Greater Greater Washington

GGW debates: Is CaBi getting a good deal on Living Social?

This weekend Capital Bikeshare featured half price monthly and annual memberships on the social coupon site Living Social. By the end, more than 8,000 memberships were sold. But is this really good for CaBi?


Photo by HerrVebah on Flickr.

As the CaBi coupon's numbers skyrocketed, some Greater Greater Washington contributors weighed in whether Capital Bikeshare had made the right choice.

Erik Weber

I'm afraid that CaBi is losing a lot of revenue through the Living Social promotion by allowing people to renew their memberships. Many "power users" like me would have gladly renewed my membership in September at the full $75 price. Since the promotional credit doesn't expire until October, anyone whose had a membership any longer than December would be foolish not to buy this as a renewal.

You should only sacrifice immediate or short-term revenue if you can guarantee that sacrifice will generate revenue in the medium to long term. By allowing current users who already find value in the program to renew their memberships at an enormous discountCaBi is probalby lucky if they're getting 60% of each $37 voucherthey are simply forfeiting future revenue.

There is no doubt in my mind that CaBi should have restricted this to new members only, or made the coupons expire within a month. Living Social is used as a promotional tool to bring new people into your restaurant, your office or your system. This will certainly accomplish that.

But the existing members already are in the system. They have enough personal and contact information on each member that I don't think it would be difficult to determine whether or not someone is an existing member. The exclusionary concept is not new, I've seen plenty of LivingSocial/Groupon deals that have "*new patients only" type caveats in the deal terms.

I'm not saying they shouldn't have done the Living Social deal. They will get huge exposure and new customers from it. But, I think CaBi should have made the Living Social promotion available to new users only and simultaneously offered a renewal discount through their own website to current members so that they at least didn't throw away half of the voucher revenue by forfeiting it to Living Social.

Increasing ridership and usage is the ultimate goal. But if we've learned nothing else in recent budget and funding debates, things need not only to be used, but also to be financially sustainable. So, why should we just shrug our shoulders at revenue lost unnecessarily? CaBi could have offered renewals directly to current members at a price cheaper than the Living Social deal and still have made more revenue than they will from those existing members through this promotion.

Rob Pitingolo

I purchased a voucher for a new annual membership, after waffling for months over whether it was worth it, and questioning whether the promise of Bikeshare along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor would become a reality anytime soon.

This could have been a great opportunity to use price discrimination to sign up "light users" like myself, who might not have otherwise become a member, while still generating full revenue from "power users" who put a lot more strain on the system.

From everything I've read about deal sites, it's likely that CaBi isn't receiving the full $37. I've heard that commissions for these deals range from 30%-50%. Worst case, CaBi is only bringing in $18.50 for what would have inevitably been many $75 renewals.

The deal was great for generating excitement and buzz, but as far as a strategic tool for economic pricing discrimination, I think it may have missed the mark.

Vincent Flament

If this deal pushes up demand to the point that Cabi will exceed its capacity, then indeed it is probably not such a good idea. But if the level of demand increases existing ridership without creating abnormal capacity problems, then the economic loss is compensated by the social gain.

I think they may well get new users like me that can not justify $75 given that have little opportunity to ride it other than the weekend. Either way the buzz created may well be worth it. What if the deal is picked up by TV, newsprint and internet? That may get a lot of new people signing up!

One of the issues is whether Living Social terms and conditions allow discrimination as Erik suggests. Also how can you discriminate between current and new customers? at a dentist it is very easy to do this given that there is usually a person in charge of a limited amount of existing patients. Cabi has already 1000's of member. Would you really be able to check each one of them?

Alex Baca

I wonder if the loss of revenue is secondary to the goal of bringing a lot of new users. Many new users might not have previously joined because there wasn't a close enough station to them to justify a full-price membership. If you bring those people in, you may being to see more requests for new stations.

This is also a good way to reach out to people who might find the full price unaffordable. We've talked about as an issue in Wards 7 and 8, though that sort of cancels itself out, given the digital divide issues that are also present in those wards.

I've also found that when I've bought LivingSocial/Groupon deals to restaurants I've never been to, I've become a return customer. No doubt they're hoping to hook people, so that they continue to renew their membership over the years.

Alex Block

If they lose revenue through this, so what? The point of this promotion is to get members and generate buzz, not to bring in huge revenue through the sale. You do a promotion like this as a loss leader, not as a big moneymaker.

You have to be careful about devaluing your product, however. Ted Leonsis talks about that with Wizards tickets - give too many away and people won't pay for them, and you risk alienating your season ticket base. However, since they've allowed this deal to work for renewals, you eliminate that alientation problem.

CaBi is in the startup phase still. Having users is far more important than having revenue at this point. That's why this is a good deal for CaBi. You do a deal like this to increase your user base, not to generate revenue.

Yes, doing renewals instead of only new memberships is losing money - that's true of any sale - but I do doubt that forgoing that revenue is a bad thing at CaBi's stage of development. Build a robust system first, then worry about the operating margins.

If CaBi was doing this promotion in year three of operations instead of month 6 (and the first real month of spring), then I'd be concerned about revenue.

Also, it's worth noting how big this could be. CaBi currently has about 6,400 annual members. They've sold more than 8,000 vouchers on Living Social. If we assume most of those sales are annual memberships - even if half are renewals - that's a huge increase in total membership coming online just as we get into the nice Spring weather.

Veronica Davis

One way to look at it is there are going to get a large influx on money in a very short period of time, which bodes well for reinvestment into additional infrastructure. There are some old members who may not plan to renew b/c of cost and the fact they don't use it as expected. At $37 they are more likely to renew. So instead of getting $0 from them, you are at least getting $37.

If the numbers are already at 6000, the gross revenue is around $220,000. Even after Living Social takes a cut, there's still plenty of money for additional bike stations.

The lost revenue from renewals is chump change compared to the influx from people purchasing the deal even with Living Social's cut. They could've run this deal through their own site, but they will probably end up with 3 times the takers using Living Social.

Mark Jordan

Given the way the contract between DC and Alta is structured, I actually don't object to decision. Here's why:

David posted last year that the contract is structured as follows: The stations cost about $35,000 for a small station (7 bikes and 11 docking spaces), up to $52,000 for a large 13-bike, 19-dock station. The operating cost will be $155 per bike not counting memberships; the membership revenue DC and Arlington get will go to offset each jurisdiction's contribution to operating costs.

So it looks to me like it's DC and Arlington who bear the cost of lower revenue, not Alta. So, in essence, the lost revenue is a government subsidy. I presume the contract with DC and Arlington guarantee them sufficient revenue to make it worthwhile for them. I would be concerned if the lower price impacted the viability of the program more directly.

I think the distinction matters because bike shares have substantial externalities. The public at large benefits from less traffic congestion, lower carbon emissions, etc., as people switch from motor vehicles to bikes. So it makes sense for the government to subsidize user costs b/c it benefits all of us indirectly.

Do I think they will be foregoing some revenue from subscribers who would have paid more? Yes, I do. But I also think there will be a net increase in ridership. I got two new people to sign up today, so I know it's at least a start. In my mind, that's the more important public goal.

Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 

Comments

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Veronica hits a key point that I think almost everyone else missed: This is additional revenue up front for CaBi that they would ordinarily not have, or have trickling in over the next year or two instead... That's a lot of cash flow for adding stations, improving operations, and doing work to make the system work better and more attractive to yet more subscribers.

by Steve D on Apr 12, 2011 11:52 am • linkreport

I personally know one person who wasn't considering getting a membership till she saw this deal, then she sent word of it out to dozens of people to try to get her Living Social deal for free. I think it's a brilliant viral marketing strategy and helped put CaBi on a lot of peoples' radar. Imagine if all 8,000 of those people sent out an email to 10 more people trying to get their LS deal for free. That's 80,000 eyeballs seeing the CaBi brand. Sure, a chunk of that 8,000 probably were renewals, but I definitely see an upside here.

by Alan Page on Apr 12, 2011 11:56 am • linkreport

I thought that Mayor Gray's budget included using funds from Cabi for other things rather than leaving it self-sufficient. If that's the case then it makes sense for them to do this. They aren't losing any funds.

by Nick on Apr 12, 2011 12:07 pm • linkreport

To clarify, the budget included using funds from Cabi MEMBERSHIPS

by Nick on Apr 12, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

I joined in the fall during the $50 introductory period, and have been only a light user - a few trips in the fall, and almost none in the winter. As the weather gets nice again, I'm probably going to be using the system more during the spring and summer, but I don't see myself ever being a really heavy user. For that reason, I'm not sure that I would have renewed at the full price of $75, but when I saw the Living Social deal, I jumped on it. I suspect other light users like me may have made the same sort of calculation. Yes, they are losing revenue from dedicated users who gladly would have paid $75 (and got every dime of their money's worth out of it). But they are gaining revenue from people like me who are sort of on the fence. And they are also getting their money upfront and well in advance, rather than waiting until the fall when the original users' memberships start to expire. It seems to me somewhat analogous to the way magazines start sending you discounted renewal offers months before your subscription expires - they want the cash in advance and want to know they have you locked in for another year. It must make good business sense to them or they wouldn't do it.

by Mike on Apr 12, 2011 12:10 pm • linkreport

Nick, in one place they have CaBi advertising revenue. In another place they have DDOT money to subsidize it. So they're putting money in and then taking money out. A bit of a shell game. I didn't see anything in the budget about membership fees.

by David C on Apr 12, 2011 12:13 pm • linkreport

David C,

I stand corrected. It was the advertising revenue that I was thinking about.

by Nick on Apr 12, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

Keep in mind also that CaBi memberships have a fairly low marginal cost. Unlike stores or restaurants, which sometimes lose money on coupons, each additional membership doesn't cost CaBi anything (except perhaps some additional maintenance costs). So CaBi isn't losing money on the deal. It might be missing out of future revenue, but I suspect the upfront revenue, plus the substantial boost to ridership, outweighs the potential revenue lost from membership renewals further down the line. As more people join and use CaBi, the system gets stronger and there's more pressure to expand it. An expanded system will equal more riders--if there's anything GGW readership understands, it's induced demand.

by Dan on Apr 12, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

Yeah, I'm not so sure they should have extended this to members. Though if they didn't there might have been a backlash from people.

Either way, I bought the deal so CaBi won't be getting much in the way of revenue from me until September 2012 - I rarely go over the 30 minute mark.

by MLD on Apr 12, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

If Mark Jordan's point is correct, then it is a bad deal.

Alta did the living social deal, but the reduced revenue comes out on the governmental side.

Not having details -- and the linked post is not definitive -- the other commentators all have good points.

Couple other factors:

1. DC is a mobile city -- people move in and out. Waiting until October to offer a renewal deal means some people have left.

2. I'd be curious to see how being a yearly member might drive day rentals and friend come to visit.

3. At what point do we declare CaBi a success?

by charlie on Apr 12, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

This is also an experiment for CaBi to determine what a good price point is for their annual membership. They've now tried three prices: $75, $50 and $37. They know how many members they got from each drive, and what the cost of recruiting a member was, and how much they earned in the end. That's valuable data.

by Jasper on Apr 12, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

How do these bike share systems react to large increases in riders? Their costs for rebalancing the bikes probably goes up, and maintenance costs too. But it's not like people check out a bike and then it disappears. They return it to the system for someone else to use.

I admit I don't fully grasp how the system characteristics change as more riders get added.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 12, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

@perkins; agreed, it is confusing. However, the TYPE of rider added probably makes a bigger difference.

in a balanced system, more rider means more circulation. Looking at the animation maps, however, you do see the day/night difference as people ride into jobs downtown.

by charlie on Apr 12, 2011 12:28 pm • linkreport

Yeah, I'm not so sure they should have extended this to members. Though if they didn't there might have been a backlash from people.

What about members who purchased between October 9, 2010 and April 7, 2011? Most paid $75 with no option for renewing at the lower rate.

by Rob P on Apr 12, 2011 12:33 pm • linkreport

Erik Weber wrote: Since the promotional credit doesn't expire until October, anyone whose had a membership any longer than December would be foolish not to buy this as a renewal.

The fools are those current CaBi members like me who don't receive livingsocail's daily deals. It seems pretty unfair for Capital Bikeshare to offer a select group to renew their membership at a discount while the rest of us have to pay full price. Why did Cabi not send out an email to all members giving them the opportunity to take advantage of this deal? I feel like a sucker after reading this article.

by Hank on Apr 12, 2011 12:37 pm • linkreport

I've said my piece. I think it was unconcionable for an organization that runs so far in the red already to leave hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue on the table like that. groupon and living social are for organizations to round up new business, not dig themselves into a bigger fiscal hole by giving existing customers deals they would have paid full price for anyway.

cabi needs to find ways to "painlessly" squeeze mor emoney out of its business model. Not make piles of hundred dollar bills and set them on fire.

by freely on Apr 12, 2011 12:52 pm • linkreport

I know this will sound a little weird but I think this is a good deal not matter the terms with Living Social.

The long-term goal of CaBi is to get increased ridership, possibly at the expense of people driving or using other forms of transportation.

If this contributes to less traffic, less need for parking, increased mobility in the city with spin-off effects such as increased spending at local businesses, I think this is a bargain for the city.

PS. I'm a little bummed that my wife and I signed up the week before at full price....but we do use the bikes a lot and find them great!

by Niklas M on Apr 12, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

@Rob P:

I purchased my deal and I think all it did was push out my renewal date by a year. So I think you could have bought a $75 Membership on say April 1, 2011 then bought the Living Social deal and been a member until April 1, 2013.

by Steven Yates on Apr 12, 2011 1:06 pm • linkreport

@Hank: but Living Social subscribers didn't get something for free. We trade our attention to their daily emails for the chance at savings. Although I rarely buy Living Social deals, I do read their emails every day. That's valuable advertising that Living Social sells to businesses. By wanting the Living Social deal without putting up with a constant stream of daily deals, you're asking for the benefits of the service without giving up anything in return. The current group coupon business models don't work like that.

by JS on Apr 12, 2011 1:08 pm • linkreport

The success of the Living Social promotion shows that there is a whole untapped market for CaBi for which the high annual fee (and consequent high per ride fee for occasional riders) is a barrier.

It also underlines the problem that a membership-fee and not ridership-fee financed CaBi faces: more use doesn't equal more revenue.

On other occasions I've argued for per-minute billing, and I continue to hold that that is the most profitable, most equitable and most convenient way to price CaBi ($12 for the key, pay 3cents a minute for a ride).

Many find that too radical - but what about London's membership for occasional users: a $5 key fee and a $1.50 per day charge on days you use the bikes. This has many of the benefits in terms of attracting users and getting revenue from them as per-minute-billing does.

CaBi is a success - let's hope that it isn't a victim of that success.

by egk on Apr 12, 2011 1:08 pm • linkreport

@alan page brings up a good point, of the viral power of the LivingSocial deal, and I would argue that even the renewals serve a purpose in driving up overall views and memberships.

I know that in many cases, current CaBi members are the best ambassadors for the system. Renewing an annual membership for $37 gave each current subscriber an incentive to recruit three more new members (in order to get their own deal for free).

I wonder if the number of new subscribers from this deal would have been as high without the push from current members who were trying to subsidize their own purchase.

by Jacques on Apr 12, 2011 1:39 pm • linkreport

I renewed for a year just days before the LS deal came out, but I don't think I would've used it anyway. (The good news is, my wife and my sister/brother-in-law were convinced to sign up.) Since I received my first 9 months for free — as a Smartbike member, I had an special invitation from CaBi to join — I was happy to give Capital Bikeshare my money. How on earth is $75 for a year considered a high fee? Use it only twice a month instead of Metro and it's paid for itself.

by BCA on Apr 12, 2011 1:40 pm • linkreport

Two thoughts here:

First, the worries about "overloading the system" here are overblown. The capacity issues are predominantly caused by those using the system as commuters: for example, those who ride from Columbia Heights down to the central business district, or folks who commute from far-flung parts of Capitol Hill to Eastern Market Metro. Obviously, that's self-limiting. If you're buying a membership specifically to use it as a commuter service during peak hours, you're likely to be disappointed. There's just no way you can replace bikes fast enough to keep up with that demand.

But for every new CaBi member we get in the system, you have someone who can use it in a non-commuting mode. That is to say, neighborhood to neighborhood, or off-hours. And it's through using the system that you come to appreciate the system's true value: basically replacing short cab rides and extended foot travel.

Where CaBi shines is in replacing short to medium-length cab rides: say, from Adams Morgan to Georgetown. Or from Eastern Market to Chinatown. If you look at the system in that light, $75 / year is an incredible bargain.

But at $37 / year, you're getting down to the price point where non-DC residents who don't live (and perhaps don't even work) anywhere near a CaBi station start to consider becoming members. If you come into town on weekends, or at night, it's still a bargain.

And next year--once they experience that utility--they're likely to resubscribe at the full rate. And even recommend it to their peers.

by oboe on Apr 12, 2011 2:04 pm • linkreport

For the record: Any Capital Bikeshare member can renew at any time with the Living Social deal. You don't have to wait till October or whenever you think your membership is about to expire.

Having said that, I originally thought that allowing existing members to renew was a bad idea, considering that it is likely that many people would have renewed anyway. However, that's not the entire point. Locking people in allows Capital Bikeshare to claim a large and growing number of members and means people are more likely to use the system. For a system that is reliant on federal grant funds, showing a large membership and high-usage rate is key when going back to ask for more money to expand.

by Adam L on Apr 12, 2011 2:05 pm • linkreport

Everybody seems to be ignoring Mark Jordan's point that per the contract membership money goes not to CaBi but to DC & Arlington.

He says CabI is getting paid $155 operating cost per bike. So, in theory,
more members = leads to more bikes = more operating revenue goes to CaBi = less cost per bike so greater profit.

If this is right I would think DC and Arlington would have had to have signed off on the deal.

by JeffB on Apr 12, 2011 2:24 pm • linkreport

@Hank, JS
They also posted the deal on the Capital Bikeshare facebook page and put it on Twitter as well, they just didn't send an e-mail to all members.

by MLD on Apr 12, 2011 2:32 pm • linkreport

Has anyone thought to interview people inside CaBi or DC or Arlington, or shall we just speculate all day?

by OX4 on Apr 12, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

@Adam L,

"For a system that is reliant on federal grant funds"

That is the point, it isn't. Cabi was set up with 7 million in free grant money from the feds, but all current and future operating costs are the responsibilty of the jurisdiction...being DC and Arlington.

by freely on Apr 12, 2011 2:43 pm • linkreport

Has anyone thought to interview people inside CaBi or DC or Arlington, or shall we just speculate all day?

WELCOME TO GGW!!!

We hope you enjoy your stay!

by oboe on Apr 12, 2011 2:58 pm • linkreport

Most of this conversation is ignoring the customer acquisition costs that Capital Bikeshare faces no matter how they sign up new customers. For many services and subscriptions (phone service, ISPs, Netflix, magazines), first year customer acquisition costs can exceed first year revenues. It can cost hundreds of dollars in marketing, advertising, postage, printing, administrative costs, etc. to sign up a new customer.

Even renewals can be expensive. If a customer fails to renew on his own and ignores (relatively inexpensive) e-mail reminders, things like direct mail and telemarketing are very costly.

Let's say Capital Bikeshare paid $50 each for 8,000 new and renewal memberships. Plus they got a lot of free brand awareness both directly from the Living Social e-mail blast and from the buzz that it generated. That's a bargain.

by c5karl on Apr 12, 2011 4:21 pm • linkreport

Increased members = increased trips = increased mileage.

All of the above = lower capital/investment cost per member/trip/mile

This will help when making decisions on whether to expand CaBi because investments in bikeshare are much more cost effective than other public transit systems on the margin.

by Robert Mandle on Apr 12, 2011 4:37 pm • linkreport

@ c5karl; yeah, those tv spots have been expensive. Not to mention that damn Cabi add that pop up everytime I come to GGW. The billboards, well, that pesky ANC in Georgetown complained when it blocked some river views but we all agreed running it the entire length of the Whitehurst wasn't necessary. I won't go into the free bikes for WH staff and what not.

But other than those, yes, I'm sure customer acquisition is expensive for them.

(CaBi: hire some hot models -- just not in pantsuits -- and get them to ride around DC. You'll do far more than living social)*

* Do not hire Oboe.

by charlie on Apr 12, 2011 4:47 pm • linkreport

Do not hire Oboe

You obviously have never seen me in a pantsuit.

by oboe on Apr 12, 2011 5:17 pm • linkreport

I think in the long run this will be a good idea. I was finally able to talk a number of friends who had been on the fence into joining.

I also have a number of friends that come into town to visit me and with this price point so low, I purchased a spare membership so that any of my friends that are visiting can bike around with me.

by T on Apr 12, 2011 9:45 pm • linkreport

@T

I wouldn't say in public that you're buying an extra membership for other people to use when they're in town... the terms of use expressly prohibits doing that.

by Adam L on Apr 12, 2011 10:36 pm • linkreport

If you want to promote bike usage, it would be much more affordable to provide free, high-quality (I mean fully-enclosed structures that allow each bike to be parked in a separate spot, not u-racks in the rain next to some knucklehead w/a Huffy and a chain laying waste to your ride) in the places that people actually ride to and from. For the multi-millions that have be spent on this program, we could have had 10s of thousands of such high-quality parking racks throughout the whole city (and probably the whole region). Instead we have 1100 bikes (of which no more than 850 have ever been deployed at one time) that people primarily ride from home to work, requiring a huge overhead as they get trucked back and forth for someone else to use just twice a day. Does it promote a cycling culture? Sure. Does it do so in a financially effective way? Not so sure...

by Phil K. on Apr 13, 2011 11:10 am • linkreport

I just checked the link and it said the deal was expired. Where was the info that this was still good,or have they changed it? I got my membership for the $50 intro,but have no probs paying the full price next year. I've been using it to get to the Metro quickly for my daily commute,and the price is cheap compared to the wear and tear of leaving one of my bikes parked out in the open/elements all day every day.

by dynaryder on Apr 13, 2011 11:19 am • linkreport

Phil K, I think you overestimate the amount of money spent and the cost of bike parking. For the $6M spent on CaBi, you could install about 10,000 inverted U racks - which cost about $500 each to buy and install if I'm correct. That's it. Do you think 10,000 inverted U racks would stimulate 3000 bike trips a day? Is the lack of a place to park outside really the reason people don't bike more?

Do you have any idea how much bike lockers cost? Is it telling that membership in CaBi is $75 a year, but a Metro bike locker is over $200 a year?

by David C on Apr 13, 2011 11:20 am • linkreport

@ David C
$6M in capital costs, plus the ongoing expenses of management, maintenance, and rebalancing... Then there's expanding the capacity of the system so that it really serves as a viable alternative for a large percentage of the population instead of a subsidized commuter perk for the well-to-do in a few neighborhoods (that will be another couple of millions).

U-racks can be installed for way under $500 a pop- under $200 in a large scale (that's less than $100/bike). We could have had u-racks on every corner, but that doesn't really provide the necessary level of service to daily riders (i.e.- secure parking protected from the elements).

You can install fully-covered, individually positioned bike parking for well under $1000 per slot- so i should have said over 10,0000 rather than 10s of thousands given the current capital outlay. If the $$ were thrown in to really transform CaBi into a widely viable system, there's enough for several 10,000s more.

Bike lockers can also be put in for somewhat less than $1000/bike in that kind of volume, but typically can only be assigned/used by a single rider, so don't really address the space & demand issues.

That Metro chose to jack the rate of locker rental up to the insane $200/year level doesn't really reflect the cost/benefit of locker installation or of encouraging people to ride to Metro. If CaBi charged enough to pay for the system in 5 years, no one would be riding.

I'm not saying that bike share doesn't serve as potentially productive complement to other biking infrastructure in the urban environment (though I think we have a ways to go in implementation and density the DC region before it is), just that it's probably not the most economically effective way to induce bike ridership in general.

by Phil K. on Apr 13, 2011 11:45 am • linkreport

Too many variables going on to say how effective it will be.

1. Obviously, the discount was great for people who were considering but not motivated enough to buy at the current price. (Note that the current price someone commented about price testing. The reality is that the price needs to be at least double in order to provide more financial support to the system instead of subsidy.)

2. What is the nature of these members? Are they light users, or likely to be heavy users?

Potentially, more users could lead to more natural rebalancing (by riders) rather than requiring "operator intervention" to do it. By definition, operator required rebalancing is undesirable and expensive.

3. W/o knowing much about the members it's tough to forecast the impact. HOWEVER, given that at the core there aren't enough bikes and docks in many of the stations, likely it will lead to more "out of stocks" not fewer, so that in the short and intermediate run, the increase in demand, if mostly driven by people living in the core, will cause problems.

4. The amount of money generated by the sale is pretty minimal. $166,000 would buy 150 bikes (approximately) or a few stations or some docks. But given that, I'd take the money and buy more docks and put them in key locations where capacity needs to be increased.

5. The offer should have been restricted to new members only, therefore not applicable to renewals. Yes, they shouldn't have left money on the table in this way.

6. Charlie is right about the need to do better marketing and his suggestion about one of the aspects of such a program is right on. However, I am not at liberty to make suggestions, because it's proprietary information for my business (BicyclePASS).

Heavy discounting is not a good strategy. Still, it'd be interesting to find out more about the 8,000 people, why they bought, their demographics, etc.

It is true that in typical direct marketing, your customer acquisition cost is high and you make money in future years. But when your regular cost for membership/subscription is already significantly below cost, there are already flaws in the business model, although this is something shared by all bikesharing systems, not just the one here.

by Richard Layman on Apr 13, 2011 12:37 pm • linkreport

U-racks can be installed for way under $500 a pop- under $200 in a large scale

No they can't. DDOT often mentions the cost of installing bike racks at BAC meetings and it's more expensive than you'd think.

But let's just go with you'e numbers. We remove CaBi and install 10,000 fully-covered, individually positioned bike racks District wide (and into NoVa). Does bike riding go up or down? The covered bike racks only serve people who are willing to pay for their own bike, store it and maintain it. It doesn't serve people who want to bike one way or the other. It doesn't serve tourists and other visitors. And the lack of covered parking isn't a main reason that people give for not biking - so I'm doubtful it would induce 3000 trips a day.

And even if it did induce as many trips, it would require the use of more space. Since there would be 3000 bikes parked downtown instead of 500 (or however many are stored downtown).

While there are maintenance costs to the system, they're covered - at least in part - by user fees, so that isn't really fair to consider in the costs. So we're only talking about whatever is above the covered cost (and we don't know what that is). As for expansion costs - those should lead to more trips, so bump up my number of induced trips above.

And the total costs will certainly go up. One upside of bike sharing is that costs are shared. Most of the time, no one is riding my bike.

So you have to consider the cost of the bike sharing system and the maintenance and management of it against the cost of all the bikes it replaces and the maintenance of those. Granted the personal bikes are a personal cost, but by shifting those costs from the government to the public we aren't really saving money. That is money that could be spent on a lot of other things. A bike sharing system carries the public good of making it easy for people to share bikes and the cost of bikes and thus save money.

MWCOG did a cost-benefit analysis on bike sharing and showed the benefit exceeds the cost. If you'd care to do a formal cost-benefit analysis of your covered parking plan, I'd love to compare those.

by David C on Apr 13, 2011 12:44 pm • linkreport

Phil K. doesn't want to say, but www.bicyclepass.com installs inverted U racks for way less than that $500/ea. price. In fact, we install double stacked bicycle racks for less than $500/ea. slot too.

by Richard Layman on Apr 13, 2011 3:03 pm • linkreport

Do you install them in the public space to DDOT's standard? That's always been the problem. They can get them installed, but not well. That's why they hired WABA to do it. WABA is more interested in seeing them done right than making money.

by David C on Apr 13, 2011 3:11 pm • linkreport

@ David C
Don't get me wrong, like I said earlier, I think CaBi makes a powerful statement about truly recognizing and incorporating biking into the local transportation scene. I'm just not sure it's the most effective way to spend $6M in free $$ (plus all the other expenses involved) to achieve the goal of promoting bike usage.

In full disclosure- per Richard's comments- I am a partner in BicyclePASS. We offer Point-A & Point-B solutions for bike parking, storage, fleets, and other amenities- including bike sharing- to a wide variety of clients. I was attempting to avoid being a corporate shill on the GGW discussions, but the cat's out of the bag now... :-) But I'm not inherently anti-bike share, even if I may come across that way.

In response to your reasoned concerns:

U-racks can be installed for way under $500 a pop- under $200 in a large scale

No they can't. DDOT often mentions the cost of installing bike racks at BAC meetings and it's more expensive than you'd think.
-I assure you it can and has been done for well under $500 a rack (speaking from personal experience). And I'd be happy to do it again. Give me $6M and I'll do it for under $200 for sure (that would be 60,000 parking spaces). (And yes, it can be done "right" for that amount.)

But let's just go with you'e numbers. We remove CaBi and install 10,000 fully-covered, individually positioned bike racks District wide (and into NoVa). Does bike riding go up or down? The covered bike racks only serve people who are willing to pay for their own bike, store it and maintain it. It doesn't serve people who want to bike one way or the other. It doesn't serve tourists and other visitors. And the lack of covered parking isn't a main reason that people give for not biking - so I'm doubtful it would induce 3000 trips a day.
-Does CaBi really induce that many trips where people wouldn't have walked or biked anyways? Especially if they had a viable alternative to ditching their personal bike in the elements (if they could even find existing parking now)? And 3000 trips a day? That's barely over 2 rides/day/bike- sounds like we're subsidizing affluent close-in commuters again... And it certainly doesn't induce many commuters from outside the city to switch their commute mode- nobody who drives from a farther away location not served by CaBi is going to stop driving w/this approach. And while I agree it's a nice amenity, I'm not sure catering to one-way trips serves a huge proportion of the user base. Likewise, tourists and visitors can always rent a bike, plus, if there was good parking around the city, get to far more places than are/will be served by CaBi (and doing so w/o taking business from local establishments that provide those services or having to switch bikes every half hour or not being able to lock up unless there happens to be a station, etc.). Bike usage certainly wouldn't go down if good parking was made available, and the lack of quality parking is often cited as a reason why people don't ride.

And even if it did induce as many trips, it would require the use of more space. Since there would be 3000 bikes parked downtown instead of 500 (or however many are stored downtown).
-You would have far greater geographical coverage and density w/bike parking, so not all 3000 spaces would be crammed into a limited area. Plus spaces would more likely be located nearer to a rider's destination. And CaBi has ~2 spaces for every bike (which has still proven to be insufficient), so the space efficiency is compromised there too.

While there are maintenance costs to the system, they're covered - at least in part - by user fees, so that isn't really fair to consider in the costs. So we're only talking about whatever is above the covered cost (and we don't know what that is). As for expansion costs - those should lead to more trips, so bump up my number of induced trips above.
-They are nowhere near covering costs (much less the initial investment) for CaBi (and never will under the present scenario, especially when they are virtually giving away memberships per the Living Social deal.) As far a expansion goes, expanding the reach of any/all biking amenities (trails/lanes/parking/sharing) is likely to induce more trips.

And the total costs will certainly go up. One upside of bike sharing is that costs are shared. Most of the time, no one is riding my bike.
-My bike takes me from where I am to where I want to go- not from/to wherever the docking stations happen to be. What are you going to do- put CaBi stations on every block in all the surrounding jurisdictions? That will be expensive. As it is, most of the time no one is riding a CaBi bike either (and half of the docking capacity is empty).

So you have to consider the cost of the bike sharing system and the maintenance and management of it against the cost of all the bikes it replaces and the maintenance of those. Granted the personal bikes are a personal cost, but by shifting those costs from the government to the public we aren't really saving money. That is money that could be spent on a lot of other things. A bike sharing system carries the public good of making it easy for people to share bikes and the cost of bikes and thus save money.
-High quality bike parking saves everyone money: it's cheaper than installing car parking (the only other regional point-to-point alternative out there); it encourages people to ride instead of drive or take transit over a much wider area than bike share ever will; for the cost of 1 CaBi bike and related docks, you could subsidize- if not outright pay for- bike ownership and maintenance for multiple people (if you paid people to ride their own bikes, I think you'd get some takers too...).

MWCOG did a cost-benefit analysis on bike sharing and showed the benefit exceeds the cost. If you'd care to do a formal cost-benefit analysis of your covered parking plan, I'd love to compare those.
-Alas, I/we don't have the funding that COG does to study such things, but I'd probably recommend that MWCOG should spend their money on doing a broad analysis of what achieves their stated goals rather than focusing on an individual concept. If they're interested in studying this too, I'd be happy to help out- pro bono. Most/all of the benefits side the their analysis would accrue to anything that promotes cycling (user cost savings, travel time, access, congestion, environmental, health, reduced accidents...) and would certainly apply to parking initiatives as well. Plus, if you get $6M in free funding for anything, it's pretty easy to say that it's worth it. And it's been shown that investment in biking infrastructure in general (even expensive projects like trails and additional capacity on the roadways) is a plus on the cost-benefit side- so bike share is not alone in this.

-Overall, I wouldn't advocate for a plan that only incorporates protected parking as a solution, but rather one that puts the right type of parking in the right place for the users of a particular location. Sometimes u-racks are the right choice, sometimes covered parking is best, and sometimes high-security dedicated parking (we're back to lockers again... or some other keyed/pass-card access security) is the way to go, and all need to be included to meet the needs of people getting around by bike. And I'd definitely support bike sharing (in the right ways & places) too. It's not (or, more correctly, it shouldn't be- darn that funding bit!) an either/or situation; bikers should have the legitimacy and accommodations they rightfully deserve.

by Phil K. on Apr 13, 2011 3:17 pm • linkreport

Unless this money is used to vastly improve the capacity of the system, they will be a victim of their own success. Even prior to the LivingSocial deal, I tried riding a bike downtown on a Monday morning. After an hour of riding around looking for an empty bike dock (the iPhone app and the customer service representative were both about 2 hours behind real-time), I had to ride back to Dupont Circle, check the bike in and walk downtown. With lots more people joining, that problem is only going to get worse.

by Shawn on Apr 13, 2011 4:12 pm • linkreport

I should also clearly add that DC/Arlington worked hard to get the bike share funding and implementation in place and kudos to them for making it happen!! Being awarded this kind of funding is certainly a high recognition and a huge opportunity to implement a world-class system and I hope it thrives and grows.

I just want to also see more and better bike parking (business interests aside, I ride _my_ bike pretty much everywhere, so it's self-serving in that sense too). There's too little good parking now and the capacity could be increased for a comparatively modest investment. This is true not only on the streets, but in the buildings as well- and DC's new and improved standards should really help make a difference there.

Now I'm going to ride my bike to talk to a building manager about bike parking... and probably have to lock to a sign or a fence when I get there :-). Maybe next time I won't have to...

Hope you all get to ride today too!!

by Phil K. on Apr 13, 2011 4:21 pm • linkreport

@Phil K

First of all, if you are in the business of installing bike parking and you're going to advocate that DC pay someone to install more bike parking, you need to give that full disclosure at the begining not after someone calls you out for it. You are a corporate shill, and hiding it just makes you a deceptive corporate shill.

Now let's get to the meat of things. Your position is that installing $6M of bike parking would do more to achieve DC and Arlington's goal of "getting more people to bike."

CaBi has been used about 1400 times a day, but that includes the start-up months, and recently that number has been closer to 3000 times a day. It's sure to continue going up as the weather gets warmer and rollout finishes. Are those all induced? No. Certainly some people would have biked with their own bikes anyway, but many of those are induced. And if it induces people to bike instead of walking, that's still good in my opinion, because more cyclist make streets safer. It also means those people are gaining time. In fact every one who uses CaBi is gaining something over their other options, or they wouldn't choose it. So your arguments about the superiority of a personal bike (while possibly true) are inapplicable to the people who use CaBi. The system is popular and getting more popular, that's a sign that it's working.

You seem to think that the great barrier to more biking is a lack of covered parking. And that isn't what the polling data shows. DDOT did a survey as part of their bike plan and asked two questions about this.

"Which of the following factors do you think would do the most to encourage bicycling in the District?"

Bike storage was an option, but fewer than 8% of people chose it

"Which of the following factors plays a role in whether or not you ride your bike to your destination? Circle All"

Availability of bicycle parking was an option. Only 7% of people chose it.

So a lack of bike parking wasn't much of a deterrent in 2005, and it's gotten better since then. I've never heard anyone talk of lack of covered bike parking as a barrier to biking nor has anyone, but you, expressed the opinion that covered bike parking would have been a better use for this money. When you bike you might have to park to a sign or a fence. That's not ideal, but I don't see it forcing people to keep their bikes at home.

A lack of SECURE parking is a frequent issue, but as you said, that would be a lot more expensive and requires lockers that can only be accessed by one person.

In your biased opinion they should have spent this money on covered bike parking. You don't have facts to back that up so that's all it is. In the end, they didn't. So I'm not sure what good it does to 2nd guess them now. I'm not even sure they could have, since this money came, in part, from a federal grant. And I'm 100% positive that it would not have done as much to get more people to bike as CaBi. Plus, the District can - and is - forcing businesses to build more bike parking as part of the zoning law. So they'd be paying for something they're going to get anyway.

In reply to some of your comments

I assure you it can and has been done for well under $500 a rack

In the bike plan, DDOT budgeted $300 per bike rack and that was back in 2005.

Especially if they had a viable alternative to ditching their personal bike in the elements

If this is a motive for using CaBi, it is not one that I've heard.

And 3000 trips a day? That's barely over 2 rides/day/bike- sounds like we're subsidizing affluent close-in commuters again.

No need to play class warfare. Of course DC wants to help close-in commuters - that's who lives in the city. As for affluence, I doubt the average CaBi user is any more affluent than the average bike rack or bike locker user.

And it certainly doesn't induce many commuters from outside the city to switch their commute mode

How do you know that? There are quite a few members from outside the District. I know a couple of people who gave up driving and switched to CaBi+Transit for their commute. And it's not just about commuting, it's about all trips.

nobody who drives from a farther away location not served by CaBi is going to stop driving w/this approach.

Ditto for covered bike parking. But I think CaBI is more likely to prove this statement wrong (nobody is a high standard) than covered bike parking.

I'm not sure catering to one-way trips serves a huge proportion of the user base.

Catering is a bit of a loaded word, but I've heard a great deal of anecdotal evidence that people use CaBi one way. In fact pooling at the bottom of hills is a problem.

Likewise, tourists and visitors can always rent a bike

But not as easily as they can get on a CaBi.

if there was good parking around the city, get to far more places than are/will be served by CaBi

Where are the places that tourists want to go that aren't served by CaBi? And again, bike parking isn't what's stopping someone who's willing to find a bike rental and pay for it. There are plenty of signs around town.

and doing so w/o taking business from local establishments that provide those services or having to switch bikes every half hour or not being able to lock up unless there happens to be a station, etc.

You've just explained why CaBi doesn't take business from local establishments. People who want what you've described rent bikes. People who don't now use CaBi.

Bike usage certainly wouldn't go down if good parking was made available

Nor would it go down if we set the money on fire.

the lack of quality parking is often cited as a reason why people don't ride.

Again, only secure parking, which is pretty expensive and hard to use.

not all 3000 spaces would be crammed into a limited area.

But that little area is where everyone wants to go. What good is quality bike parking where no one wants to go?

They are nowhere near covering costs (much less the initial investment) for CaBi (and never will under the present scenario, especially when they are virtually giving away memberships per the Living Social deal.)

Unless you've seen some numbers that aren't available, you don't know that. And as for the future, never is very long time.

My bike takes me from where I am to where I want to go- not from/to wherever the docking stations happen to be.

At much greater cost.

What are you going to do- put CaBi stations on every block in all the surrounding jurisdictions? That will be expensive.

Not as expensive as having every single person buy, maintain and store a bike. But yes, the idea is to expand it to everywhere expansion makes sense.

most of the time no one is riding a CaBi bike either

You missed the point. Most CaBi's are ridden twice a day. Most personal bikes are ridden less than that.

igh quality bike parking saves everyone money: it's cheaper than installing car parking

That's not what we're comparing.

it encourages people to ride instead of drive or take transit over a much wider area than bike share ever will

That's ridiculous. Bike parking does very little to nothing to encourage people to ride.

for the cost of 1 CaBi bike and related docks, you could subsidize- if not outright pay for- bike ownership and maintenance for multiple people

Thank you Wendell Cox. That bike would then be available to only those people. And when they weren't riding them, they'd be locked away. As it is now, they're available to thousands of people. There are now more than 6000 members using 1000 bikes, and probably more thanks to Living Social. That doesn't count all the day and monthly users. It may very well be that there are 10 users for each bike. Could you buy and maintain 10,000 high-quality bikes with that money? No.

If they're interested in studying this too, I'd be happy to help out- pro bono.

Yes, because you're in the bike parking installation business. Certainly someone's done a cost/benefit analysis of bike parking.

if you get $6M in free funding for anything, it's pretty easy to say that it's worth it.

The cost used was the cost of the funding, it was not counted as "free". The analysis was for the federal government who would not get their money for free.

And I'd definitely support bike sharing (in the right ways & places)

Nothing you've written makes me think you'd support bike sharing unless it was the kind your company provides.

It's not (or, more correctly, it shouldn't be- darn that funding bit!) an either/or situation

Well then what the hell are you doing saying we should spend on parking instead of bike sharing. That sounds very much like either/or.

bikers should have the legitimacy and accommodations they rightfully deserve.

Which is what zoning laws are for.

by David C on Apr 13, 2011 6:16 pm • linkreport

Argh. I am a shill for BicyclePASS too. I think that we are talking about different pieces of the customer segmentation model for biking. And to be clear, our (BicyclePASS's) focus on bike parking, bike provision, and bike-based delivery options are more about transit stations, and commercial, civic, and multiunit residential buildings, and more about serving regular riders with proper long term bicycle parking.

We tend to be focused on longer trips, and definitely point-to-point riding. It's not clear to me that DC will be able to develop the same kind of bikestation and bike density of the bike sharing system comparable to Montreal. If it does, it will be great. If it doesn't, we still need to focus on other methods for building mode share of biking up to 10-20% of all trips.

In rowhouse neighborhoods, bikeshare can probably do it. In non-rowhouse neighborhoods, you can't have bikeshare stations close enough to enable real point to point use. Maybe some people are willing to walk a few blocks to a bikestation. I am not. I am not even willing to walk a full block. Instead, I ride my bike...

In Montreal, in the commercial-residential districts, on the main drag, comparable to say H St. NE you would probably have stations every block, or every other block. That's close enough to make bikesharing work. That being said, in the interior of neighborhoods, you don't have as close spacing of bikesharing stations.

Note that wrt your point about zoning, it's really hard to make zoning accommodations work for bike parking and accommodation the way it should be.

What we recommend in places typically exceeds the requirements imposed by zoning. That being said, it all depends on the building and the opportunities presented by its location. A downtown building has different opportunities than a building outside the core.

by Richard Layman on Apr 13, 2011 6:36 pm • linkreport

Richard,

In rowhouse neighborhoods, bikeshare can probably do it. In non-rowhouse neighborhoods, you can't have bikeshare stations close enough to enable real point to point use. Maybe some people are willing to walk a few blocks to a bikestation. I am not. I am not even willing to walk a full block. Instead, I ride my bike...

Since you're already riding a bike, I don't think you're the target market for bikeshare. I do think there are plenty of people who are willing to walk a few blocks to a station - we're seeing it already with the station density in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill.

I'd like the station density to be a little higher in those types of places, but it's not bad at all right now.

by Alex B. on Apr 13, 2011 8:36 pm • linkreport

Alex, visit Montreal and then you will get a much better sense for the possibilities of bikeshare. It's amazing! We were there for 9 days and between the subway, bus, and walking (of the 4 of us I was the only one who used bikeshare) we didn't use a car once.

While Bixi isn't in every neighborhood (Montreal is set up as boroughs, and they make the choice to participate in Bixi independently) but it is in most of the core of the city (in particular Ville Marie and Plateau) at a real level of density.

Combine bike share with their large network of cycletracks and you really get a sense of what is possible.

- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2010/07/is-montreal-number-one-city-for.html
- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2010/07/one-more-thing-about-montreal-as-bike.html

by Richard Layman on Apr 13, 2011 10:47 pm • linkreport

Richard,

I know what's possible. My point, however, is that Montreal's station density is not required for success.

My larger point was that CaBi's success shouldn't be judged in terms of getting you off your bike and onto CaBi, it should be judged by getting people who wouldn't otherwise bike onto CaBi. You are not the target market, nor do you need convincing to hop on a bike of any kind.

by Alex B. on Apr 13, 2011 11:30 pm • linkreport

I agree that I am not the target market. But at the same time, the thing with the target market is to set high expectations for results.

By my making comparisons to Montreal, I guess I am setting the bar much higher for how to define success, in the context of DC. I don't think the bar is set very high thus far.

For me, in DC, I would set the bar at maybe 25% of total household trips conducted by biking, and higher in the core neighborhoods of the city where biking is even more practical, and say 15% of trips to work by DC residents, and say 10% of trips to work by non-DC residents commuting to DC.

And then make sure that bike sharing contributes to this in a significant way. In some respects this is the flip side of my point that neighborhood/sector plans need to have defined sustainable transportation elements, focused not just on the provision of infrastructure, but also the provision of a variety of types of education and encouragement programming to assist people in mode shift, and working with them to routinize this behavior.

It's the kind of stuff I laid out in the programming recommendations in the Western Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan.

by Richard Layman on Apr 14, 2011 9:05 am • linkreport

@David C

-Good morning, David! Like others before me, I grow weary of the snippet by snippet onslaught, but getting personal is, well, personal. The rest is- hopefully- reasoned discussion. Perhaps we can get together some time to better understand our perspectives as well as our positions... please contact me directly if this is of interest to you; it certainly would be for me.

First of all, if you are in the business of installing bike parking and you're going to advocate that DC pay someone to install more bike parking, you need to give that full disclosure at the begining not after someone calls you out for it. You are a corporate shill, and hiding it just makes you a deceptive corporate shill.

-You don't know my intent, so please be careful what you infer; I wasn't attempting to hide my business affiliation, just trying to avoid exploiting the discussion for promotional purposes. I still _personally_ believe what I first stated- that I think you can get more bang for your buck in promoting bicycling by other means than via bike sharing. And that was really my only point. I think I am allowed to have an opinion whether or not it aligns with my business interests (and it should be no surprise that it does). Furthermore, if I was really trying to be a corporate shill, you would have seen me much earlier on this forum (and others), I assure you :-).

Now let's get to the meat of things. Your position is that installing $6M of bike parking would do more to achieve DC and Arlington's goal of "getting more people to bike."

-It is, but if I had the option of spending the money, I wouldn’t spend it all on bike parking (or bike sharing). There are many other things that I feel would effectively help promoting cycling in the city- and I’m not just talking more bike lanes either. But the money is specifically dedicated to bike share, so as you note elsewhere, the point is moot.

CaBi has been used about 1400 times a day, but that includes the start-up months, and recently that number has been closer to 3000 times a day. It's sure to continue going up as the weather gets warmer and rollout finishes. Are those all induced? No. Certainly some people would have biked with their own bikes anyway, but many of those are induced. And if it induces people to bike instead of walking, that's still good in my opinion, because more cyclist make streets safer. It also means those people are gaining time. In fact every one who uses CaBi is gaining something over their other options, or they wouldn't choose it. So your arguments about the superiority of a personal bike (while possibly true) are inapplicable to the people who use CaBi. The system is popular and getting more popular, that's a sign that it's working.

-I agree that bikes help make things safer, and I think
having people walking does too. What really matters is how those users are accommodated- when they are, the public space design is inherently safer for everyone. People who chose to ride their own bikes are gaining over other options too- nothing special about that except there’s now a $6M inducement for people to pick bike share. That the system is gaining in popularity is a good thing, but I don’t know that is the definition of “working” or that it will necessarily lead to long-term financial viability (not that fiscal performance should be the only measure of success either). In terms of trip volume, I’d think that something around 5-7 trips/bike/day consistently (5500-8000 rides/day) would be a great goal to initially shoot for, but that may not ultimately be enough.

You seem to think that the great barrier to more biking is a lack of covered parking. And that isn't what the polling data shows. DDOT did a survey as part of their bike plan and asked two questions about this.

-DDOT’s survey was “distributed at [bike] meetings, bike-to-work day and made available online.” Sounds pretty self selecting towards current bikers to me (i.e. affluent white males- oops, now I’m guilty of racial profiling as well as inciting class warfare :-) ), especially as the first question on the survey cites “personal experience” as a caveat for evaluating the quality of the existing roads/trails/etc. I suggest that perhaps it's a bigger barrier than the sample taken in the survey might indicate. Certainly the response from the bike people I'm working with would indicate that too.

"Which of the following factors do you think would do the most to encourage bicycling in the District?"
Bike storage was an option, but fewer than 8% of people chose it
"Which of the following factors plays a role in whether or not you ride your bike to your destination? Circle All"
Availability of bicycle parking was an option. Only 7% of people chose it.
So a lack of bike parking wasn't much of a deterrent in 2005, and it's gotten better since then. I've never heard anyone talk of lack of covered bike parking as a barrier to biking nor has anyone, but you, expressed the opinion that covered bike parking would have been a better use for this money. When you bike you might have to park to a sign or a fence. That's not ideal, but I don't see it forcing people to keep their bikes at home.

-Do you really think that parking on a sign or a fence is at all sufficient for inducing non-riders to even consider changing their mode? And I would think it obvious to discover that not having parking isn’t a deterrent to the people who are already riding- they’re already riding and there isn’t any parking now.

A lack of SECURE parking is a frequent issue, but as you said, that would be a lot more expensive and requires lockers that can only be accessed by one person.
In your biased opinion they should have spent this money on covered bike parking. You don't have facts to back that up so that's all it is. In the end, they didn't. So I'm not sure what good it does to 2nd guess them now. I'm not even sure they could have, since this money came, in part, from a federal grant. And I'm 100% positive that it would not have done as much to get more people to bike as CaBi. Plus, the District can - and is - forcing businesses to build more bike parking as part of the zoning law. So they'd be paying for something they're going to get anyway.

-Again, what I said was that I didn’t think that bike share was the optimal investment to promote biking in the city and that covered parking provided an alternative that would- in my estimation- likely be more cost effective. As I also said, the right parking in the right place- along w/bike sharing- is the end-point facilities approach that I would recommend. I’d recommend a few other things too… if I was contemplating spending $6M+ towards this goal. As far as secure parking goes, the city has also invested $4M+ on providing 135 such spots in the Bikestation; another signature project that makes a dramatic statement about including bikes as a legitimate component of the transportation mix, but at a pretty high (but necessary given the location) cost. I understand that they are considering other secure parking options going forward as well and it’s part of WMATA’s (and many other) bike plans too. And there are much cheaper ways to do it.

In reply to some of your comments
I assure you it can and has been done for well under $500 a rack
In the bike plan, DDOT budgeted $300 per bike rack and that was back in 2005.

-Sounds like less than $500 to me, even w/inflation. In some serious volume (not a couple of hundred racks a year installed 3-5 at a time), it could still be done for well less than they budgeted back then.

Especially if they had a viable alternative to ditching their personal bike in the elements
If this is a motive for using CaBi, it is not one that I've heard.

-I have, personally and indirectly (listserves, etc.). From the comments in this thread: “I've been using it to get to the Metro quickly for my daily commute,and the price is cheap compared to the wear and tear of leaving one of my bikes parked out in the open/elements all day every day.” Free parking would be even better than paying $75/year…perhaps.

And 3000 trips a day? That's barely over 2 rides/day/bike- sounds like we're subsidizing affluent close-in commuters again.
No need to play class warfare. Of course DC wants to help close-in commuters - that's who lives in the city. As for affluence, I doubt the average CaBi user is any more affluent than the average bike rack or bike locker user.

-It’s not class warfare, it’s a fact- look at the station placement and usage patterns. 2 or 3 relatively better off neighborhoods in close proximity to downtown and a few limited downtown destinations account for the preponderance of daily trips. As far as congestion goes and who we need to convert to reduce it, folks on the periphery are going to be just as important if not more so than the close-in’ers. Certainly, politically active bikers are likely to be more affluent in general than most bikers of necessity or the underserved commuter populations- and it looks like they got the goods. Of course, this is also where you’d expect higher usage, so making the system viable for a wider segment of the population (both demographically and geographically) is somewhat of a catch-22; expensive to expand and run as well as having to sell the concept to a more skeptical and possibly less inclined audience.

And it certainly doesn't induce many commuters from outside the city to switch their commute mode
How do you know that? There are quite a few members from outside the District. I know a couple of people who gave up driving and switched to CaBi+Transit for their commute. And it's not just about commuting, it's about all trips.

-I look at how the bikes are used. CaBi + Transit is good; too bad there’s not a better nexus there, more longer distance travelers (even myself on occasion) might find this a useful combination- especially if there was good bike parking at a local transit node and a CaBi in close proximity on the other end. Alas, that’s not been my experience to date on either front. In my observation, most trips appear to be of a once-daily back & forth nature- call it what you will. I agree that all trips are good.

nobody who drives from a farther away location not served by CaBi is going to stop driving w/this approach.
Ditto for covered bike parking. But I think CaBI is more likely to prove this statement wrong (nobody is a high standard) than covered bike parking.

-This was part of a larger concept, but I’d wager that you’re more likely to get someone from a not too distant neighborhood (say Takoma Park or Hyattsville) to go by bike w/good parking accommodations at their destination than with the CaBi system as it’s currently implemented.

I'm not sure catering to one-way trips serves a huge proportion of the user base.
Catering is a bit of a loaded word, but I've heard a great deal of anecdotal evidence that people use CaBi one way. In fact pooling at the bottom of hills is a problem.

-Loaded is kind of a loaded word too, but that seems to be the order of the day. Yeah, people are lazy- what can you say… Plus riding one of those bikes up the wall is not for the faint-hearted (but it is obviously doable). But that doesn’t really speak to the volume of one-way trips if all things were equal.

Likewise, tourists and visitors can always rent a bike
But not as easily as they can get on a CaBi.

-Probably true in most respects, but ease isn’t the only factor in meeting their needs.

if there was good parking around the city, get to far more places than are/will be served by CaBi
Where are the places that tourists want to go that aren't served by CaBi? And again, bike parking isn't what's stopping someone who's willing to find a bike rental and pay for it. There are plenty of signs around town.

-The Mall (I know, there are political reasons for that… but it would still take a bunch more bikes/docks/dollars to make that truly CaBi-tourist friendly). The Arboretum (though that’s somewhat of a slog of a ride on any bike…). Anywhere along the riverfront or local trails for an extended period of time. CaBi, as nice as it is, isn’t the be-all/end-all for locals or tourists alike. And the presence of street signs for lockup is once again supposed to be sufficient to encourage anyone- particularly visitors- to ride?

and doing so w/o taking business from local establishments that provide those services or having to switch bikes every half hour or not being able to lock up unless there happens to be a station, etc.
You've just explained why CaBi doesn't take business from local establishments. People who want what you've described rent bikes. People who don't now use CaBi.

-And perhaps used to rent a bike…? Or rode their own…? You can’t tell me that you think that CaBi hasn’t impacted the local rental scene and won’t continue to increasingly do so. Maybe that’s not a bad thing overall, but I’m not sure the proprietors of local rental establishments would agree.

Bike usage certainly wouldn't go down if good parking was made available
Nor would it go down if we set the money on fire.

-No, but you posed the open-ended question… and it would most likely go up anyways.

the lack of quality parking is often cited as a reason why people don't ride.
Again, only secure parking, which is pretty expensive and hard to use.

-As noted above, there are ways to provide multi-user secured parking- kind of like the Bikestation- but a lot cheaper to implement than that- or lockers.

not all 3000 spaces would be crammed into a limited area.
But that little area is where everyone wants to go. What good is quality bike parking where no one wants to go?

-The point was that for the same money you could get better coverage in area as well as density of accommodation. If you put 3000 spaces downtown, you could probably remove a couple of parking spaces and still have more car parking capacity as demand dropped. Another political football for sure, but hey, there’s your space anywhere you need it. True for CaBi too.

They are nowhere near covering costs (much less the initial investment) for CaBi (and never will under the present scenario, especially when they are virtually giving away memberships per the Living Social deal.)
Unless you've seen some numbers that aren't available, you don't know that. And as for the future, never is very long time.

-Some numbers are available, just not the “official” numbers… But it was stated by a DDOT official not too long ago that perhaps CaBi could “break even” w/in three years- operationally, not in terms of capital payback. (I’ve seen other sources that range from saying that only 50% of costs will be covered in the long run to it taking 4 or more years to reach break even). That’s with a pretty ambitious membership and fee goal trying to cover a high overhead (~$2K/bike/year). For the current quantity of bikes you’d need somewhere around 25,000 full paying members plus a bunch of daily riders and overage fees to approach operational break even; selling memberships at a discount means that membership level would have to be even greater. If they continue the current pattern of selling the majority of their memberships at a discount, "never" may be the reality (and that may be okay, as you yourself once opined- a separate discussion at some other time, perhaps). Advertising would really help on the money front, but they haven’t been able to crack that nut yet (though they seem closer than before).

My bike takes me from where I am to where I want to go- not from/to wherever the docking stations happen to be.
At much greater cost.

-Far greater utility at a fairly nominal (at most) long term upcharge (although pretty nice, my bike is 10 years old, so things have started to even out by now). Plus it’s a lot nicer to ride than the CaBi beasts and I don’t have to check it in every half hour. And I’m several miles from the nearest station. And I couldn’t go on CaBi to all my destinations, so I’d end up spending more $$ getting around some other way anyhow.

What are you going to do- put CaBi stations on every block in all the surrounding jurisdictions? That will be expensive.
Not as expensive as having every single person buy, maintain and store a bike. But yes, the idea is to expand it to everywhere expansion makes sense.

-I get the concept. Providing everyone who rides (and would ride if the conditions were right) w/access to bike share would be a phenomenally expensive proposition- like multiples of the multiple millions already spent. This is particularly true when you account for accommodating all the potential users at the peak commuter hours that already strain the system both in available bikes/docks and in overhead for rebalancing due to the skewed demand patterns.

most of the time no one is riding a CaBi bike either
You missed the point. Most CaBi's are ridden twice a day. Most personal bikes are ridden less than that.

-Look at the stats- even at current peak usage, the majority of CaBis sit idle (max usage today- and it's pretty nice out- under 20%). Most personal bikes that are ridden for transportation every day are probably ridden twice a day (or more) too. And probably for a longer distance than the average CaBi trip. Most CaBi's aren't ridden twice a day- most sit there all day long- but many CaBi's get used more than twice a day if they happen to be located where the bikes are actually used.

High quality bike parking saves everyone money: it's cheaper than installing car parking
That's not what we're comparing.

-No, but it saves money, which was your point.

it encourages people to ride instead of drive or take transit over a much wider area than bike share ever will
That's ridiculous. Bike parking does very little to nothing to encourage people to ride.

-Really? As stated before, it may not encourage people who already ride to ride, but then they already ride. Those that don’t ride are the ones we need to encourage. My wife doesn’t ride to the store/local errands/work cuz there are no good accommodations once she gets there. I’m sure she ain’t the only one…

for the cost of 1 CaBi bike and related docks, you could subsidize- if not outright pay for- bike ownership and maintenance for multiple people
Thank you Wendell Cox. That bike would then be available to only those people. And when they weren't riding them, they'd be locked away. As it is now, they're available to thousands of people. There are now more than 6000 members using 1000 bikes, and probably more thanks to Living Social. That doesn't count all the day and monthly users. It may very well be that there are 10 users for each bike. Could you buy and maintain 10,000 high-quality bikes with that money? No.

-10,000 * $500 (let’s get a decent bike and some basic accessories and factor in a bulk purchase discount)= $5M. Whoa- I’ve got some change- so let’s put in some bike parking too. Plus I can go wherever I want- if there’s good parking I just might do that- or I just might take a pleasure cruise for an hour or two… Can’t do that on a CaBi. Then there’s the $155/month/bike outlay for management/maintenance (that’s close to $2K/year/bike or $2M+ system wide per year); that would cover a lot of maintenance any way you spend it. (BTW- the less than $200K they likely netted from the Living Social deal is a long way from covering that cost, much less expansion (as some have touted).) But you wouldn’t need to pay for all the expenses- I’m sure folks would take a lot less than that to get out on their own bikes. Not that I’m advocating this approach as a use of public transportation funding, though the employer-based bike commuter credit in someways amounts to the same thing and I support that. As noted above, a membership level of ~25,000 is probably the minimum needed to support the system operationally and 7+ trips a day/bike to justify the expense.

If they're interested in studying this too, I'd be happy to help out- pro bono.
Yes, because you're in the bike parking installation business. Certainly someone's done a cost/benefit analysis of bike parking.

-I’ve done a lot pro bono for the city to promote cycling already- because I ride and I think it makes our community a better place. That’s also why I’m in the bike business, because I believe in it as a positive social contribution and a worthy profession. I assure you, it’s not the fortune I’m making… or all the free time I have to rant online :-).

if you get $6M in free funding for anything, it's pretty easy to say that it's worth it.
The cost used was the cost of the funding, it was not counted as "free". The analysis was for the federal government who would not get their money for free.

-More power to them for getting the funding to get the program off the ground! It was a coup and a boon for the region for sure. And if it's use-it-for-bike-share-or-lose-it, I'm firmly in the use it camp. But back to my original point… How would I spend $6M...? Differently.

And I'd definitely support bike sharing (in the right ways & places)
Nothing you've written makes me think you'd support bike sharing unless it was the kind your company provides.

-I’ve supported bike sharing in DC since before it was launched. I was directly involved as bike sharing initially got off the ground and many close associates are currently actively participating in the operations of the program; I certainly wish them success. I think that bike sharing has great potential in DC- we’re just not there yet and it’s gonna take a lot of scratch and hard work to make it happen.

It's not (or, more correctly, it shouldn't be- darn that funding bit!) an either/or situation
Well then what the hell are you doing saying we should spend on parking instead of bike sharing. That sounds very much like either/or.

-Once again, back to my previous statements about bang for your buck, multiple approaches, etc. And if we had sufficient funding, it's all good.

bikers should have the legitimacy and accommodations they rightfully deserve.
Which is what zoning laws are for.

-I think it’s more than a zoning issue, myself (although it will certainly help the cause).

David- I hope that you can see that we’re really in agreement more than not (supporting biking is a good investment relative to most transportation options)- and that you find me more of an ally than an enemy even though we may disagree on any given approach. I’d really like to see CaBi succeed financially and as a viable transportation alternative, but DC is inherently a challenge in many ways as far as making that happen. But now that the initial investment has been made and the program is growing, figuring out how to do that is what’s important. It’s also important to look at any and all effective ways to transform our city/region in to a more bike friendly place. I humbly submit that enhancing the level of bike parking accommodations- both in quantity and in quality- is an effective way to do so. And if our leaders agree, I'm happy to provide a quote.

To everyone else- sorry about the mega-dialog and debate, but hey, what are online forums for anyways? In any event, I'm through for the time being.

To all- happy riding now and happier riding in the future!! May you always find a CaBi to check out, a dock to return it to, or a parking space worthy of you and your bike when you arrive at your destination!

by Phil K. on Apr 14, 2011 12:41 pm • linkreport

@Phil K

Let's try to trim this down a bit.

If you weren't trying to push a program that would be in your financial best interests, you have to be aware that it appeared that way. That's why you disclose things like that. You can state that you're in the business of installing bike parking without mentioning your company.

You've now changed your argument that we should've redirected the bike sharing money to other bike programs. All of those programs are good, which is why we spend money on all of them. Determining the "Optimal" path as you state is a fools errand and exceedingly expensive. As some point you have to try things and see what sticks. That's why we need an integrated approach to promoting biking and that includes bike sharing.

You specifically cite bike parking as one higher priority need - so high that you think bike sharing zeros that out - I gave you evidence to the contrary. You have criticized it's validity, but that is not the same as contrary evidence. The ball is still in your court.

I don't want to take anything away from personal bike ownership and usage. There are many advantages as you note, but CaBi is for people for whom those advantages aren't useful and who values CaBi's advantages over those. You can only get so far on personal bike ownership alone.

That the system is gaining in popularity is a good thing, but I don’t know that is the definition of “working”

covered parking provided an alternative that would- in my estimation- likely be more cost effective.

I’d wager that you’re more likely to get someone from a not too distant neighborhood (say Takoma Park or Hyattsville) to go by bike w/good parking accommodations at their destination than with the CaBi system as it’s currently implemented.

But (pooling) doesn’t really speak to the volume of one-way trips if all things were equal.

I disagree with all of the above statements.

Do you really think that parking on a sign or a fence is at all sufficient for inducing non-riders to even consider changing their mode?

Yes. I don't think sub-standard parking options dissuade people. Lack of showers, unsafe roads, the difficulty of maintaining a bike, etc.. dissuade people.

Free parking would be even better than paying $75/year…perhaps.

If you can ride a bike every day and keep in working order for less than $75 without spending any of your own time on it, you need to write a book on how you do it.

by David C on Apr 14, 2011 3:27 pm • linkreport

I have to say that I am a CaBi user who started with the discounted $50 rate and also bought the $37 rate. I am one of those target audiences referenced above--I was leery about bike riding but have started to now exclusively b/c of CaBi. No, I do not own a bike, but I am now thinking about doing so. In all likelihood, I will get a folding bike and start biking from my house to the metro and then out to work from a closer in station. I will probably use CaBi more infrequently when, say, I don't feel like biking that day and change my mind. I think CaBi is an incredible success story for converting people like me who were afraid to make the jump to biking but have now become biking advocates. I have also learned to use the city buses in large part bc sometimes I ditch the metro early and can't find a bike. So, yeah, I consider it a success, and no, putting in more bike racks alone wouldn't have made me make the change. For all the painful growing spurts that CaBi has had, it has been a huge benefit in my life. There have got to be more out there than just me...

by melissa on Apr 14, 2011 3:57 pm • linkreport

Melissa's story makes me think of something Phil K should be pushing for: bike parking at both ends of Metro trips so people can leave a beater bike at their destination station and ride it to work. They do it in Europe and it would probably work here too. Then you wouldn't have to have a folding bike to use Metro and bikes!

by MLD on Apr 14, 2011 4:04 pm • linkreport

I think that almost every metro station has bike parking. It could be better - and they're working on it (which I support). But I think it works in tandem with CaBi. It's not a replacement. Melissa's story brings up another good point, CaBi is a bridge for people willing to try biking.

by David C on Apr 14, 2011 4:12 pm • linkreport

The thing about parking at transit stations is the secureness. And yes, like many other vendors, we are looking to try to sell to WMATA bike parking solutions, to assist them in implementing their bike and pedestrian access plan that was produced for them by Toole Design.

Yes, you need good bike parking at both ends of a transit trip. Right now, WMATA provides two types of parking, lockers which are protected and pretty much secure, and outdoor parking which is not protected and relatively insecure--this is a problem at those stations which have minimal usage outside of morning and evening rush periods.

Long term parkers prefer protection from the elements and security. It can look clunky or great depending on how it is provided. Some WMATA stations have the opportunity for inside parking, most don't.

In any case it's great that WMATA sees this as a priority.

There are other ways to provide bike support in association with this that aren't necessarily "bike sharing." Yes it will cost more than $75/bike/year. But if it is just for two trips a day (to work and back) via the transit station (e.g., an office building located say 1.5 miles west of the Rockville Metro Station, towards I-270), it might not ordinarily make sense to do it with an $1100 bike and a $20-$50,000+ bikesharing station--at least it doesn't make sense for the sharing system, even if it does for the end user.

That is a business line that we are in the process of developing and we aren't ready to talk about it much externally.

@MLD -- when I was a bike & ped planner in Baltimore County, I used a bike lent to me by a colleague that I left at Penn Station, and I used it to go from Penn Station to Towson and back, and I used my own bike between home and Union Station. As you probably know, you can't bring a bike onto MARC trains...

ANyway, I don't want to get deep into this debate. There are certain types of trips and market segments that work well for bikesharing, and there are other types of trips and market segments, especially in terms of the wider region, that don't work that well for bikesharing.

A fully integrated bicycle mobility system incorporates different facilities and programs to meet the various needs, segments, and spatial conditions. It's not a one-size fits all sort of thing. That's what Phil K. was pointing out.

David C -- yes CaBi is a good bridge for people willing to try biking, but again, it's not the only way to do this, especially for longer distance commuting opportunities (say between 3 and 10 miles). Etc. (See the Cleveland Clinic example in my old paper on making cycling irresistible in DC, the low income commuting support program of the Community Cycling Center of Portland, etc.)

by Richard Layman on Apr 14, 2011 8:34 pm • linkreport

There are certain types of trips and market segments that work well for bikesharing, and there are other types of trips and market segments, especially in terms of the wider region, that don't work that well for bikesharing.

I think this may be the main point and you've summed it up well. It's why bike sharing needs to be a part of a complete breakfast. Ignore it and you ignore a segment of the potential bike population.

by David C on Apr 14, 2011 9:25 pm • linkreport

Echoing David C's point, I think the universe of potential riders for each of those types of trip segments is not the same - and Bikesharing has the potential to serve a much larger universe than those 3-10 milers Richard mentions.

by Alex B. on Apr 14, 2011 9:34 pm • linkreport

You all can get as philosophical as you want, but after a week of the Living Social deal, I have to say it's had a negative impact overall. The stations near my home are now empty so often I can no longer rely on the system to get to work. Their only choice is to use whatever money they gained from this deal to expand existing station capacity in order to meet the new demand.

by evinrude on Apr 15, 2011 6:14 pm • linkreport

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