MOTU Goes to Washington – Part 1

This is the first post in a 2-part series about MOTU’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Program Planner, Aaron Ritz’s, recent trip down to Washington, DC to further understand DC’s bikeshare program. 

As Philadelphia moves towards implementing its first bike sharing system by the end of 2014, MOTU is keen to learn the best practices from our peer cities.  On March 15th, MOTU’s Aaron Ritz made a trip to Washington DC to do research on the wildly successful Capital Bikeshare or “CaBi” as it’s known by locals.  Aaron met with representatives from the District Department of Transportation, who manage the financial and planning aspects of the system, Alta Bicycle Sharing, the firm responsible for day-to-day operations and with folks from Metro Bike, the firm responsible for planning the Arlington VA portion of CaBi.  As luck and weather would have it, the day turned out to be a fantastic way to learn about the details of bike sharing while using the system to get around Washington.

Step 1: Check-Out the Bike

Every trip through CaBi starts and ends at one of the 200 or so bike sharing stations.  The bike sharing station shown in the photograph below contains 30 spaces for bikes.  Check-out was intially hindered by trying to use thick gloves on a touch screen but soon enough our intrepid colleague had paid his 1-day pass rate of $7 and was riding through the streets of the District to his first meeting.

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Step 2: Ride the Bike

Once on a bike, it’s important to know where you’re going because trips on CaBi accrue additional costs if bikes are kept out for longer than 30 minutes.  Fortunately, there are handy websites and smartphone apps that allow users to know where they’re going, and to know how many bikes and docking stations are available at each station.

Step 3: Check-In the Bike

One of the system’s potential hassles is arriving at a station that has no bikes when you want one), or having no parking spaces when you need to park your bike. To deal with these issues, the system operators have a 45 person crew working constantly to make sure the bikes are distributed throughout the system evenly.  All the bikes had been checked out by 11:00 in the morning at this station shown below at the Waterfront Metro stop.

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Aaron ran into the opposite problem at his destination; he needed a place to park the bike, but there were no available docks at his destination.  With a quick stop at the kiosk of the full docking station he was able to get an extra 15 minutes of credit for free and was given directions to the next available docking space a few blocks away, and still arrived on time (mostly) to his first meeting.

Lessons Learned:

The lessons learned from this quick test drive are:

    • Bike sharing is easy for day-users and visitors to the system, but really rewards the regular user.  Knowing where the stations are and where to dock your bicycle make the system more valuable.
    • Having regularly spaced and convenient bike sharing stations is important.  While in DC, one is never very far from a station.
    • The website and smartphone apps are invaluable in getting the most out of one’s bike sharing experience.
Stay tuned for the second installment in this series as Aaron learns about the operation of DC’s system with the folks who know it best; the managers, dispatchers, balancers and bike mechanics of Alta Bike Sharing.

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