Housing Complex

Bikeshare: More of a Tourist Thing Than I Realized

Back in July, we noticed that Capital Bikeshare ridership was starting to level off, after its meteoric rise through the spring. Well, it started declining the next month, and kept going, from a high of 143,511 trips in July to 99,552 trips in November. That, even though the system continued to gain hundreds of annual members per month, and add docking stations around the city. What gives?

I've got to say, it's not the weather. We've had an uncommonly mild fall and winter, with only a few unbikeably frigid days—on balance, no worse than the heat of the summer.

Strangely, the number of available bikes declined markedly, so that could be a part of the reason, and the District Department of Transportation couldn't account for the change*. Or perhaps those most faithful riders have gotten bikes of their own, taking trips out of the system (but not cyclists off the roads).

But the biggest difference is the drop in "casual members": The number of 24-hour passes purchased nosedived after July, mirroring the ridership decline. Only a small part of that can have happened after DDOT jacked up the cost of a pass from $5 to $7 in November. It's true that tourism in D.C. is a highly seasonal business, and it looks like visitors might be a bigger part of the Bikeshare constituency than I, at least, had expected.

* UPDATE, Saturday, 12:45 p.m. – In fact, DDOT did account for the change, which I at first misunderstood: They actually took bikes out of circulation in order to push the dock-to-bike ratio from 66 percent down to 50 percent.

  • Java Master

    PPl have their own fucking bikes, dude! And once the novelty of it all wears off, few really prefer the clunky Bikeshare bikes to their own! Tourists like 'em a lot. And ppl can see that if they only were more observant.

  • Corey

    Yeah, we're going to be laughing about the bikeshare fad in about 10 years, maybe sooner. What an absurd investment, basically designed only to placate the hipster crowd.

  • Danielle

    I am not a tourist, but my use has stopped since the rate-hike. I had been using the bike share as another transportation option, but with a kid, I don't quite use it enough for an annual membership. With the higher rates, however, I can't justify choosing the bike share over metro or bus.

  • Bob

    This is really poor analysis.

    First, of course trips spiked in the warmer weather. If you don't own a bike, you probably aren't the type of person that's so committed to riding that you'll do it in the bitter cold.

    Second, the service will of course be cyclical, but now that it's been around awhile it won't drop back down to the start off levels.

  • http://www.twitter.com/AdamLDC Adam L

    I think it's just cyclical service. Tourist season definitely has a lot to do with it.

    As for Java Master's assertion that people prefer their own bikes instead of Capital Bikeshare, that may certainly be true. It's possible that the service encouraged many commuters to just get their own bike. But as has been said over, and over, and over, bike share is more about convenience than anything else. Being able to ride one direction and not having to worry about getting your bike home is a huge plus in my book.

  • Michael H.

    +1 on the convenience of one-way trips and using CaBi for errands. I have two bikes that I use often in warmer months but I also used CaBi frequently this year. I don't like riding my own bikes for errands or commuting because I have to lock the bike up outside. With CaBi, I don't have to worry about my own bike getting stolen.

    As for the frequent criticism that CaBi can't be used to pick up furniture and other large items from Target or Best Buy, how often are people buying furniture out there? CaBi works well enough to go to the grocery store. I go to the grocery far more often than I shop at Best Buy or Target. While CaBi won't be useful for someone shopping for a large family, there are certainly plenty of people in single-person or two-person households who don't need to cart large amounts of groceries or other small items on each trip.

    CaBi has already proven popular with tourists. Usage rates will skyrocket next year after the National Park Service finally allows bike stations to be installed on the National Mall. The proposed stations near the Lincoln, FDR/MLK and Jefferson Memorials, the Washington Monument and the Mall entrance of the Smithsonian Metro station will be tremendously popular. Even local residents will probably use those bike stations. Many people go to West Potomac Park and the Mall to play softball and kickball games in the spring and summer. And even local residents can appreciate the sights of the famous monuments and memorials on the Mall.

  • Mrs. D

    Another +1 on the convenience factor. I use CaBi to get to my softball games, and then go out to happy hour with my teammates afterwards, for which I normally get a ride with one of them and end up near a Metro home. So, if I had my own bike, I'd have to either ride it to happy hour (and find a place to park it) or put it in a friend's car (not usually possible, as the few drivers generally have full loads of us non-drivers and our stuff), and then haul it home on the Metro OR make like the drivers and limit myself to 2 beers, because I don't drink and ride. Or I could alternatively spend 2-3 times as much time getting to my games due to early-morning weekend schedules and track work on Metro...or NOT! I think these trips, plus a few other random trips here and there, are well worth $75 a YEAR for the convenience.

    For another perspective, I have a friend who uses CaBi to ride to several different "going out" destinations near, but kind of a long walk, from her house, and then walks or cabs home. (A) she doesn't want to leave her bike on the street in Adams Morgan/U Street/etc.; (B) she doesn't want to drink and ride.

    I have other friends who do the same thing on days when they may want to take the Metro one way to/from work (it's supposed to start raining before the evening commute, they might be working late/hard and not feel up to the ride home, they're not going straight home after work, they woke up late and the Metro is a bit faster, they're super tired in the morning but feel up to a ride by evening, etc.). There I just came up with 3+ reasons why people would prefer CaBi over using their own bike, from a half dozen people who ride for different tasks/events. Since I don't know everyone in the city, just a representative sample, that's the best I can do, but it seems pretty sound to assume that my friends and I are not such unique snowflakes that we're the only ones using CaBi for its one-way convenience, and at least once a week for most of us. And at $75/year, it would take several years of membership to equal out to the cost of a good bike and its attendant maintenance...for someone who rides short trips 1-2 times a week, the cost of owning is not worth it.

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

    but... as to the general point of the article, this shouldn't be a surprise because the density of stations and number of bikes isn't high enough to support residential use, while the footprint of station coverage (excepting the National Mall) is decent enough for tourists, and the ease of getting around via Cabi vs. other modes (transit, car) is cheaper.

    Although, someone did send me an email stating that tourists-occasional users don't fully understand the concept, and want to keep the bikes all day, or don't except the escalating charges beyond the first 30 minutes.

    It seems pretty obvious to me, because it's stated on the kiosk. I did discover that Hubway puts it on the bikes too:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/47186762@N03/6372087857/in/faves-rllayman/

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

    WRT Danielle's point about the rate hike, I thought the rate hike was going to work differently, more like how Boston has two different hourly rates, one for residents (which if I were running the system, I'd extend to the residential area covered by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which in our area is the Council of Govts. transportation section) and one for tourists.

    Instead, the rate hike here was for everyone.

    The two tiered pricing system for area residents vs. visitors was what my firm proposed for Chattanooga, although we were second to Bixi in that bidding process.

  • Larry Martin

    In ten years bikeshares will be institutionalized throughout metro areas because it serves a distinct purpose otherwise unmet - quick, cheep surface transportation. I'm a parent, closer to retirement than college, and a non-bike commuter. Its not easy for me to keep a bike downtown. I stopped riding when I had to start car pooling my family to work and school. I'm riding again. From parking garage across town to work; to the Hill for meetings; after work for drinks; and occasionally just to go for a ride when I need to get outside. I expect that CABI will grow steadily as its advantages become more widely recognized.

  • http://westnorth.com Payton

    Actually, Richard, the CaBi rate hike was only for casual users: "the usage fees for trips lasting longer than 30 minutes will increase by 33% for casual users for every half-hour increment. The membership costs and usage fees will remain the same for annual and monthly members." (from the email notice to members)

    The press release on their site is also pretty clear: "usage fees for casual members (24-hour and 3-day memberships) will increase from the current rates by 33 percent... usage fees for annual and monthly members will remain the same."

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