission to break the project into two parts) that you're chill with the community. Plus, it's a selling point for prospective tenants. Everybody wins!

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.

    Actually, $50 grand is rather cheap, especially in the world of transportation infrastructure. That's akin to the cost of one below-grade space in the parking garage.

  • Adrien

    I am not sure why anyone would expect someone to pay the "startup" costs for someone elses business that will then retain its profits, rather than sharing them with the original investor.

    And that parking spot can either be sold, or rented, both of which directly benefits the investor, both long and short term. No one is going to use CaBi as the deciding factor on whether or not they are going to shell out 3K a month for an apt, or spend 450K for a 1br condo.

    The Cap Bikeshare thing is going to be a spectacular failure, just like the DC Bike Rentals were for the past few years. The system will never recover the ~7 million in startup costs, and despite all the fanfare and interest the past month or so since its launch, is no where near sustaining itself financially. They've had 3000 people sign up for memberships so far, so what we've done is spend $2,300 per cabi member of taxpayer money to subsidize their fair weather biking habits. Gee, I wish someone would spend $2,300 bucks to pay for my biking habits for the year.

    The biggest most succesful day yet for the program was last Saturday during the rally, when a whopping 30% of the CABI system was in use, and that was on a beautiful day! Metro would never have gotten built, or it would have gone out of business if during "rush hour" ridership maxed out at 30% capacity.

    It will go a few more years, local jurisdictions will be required to throw in more and more money to simply maintain the system, especially as the bikes and stations start to deteoriate and the system will slowly shrink until its abandoned. Yet another failed experiment to "try" to get Americans to be more like the Dutch.

  • washcycle

    Adriean, you have a lot of facts wrong and errors in your post.

    Membership is around 4400 with 50 monthly members and another 4700 day members. In one month the system has had 33,000 trips, and it has been building out the whole time. 33,000 is going to be a low number, not high. The $7M needs to be divided over the length the system will last before it needs to be replaced (which is ~10 years).

    30% usage at one time is spectacular for a bike sharing system. Mathematically it becomes very difficult to rise above that, because it gets so difficult to match potential riders with available bikes (more and more riders find themselves at empty stations).

    SmartBike was not a failure. It operated at near capacity and didn't cost DC a dime. How is that a failure?

    I'd be willing to bet that the system is running in the green in four years. Care to take that bet?

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    FWIW, if I hadn't continually testified about the failure of the 2006 comp plan draft to include Transportation Demand Management planning _requirements_, the comp plan would have never been changed to _require_ TDM planning for planned unit developments. (That was a sop to me. They still didn't agree to general requirements. Just encouragements. And PUDs are only a small part of the zoning whole.)

    But the rest of the Smart Growth community didn't acknowledge this gap in the plan. Instead, they testified about how great the plan was because it discussed the need to link land use and transportation planning.

    But without actual provisions and requirements, flowery language doesn't matter. (I still lose on this general issue. I tried another attempt at forging TDM requirements in the Comp. Plan amendment process but I wrote a too detailed amendment... But this constant barrage is influencing the zoning rewrite process in some aspects, where TDM planning is being inserted as a requirement for variances, etc.)

    That's the reason that "community benefits" and transportation benefits can be tied together with proposals such as these.

    That being said, when I was on the ANC6 planning and zoning committee (2003-2005), we took up the idea of encouraging developers to include car sharing spaces, although we got a lot of push back from certain developers (especially those represented by Holland & Knight). But it wasn't our idea originally. Paradigm put a space or two for carsharing on their apartment building site at 5th and Massachusetts NW, and we then used this as an example with all the other projects that came before us.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    actually washcycle, I would argue smartbike was a failure. It showed that you can't make bikesharing work very well with a handful of stations, limited connections between residential areas and activity centers, and minimal publicity and outreach.

    Plus it showed that relying on hardwired electrical connections and site preparation leads to costly delays--leading the Bixi people to develop different technologies and systems making their systems extremely easy to set up. Plus it showed the failure of writing bad contract provisions that didn't require scale up of the system by Adshel.

    But the failures in smartbike should lead to differences, and therefore successes, with CaBi, provided they do a number of other right things, some of which I suggested to smartbike in the Ideas for Making Cycling Irresistible in DC paper that the DC Bike Advisory Committee requested from me back in 2008.

    The other reason that smartbike was a failure is that increasingly in our polarized society, especially wrt social innovation, you get few opportunities for second chances. Smartbike was set up to fail, and that provides plenty of ammunition for people like Adrien to support their position of no change to the current transportation paradigm. We can't afford to continue to give people like Adrien support through our failures to properly set up the right kinds of sustainable transportation infrastructure.

    P.S. Adrien -- the justification of "community benefits" comes from the fact that zoning changes that result in increased value to the developer and that some of this value should be captured and returned to the community in terms of city, community, and neighborhood improvements of long lasting value.

  • HillChris

    Oh good, another novel way for ANCs to hold businesses hostage!

  • washcycle

    Richard, I agree with each of your criticisms of SmartBike, but I disagree that it means it failed. It means it was flawed (or, in one case, the contract was).

    In order to determine it was a failure, you have to know what the goal was. I can't find it stated anywhere, but if we assume that the goal of a small privately funded bike sharing system was to serve as a free test-bed for bike sharing, and thus a jumping off point for an expanded government assisted program - which I think is a reasonable assumption - then it was an absolute success, since that is what it did (as well as providing something like 70,000 total trips). And, again, this didn't really cost DC anything.

    Now we have the largest bike-sharing system in the country, and that is not a coincidence. Because of SmartBike, DDOT has the most experienced bike-sharing staff of any DOT in the US. CaBi hired the manager of SmartBike - who is the most experience bike share system manager in the US. When CaBi started, it didn't have to explain what bike sharing was, because people in DC already knew, and many had used it before. When Arlington went shopping for a bike sharing system, they could look at SmartBike and all of its flaws and learn what they were looking for. And when DDOT went looking for a replacement to SmartBike they could do the same, which is why they knew joining with Arlington was a smart play.

    The claim that SmartBike failed because people like Adrien read the not-so-flattering post about it on this blog and took it as gospel is disproven by your own logic. If failure submarines any opportunity at a second chance, and if bike-sharing is getting a second chance, it must not have been a failure in the first go round.

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  • Adrien

    First, Smartbike was a failure. Reasonable people can disagree but if it had succeeded then the program would have grown, not shriveled and died.

    Secondly, I will gladly take your bet that the system is not running in the green in 4 years. In fact, if the system isn't running in the green in 2, 3 max, then it is going to suffer the death spiral metro is so fond of living in.

    These bikes, sitting outside in the elements year round will last 2, maybe 3 years before they start needing serious replacement. The stations may well last a decade without needing to be replaced, but I seriously doubt it. Rental car agencies replace their stock at about 20% per year, I will make a valid and conservative assumption that cabi will have to do the same. Feel free to disagree.

    Ok, we know the stations cost 50K. The by my office has 15 bikes in it. Lets assume because I don't know (maybe you do) that the bikes themselves cost 1K a piece, and the stations 35K. Sounds reasonable.

    So 20% of the bikes per year needing replacement, we will say after year 2 (I am giving you a gift that no bikes will need repaired or replaced in the first 2 years), that means that starting on year 3 the system will be spending a minimum of 220K per year repairing or replacing the bikes. By year 10 all the stations will be needing replaced. There are what, 90 stations in the network. Thats 3.1 million every 10 years, or another 310K required per year to set aside (starting right away) to pay for station replacement. Now we are up to needing $530K per year, just to cover equipment maintenance and replacement.

    Per your numbers above (Membership is around 4400 with 50 monthly members and another 4700 day members), the system has taken in a gross of (4400 x's $50) + (50 x's $25)+ (4700 x's $5) = $244,000 dollars. Admittedly the yearly cost to join is now $75.

    Now the yearly members will never have another cost (for the year). The system only makes money if there are tons of people who sign up for monthly or day passes.

    In 7 weeks the system took in 4700 day members. The bulk of which I am assuming was during the recent rally, but no matter. Thats 671 people per week who signed up for day passes. If we make the hugely generous assumption that 671 people buy day passes every week for the entire year (which lets get real, considering winter weather and the fact that there aren't 250K people down on the mall every week thats being really generous), then the total amount raised is 175K per year.

    Additionally, isn't there a full time crew of people with trucks moving these bikes around town, from station to station? How many people does the system employ? 2, 3? I dunno, but there has to be another $200K minimum in yearly cost associationed with paying employees and covering truck maintenance. That now takes us to 730K a year the system has to take in just to cover the bills.

    Now, we haven't even begun to address the 7 million startup costs. That money is forever gone and will never be seen again.

    Ok, so to tidy up here, the system now costs ~730K a year to run.

    The only way to do that is to assume that starting next year, 7,400 people sign up for the $75 dollar yearly passes, AND the system gets the 671 people per week, all year long to buy day passes. Or you can get 9,700 people to buy yearly passes.

    You can play with the numbers anyway you like, but there is no way the system is ever going to sustain itself, especially if it doesn't by year ~2, or 3, let alone pay for its initial costs.

  • Brian Pate

    CaBi is expected to achieve a 70% "Return on Transit" dollars. That compares to 50% for the busiest metro lines and 30% for the Circulator. CaBi is not intended to make money or even be self-sufficient (though London recently announced that their system will be self sufficient in 3-4 years). If you look at the system for what it is, a bike transit system complementing other forms of transit in the metro area, it is an excellent, low risk infrastructure investment.

    Bravo to ANC6C for seeking an amenity that will provide a long term benefit for the entire community....beats the heck out of a turkey dinner or one time sop to a few residents.

  • Adrien

    "Expected"? Yeah, ok. Well my overly generous numbers above are a pretty clear indicator that it won't, not even close but we will give it a year to see.

    And quit kidding yourselves. This is no "transit" system. According to washcycle the system has logged 33,000 "trips" in the almost 7 weeks its been in service. Thats a whopping ~670 trips a day.

    MetroBus logs 333K trips a day or about 45K an hour during rush. Metrorail about 900K trips per day or ~ 100K an hour during rush.

    Most downtown DC streets get ~20,000 cars a day in traffic. This versus the ~670 trips a day for this system? It will be pretty telling what kind of "transit" system this is now that winter is setting in. I would venture a guess that the average number of trips decreases by a minimum of 1/3rd between now and March.

    It's a hugely generous taxpayer funded biking subsidy for people who already had bicycles. It is not a "transit" system.

  • Brian Pate


    Your numbers are wrong. The system "makes" money off trips over 30-minutes in duration. And, just to be on the up-and-up, the operating expense is estimated to be approximately $1M per year (for the current number of stations and bikes).

    Since you seem pretty stubborn, I guess we'll just have to see in 4-years, won't we? In the mean time, enjoy your Turkey dinner.

  • washcycle

    As Brian points out, you failed to consider all of the revenue from overage fees, which is actually quite substantial. I know of people who pay fees each way, every day because it's cheaper than metro. I'm also talking about covering operating fees, not getting the $7M back.

    And your argument that a transit system needs to be of a certain size or it isn't transit is a unique definition. How many people does it need to move to be transit, and what is it if it doesn't move that many. What is a system that consists of one 2 mile streetcar line? Is that transit, or is it too small? Size does not define transit. Here's one definition "Public transit is a shared passenger transportation service which is available for use by the general public." So I think this qualifies.

  • washcycle

    Also Adrien, your claim that SmartBike was a failure because "if it had succeeded then the program would have grown, not shriveled and died" is pretty idiotic.

    In the 5 years from the signing of the original contract to the expansion, there were several technological advancements in bike sharing and the Bixi system was developed. In addition, Arlington decided to build their own system. That DDOT decided to build 100 stations with up-to-date technology that would match Arlington's instead of 100 with outdated technology separate from Arlington's does not make SmartBike, the program, a failure. It means adshell did a bad job of maintaining the competitiveness of their product.

    If you upgrade your cellphone, do you call your old cellphone a failure? Because the 49ers replaced Montana with Young, does that make Montana a failure?

  • washcycle

    Adrien, you said "I would venture a guess that the average number of trips decreases by a minimum of 1/3rd between now and March." Turns out, that your wrong. In fact trips went up. In October they had 33,000 trips. In January and February, ridership climbed to 50,000 trips per month.

    Also, we're up to 5300 members, closing quickly on your 7400 member threshold. And we haven't even hit spring/summer yet.

  • Mark

    Cabi was at 40% usage an one point today

  • oboe

    Yet another failed experiment to "try" to get Americans to be more like the Dutch.

    Damn, couldn't you have put this assertion at the beginning of your comment? Seems to me folks would want to know you weren't bothering to be either serious or informed about the issue. It's just a matter of common courtesy.

  • oboe


    I kind of assumed he was just trolling, given the "WHY ARE YOU TRiEING TO TURN AMERICA INTO HOLALAND?!?!!11" entree. This confirmed it:

    ...if the system isn't running in the green in 2, 3 max, then it is going to suffer the death spiral metro is so fond of living in...

    Yes, if we know anything about the Metro rail system, it's that it's been a massive failure. Touche, sir!


  • Pro-Gentrification

    Please show me one road in the District that is not subsidized. And please also show me one transit mode that turns a profit (that is do taxpayers get a positive ROI on the capital and O&M of roads, rails, and air every year?) FYI, the answer is no.

    I am a CaBi member who did not have a bike. I will not get a bike, either, because after next week I will be making money by not taking transit anymore. $4 a day the Metro won't get from me. Money in my pocket.

    Of course if Gray and his MD-based constituency get there way and eliminate bike lanes (a sure sign of gentrification/neighborhood destruction), CaBi may go in decline.

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