Capital Bikeshare is on the road to success

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By Jonathan Krall (File Photo)

The first-year report on Capital Bikeshare in Alexandria came out last month, and the news is good. According to city transportation planner Carrie Sanders, revenues covered 72 percent of operating costs.

This beats Metro and DASH, which have farebox recovery rates between 30 percent and 50 percent. Alexandria’s little eight-station system is well on its way to becoming a 16-station system by the spring and a 30-station system next year. Arlington — bless its transit-oriented heart — has placed eight stations along the Arlington-Alexandria border to improve connectivity.

The system, operated by Alta Bicycle Share, is owned and funded by Washington, Alexandria, and Arlington and Montgomery counties. Many Bikeshare riders think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread (if you’re a golfer, imagine golfing your way to work every morning and you get the idea).

Among those who don’t use Bikeshare, there are a few who question its value, reasoning that we’ve been doing just fine without it — the type-II diabetes epidemic notwithstanding.
Evaluated as a transit system, Bikeshare shines. Systemwide, it moves about 7,000 people per day, a figure that’s comparable to the 11,000 daily users of Alexandria’s DASH bus system.

Bikeshare trips are point-to-point, meaning that a rider can end their journey at any station in the system. In a 300-station system, a rider has a choice of 299 destinations. Each new station adds 300 routes. And unlike Metro, Bikeshare doesn’t shut down late at night.

The typical Bikeshare customer is a transit rider who uses the ubiquitous bicycle to cover the last mile between a transit stop and his destination. The two-wheelers are user-friendly and designed for riders in business suits rather than spandex. Accordingly, the most popular destinations in Alexandria are the two Metro stations (King and Braddock — a Bikeshare station at Eisenhower is in the works) and Market Square in the heart of the business district.

Studies show that the typical user is young and educated, but not wealthy (think interns). According to a survey of 5,600 Bikeshare members, the average rider reduced their driving by 523 miles and cut personal costs by $900 in the course of a year.

While I’m not sure how that payoff was computed, it’s clear that some members are realizing a big return on the $75 annual fee. Perhaps the survey analysis included the windfall realized by members who sold their cars.

More than a few critics have suggested that Bikeshare shouldn’t receive public funding. They cite New York City’s Citi Bike system, which is sponsored by Citibank, and Miami’s for-profit Decobike system.

Sponsorship may indeed be an option for Capital Bikeshare. However, the Big Apple’s version attracted a sponsor only because our three-year-old Bikeshare system is a proven success.
Meanwhile, Miami’s Decobike is solely focused on making a profit. Decobike has stations near every beach and every hotel in a tight cluster.

Decobike prices are generally twice that of Bikeshare, and the marketing is tourist-oriented, with no annual membership for residents. Decobike hired a former Playboy bunny to star in promotional videos and show off its line of clothing. Would this approach go over well in Old Town?

Capital Bikeshare, by contrast, is all about people. Capital Bikeshare is working to make its system more accessible to people who don’t have credit cards and cooperating with the Washington Area Bicycling Association to promote bicycling and the service in less-affluent neighborhoods.

We have this terrific system because community and business leaders were willing to take a chance on an innovative approach to public transit. Upon receiving the first-year report on Bikeshare, Mayor Bill Euille pledged his continued support, saying, “We want people to be using bicycles and walking.”

As a matter of public and economic health, I agree.

The writer is a member 
of the Alexandria 
Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee