Greater Greater Washington

Would you pay $1 for more reliable rush hour bikeshare?

If Capital Bikeshare's new Reverse Rider Rewards program doesn't end up improving bike availability, the next step might include a small fee for rush hour trips to or from the busiest stations.


Dockblocked! Photo by urbanbohemian on Flickr.

Capital Bikeshare deserves credit for listening to the suggestions of its users and beginning an incentive program that offers some hope for users frustrated with the system's rush hour redistribution woes. The contest complements the addition of another van for redistribution and an upcoming system expansion in improving the network's reliability.

But no matter how many docks are added, how many vans are shuttling bikes through rush hour traffic, or how many rewards are offered to reverse riders, there is still a significant risk that rush hour bike rebalancing problems will continue to plague the system.

It might be time for a cost structure that accounts for times of peak demand and charges a small fee for the highest-demand trips.

The solutions already being implemented to help with rush hour rebalancing have their drawbacks, and there's no guarantee they will cure the system of rush hour woes.

What's already being done

A common belief is that expanding the system will help alleviate rebalancing problems. Although system expansion should be undertaken so more bikes become more convenient to more people, a larger system will do little to change the underlying rush hour pattern that's been established.

For proof, look at cities that already have larger systems. London's bikeshare network is five times larger than Capital Bikeshare, yet some of that system's busiest stations are staffed during rush hour to keep docks constantly available. This requires lots of staff time, and as a result the system operator has cut back on staffed stations. The underlying problem, a Transport for London spokesperson told the Evening Standard, is that "the scheme was not designed for commuters."

Another solution is adding more vans and staff to redistribute the bikes. Capital Bikeshare has already added an additional van to move bikes around, but having extra staff to redistribute bikes during peak periods is both costly and inefficient.

Bikeshare systems are, to the maximum extent feasible, designed to be self-balancing; users circulate the bikes throughout the system to keep it running smoothly. Redistribution by staff should be used sparingly. As Richard Layman pointed out in this site's comments, heavy reliance on redistribution vans, which get stuck in rush hour traffic just when the demand for redistribution is highest, "is a sign of failure, not success."

In addition, the Reverse Rider Rewards program is structured as a contest, not as an incentive program. As a result, if you are not in the running to win a prize, you have little incentive to participate in bike redistribution. This leaves the rewards program with a few "superusers" who will end up doing most of the work.

This is exactly what happened with the Winter Weather Warrior contest. While that contest was great for getting the press to pay attention to the fact that the system was being used year-round, only those at the top of the leaderboard had much incentive to participate.

Unlike the Winter Weather Warrior contest, which counted all trips over 5 minutes, the Reverse Rider program rewards only those trips being made during a two-hour window each day, in the opposite direction of the vast majority of trips. Even if the Reverse Rider program were restructured to encourage participation among more than just the top users, there is a small pool of people who would be willing and able to participate to begin with.

Moving a significant number of the system's bikes on a regular basis each weekday will require more than just a few superusers.

Why a rush hour fee? How would it work?

One of the drawbacks of Bikeshare's current "all you can eat" pricing scheme is that once a user purchases a membership, there is little disincentive for using Capital Bikeshare as a primary mode of daily travel to work downtown from nearby neighborhoods.

On Metrorail, the limited utilization of "all you can eat" pricing for commuters reduces the incentive for off-peak Metrorail use, because those trips come at an additional cost. Bikeshare has the opposite problem, where there is no additional cost to peak hour travel, resulting in bike shortages.

Any rush hour surcharge should be narrowly focused on three factors to have the most positive benefit on bike availability: location, time, and cost.

As part of its Reverse Rider Rewards program, Capital Bikeshare has already identified the downtown stations that could form the basis of a surcharge initiative. Because the rewards program applies only during the morning rush hour, Bikeshare has identified these as "Typically Full Stations." Because a surcharge program would apply during both morning and evening rush hours, let's call these "high demand stations."


"Typically full" stations in the Reverse Rider Rewards program are in black. Many rush hour trips to or from these stations would be subject to a small surcharge under a pricing program.

Capital Bikeshare has chosen 8-10 am for the Reverse Rider Rewards program. For the sake of argument, let's assume that the charge would only apply during those hours and the equivalent evening rush period, 4-6 pm.

If a user ends a trip at a high demand station during the morning rush hours, her account account would be charged. If she begins a trip at a high demand station during the evening rush hours, she would also be charged.

However, trips where both the origin and destination are high demand stations would not be subject to the charge. This is because moving a bicycle between high demand locations does not significantly affect the overall availability of bikes at high demand stations. The same principle applies for trips between low demand stations, which would also be exempt from any charge.

The most effective price should signal to those who use Bikeshare for everyday commuting that using their own bicycles for rush hour travel would be more cost effective. With a fee of 75 cents or $1 per trip, many users would decide against paying up to $2 each day for a round-trip ride they could take for free on their own bikes.

For most members, this low fee is not a barrier to occasional rush hour use when the need arises. Because it would remain less expensive than all other transit options, such as bus or Metrorail, this price point also does not impose an excessive cost on those for whom Bikeshare is the optimal mode.

Hurdles and drawbacks

Currently, fees from Capital Bikeshare are assessed silently. Users don't know how much they owe until they receive a statement. For a rush hour surcharge to be effective, however, it must be visible at the point of sale. For example, the District's bag fee, though small at only 5 cents, has had a significant impact on bag consumption because shoppers are asked at check-out whether they are willing to pay a fee for a bag. At the other extreme is Metro's peak-of-the-peak surcharge, where many users swipe their SmarTrip cards without having to confront the extra cost they are incurring.

For a rush hour fee to work on Capital Bikeshare, users must be made aware of the extra cost immediately before they check out a bike. There are creative ways to do this. A sticker could be attached to the top of each dock at stations where the charge is in effect, so all users are informed before they pull out a bike. Smartphone application Spotcycle could sport a banner notifying users of the charge during rush hours. On bike availability maps, high demand station icons could change to a different color when the charge is in effect to notify users before they use a bike.

If there is less rush-hour demand for bikes during colder months or inclement weather, the charge could be suspended to encourage ridership.

The rush hour fee proposal does make the system more complex, especially for casual users. However, tourists aren't likely to be affected by the morning charges because few of them will be riding bikes downtown from Columbia Heights and Capitol Hill at 8:30 am. Fees incurred during the evening rush hour might be more of an issue for visitors. Even then, $1 is not a hefty charge for infrequent users, many of whom already incur larger charges for keeping bikes longer than 30 minutes.

A major risk is that a rush hour fee might reduce total ridership numbers during peak hours. Although smaller numbers might not look good as a measure of the system's success, there is a silver lining to this cloud. By making it easier to get a bike during the busiest hours, the system becomes more more reliable. This encourages more people to buy memberships, because they will have confidence that a bike will be available when they need one.

Astute readers will know that this concept is called congestion pricing. It isn't just for bikes; it's a concept that can also be applied to congested downtown streets and overburdened on-street parking to make transportation more predictable during the busiest hours.

While there is no silver bullet to solving congestion problems during times of peak demand, a nominal fee is one tool of many that can help shift behavior and make Capital Bikeshare a more reliable, more useful service.

Stephen Miller lived in the District from 2008 to 2011 and is now a student at Pratt Institute's city and regional planning masters program. 

Comments

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A common belief is that expanding the system will help alleviate rebalancing problems. Although system expansion should be undertaken so more bikes become more convenient to more people, a larger system will do little to change the underlying rush hour pattern that's been established.

This statement assumes that all expansion of the system is equal - I would argue that it is not. To me, 'expansion' means more docks and more stations, and where you put those stations makes a very big difference in the effect on the overall system.

by Alex B. on Jun 6, 2011 2:00 pm • linkreport

If not a rush hour surcharge, you could have a surcharge for the last few bikes or for the last few open slots. Lets not forget that the value is not only in the bike, but in having a parking space.

The "rebalancing" program should not be a contest but some direct benefit that is more tangible and immediate (e.g. extending your contract or something), and run a bit longer during the day.

by SJE on Jun 6, 2011 2:06 pm • linkreport

If reverse rider trips could get the rider a $1 credit to be applied towards paying for these rush hour surcharges (not for annual membership), you would have congestion pricing and real incentives for bike redistribution in one system.

by Shawn on Jun 6, 2011 2:08 pm • linkreport

@SJE

I don't like the idea of charging based on how many bikes/docks are left, because that is entirely out of the rider's hands. They have no control over that, and charging them for something they cannot control is not a recipe for success.

by Alex B. on Jun 6, 2011 2:10 pm • linkreport

This would be a terrible decision, in my opinion. Charging $1 when most people use bikes would render moot the cost incentive for riding in the first place as compared to other modes. If it's going to go that direction, then it should not work through a subscription fee system.

Also, the quotation noted by @Alex B. is frankly contrary to the laws of supply and demand, and it's unsupported by the examples given (London has more heavily used train stations, etc that are different than here, and perhaps the bigger problem is that they haven't sufficiently expanded - their failure is a failure of implementation, not of idea).

In reality, of course system expansion can improve rebalancing. Imagine a hypothetical situation where docks had unlimited capacity - 100 docks or whatever - that would serve every user (at the cost of a lot of capital investment). The key is to provide sufficient capacity for every user in the station's 'watershed' (cycleshed?). Undercapacity is a sign of either overlarge cyclesheds or underprovision of bikes for a given density. In either case, it seems to make sense that doubling station size for overused stations would hurt nothing and could really help.

For a specific example, consider the station at 21st and I - it's ginormous and is hardly ever blocked even though it's in the middle of everything. Other nearby stations at 21st/M and 19th/L are much smaller and are commonly booked up or empty at rush hour. There may be space constraints but expansion of stations makes sense where feasible, and failing that infill development in high-demand areas is the best solution here. This is an investment in a transit system - and as such it's not unreasonable for the government to shell out for some new stations.

by reader on Jun 6, 2011 2:13 pm • linkreport

I had lots of reservations about this article until Stephen made it clear that the idea is to disincentivize rush hour CB use to the point when people start using their own bikes.

I rode like I was the king of Bikeshare all winter until ridership exploded, and I got my own bike. I still use bikeshare for awkward trips (one ways, late nights, sudden changes in plans) and will advocate it for anyone interested in biking who doesn't know if s/he wants to spend hundreds of dollars on a bike in the city. But these people should graduate from CB and get a bike.

That said, I know my experience is only an anecdote in the plethora of experiences with CB, but it has made my experience with CB remain a positive one, and it leaves an extra bike in the mornings in Columbia Heights for someone else to use!

by Andrew Cunningham on Jun 6, 2011 2:16 pm • linkreport

This post seems eerily similar to the debate over congestion pricing on roadways. The problem is similar in both cases (too many people going to the same place at the same time) because it's "free" to do so. And in both cases, a congestion charge would provide a real disincentive for some, while making life easier for others. And both cases are highly unlikely to change because there's no political will to take something that people think ought to be free and put a pricetag on it.

by Rob P on Jun 6, 2011 2:26 pm • linkreport

And yes, I realize that cars vs. bikes have disproportionate impacts on cities. If Stephen's scheme plays out such that people ride their own bikes during rush periods instead of bikeshare, I don't see a negative tradeoff.

by Rob P on Jun 6, 2011 2:28 pm • linkreport

@Rob P

Key difference - congestion pricing for cars isn't about cars, it's about congestion and road space.

Applying that concept to bike sharing isn't nearly the same scope, since you're only applying it to one small aspect of the bike system, yet alone the entire transportation system.

That said, the fundamental character of bikeshare is not a high capacity system, it's primary asset is in decentralized travel on demand.

by Alex B. on Jun 6, 2011 2:43 pm • linkreport

I would quit the program if they did this, but that doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile for the company. Frankly, I don't see how CB, even with 13,000 members can remain solvent.

by Greg on Jun 6, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

Instituting this any time soon would needlessly stunt the system's growth.

Let's be clear, there's already a disincentive because it's hard to find a bike/spot at certain stations during rush hour.

We have lots of other options before we resort to new fees, which will discourage ridership. First, CaBi could be clearer in explaining that this is a system for occasional trips, not daily commuting, and that bikes often aren't available for commuter trips -- if that's your bag, buy a bike. In addition, system expansion and tinkering with station placement might relieve some crowding issues. Moreover, The reverse rider contest could expand into a permanent incentive, and CaBi could go further in trying to make it fun to rebalance the system, e.g. with occasional tweets highlighting stations that need rebalancing. And because some of the problem is just with specific stations, CaBi could do more to direct users to nearby stations with better availability. New charges should be the last resort for a fragile new system.

by Gavin on Jun 6, 2011 2:50 pm • linkreport

I think Andrew hit the nail on the head. If people are using this for daily commuting, then the value of just getting your own bike goes up tremendously.

However, Alta is still going about this the wrong way. I've made these points before, but maybe they're worth repeating... Asking people to balance bikes shouldn't be a contest, it should be an ever-present incentive. The ideal system would grant people rewards for riding from a station that has more than 3 bikes to a station that has fewer than 3 bikes. It shouldn't matter the time of day.

I'm also still not convinced that the vans are servicing stations as efficiently as possible. During rush hour, only the busiest stations should be serviced. I happened to be up in Tenleytown during rush hour and saw one of Alta's vans working at the station. Sorry to anybody who lives or works around an outlying station, but fighting traffic to service a single remote station during rush hour is not efficient.

It's probably too late now, but expanding downtown stations at the expense of increasing neighborhood stations was probably a mistake. CaBi would probably work great and stay more balanced if it remained simply as a way to connect neighborhoods as opposed to service commuters. Similar to highways, if you don't build additional capacity, then people will find other ways to commute.

by Adam L on Jun 6, 2011 2:56 pm • linkreport

This is an odd proposal coming from a blog that often complains of overly-complex pricing for Metro trips.

In order for this surcharge pricing to work properly you can't just grab a number out of your bum like 75 cents or $1. It needs to be based on price elasticity. That is, what is the marginal cost that most people would decline to pay at rush hour?

And just like how highway tolls force car drivers on to crowded residential streets, a surcharged station will force bikes to neighboring non-surcharged stations. What are you going to do when the neighboring non-high-demand station is full, and the next closest station is a surcharged high-demand station? Not charge someone the fee because they asked for more time to find the nearest non-surcharge station? More complexity for what used to be a simple system!

And BTW, I too would quit the program. Or I'd lobby the Fed to subsidize my bike transit like they do my subway trips, thus rendering the surcharge ineffective while sucking away tax dollars.

by OX4 on Jun 6, 2011 2:58 pm • linkreport

I agree with everyone!

1. CaBi should consider congestion pricing as a way to manage dockblocking
2. The contest could be better designed, with each rebalancing creating added value - such as through a straight up fee, a point system (where points can be redeemed for stuff), or entries in some sort of sweepstakes.
3. More docks and bikes should help reduce dockblocking. Saturation is the long term goal.

by David C on Jun 6, 2011 3:02 pm • linkreport

@ Gavin

"First, CaBi could be clearer in explaining that this is a system for occasional trips, not daily commuting"

You're joking, right?

by OX4 on Jun 6, 2011 3:02 pm • linkreport

The post criticizes the "contest" for being a poorly implemented incentive system (which I agree with) and then goes straight to replacing it with punitive fees.

Before going there I'd think about smarter incentives. It may require smarter software and more attractive incentives, but if the incentives could be incremental and kick in for any balance-improving rides then it would encourage more rebalancing. If the rebalancing credits could be cashed out, you might have unemployed young people willing to spend a couple of hours rebalancing bikes every day as a sideline -- sort of like 5-cent recycling glass bottle credits back when a nickle wasn't worthless.

You'd want to calibrate it so the benefits offset the costs that a van would have to incur doing the same trips. This kind of system would be more efficient than paying employees and would be very useful to test out before rolling out bikeshare in very hilly cities like Seattle or San Francisco.

by Ward 1 Guy on Jun 6, 2011 3:09 pm • linkreport

Very intriguing post. Like David C, I agree with everybody. But the reality is that bikesharing isn't designed for replacing regular commuting trips with bikeshare bikes, unless origins and destinations are pretty well balanced.

London shows that isn't the case. To some extent, that's the case with how land use is organized around the core of the city as well. There just aren't going to be that many reverse commute trips during rush periods from various points in Downtown to neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, etc.

So the idea of a rush hour fee is interesting, because it better prices the resource, compared to the cost of providing the trip, and the alternative to owning your own bike.

WRT reverse incentives, I argued when it was first introduced that it missed the point, because the issue likely isn't desire but the shape of the network and the type of trips. HOWEVER, it might be that uphill stations e.g., Columbia Heights are deserving of regular 15 minute time incentives. Then again, on a 3 speed bike, I'd hate to be riding up the Cardozo Hill on 13th Street...

by Richard Layman on Jun 6, 2011 3:18 pm • linkreport

Future GGW Post: Parking lots devoted to bicycle share could be used for more housing.

by jumange on Jun 6, 2011 3:19 pm • linkreport

incentives, incentives, and incentives.

I will assume that no one (yet) has built their life in DC around the availability of CaBi bikes, unlike those who are living/working near a metro/bus line, where its very likely the location's existance was faciliated by public transportation availablity.

I say this because nearly every user of CaBi has replaced another mode of transportation with biking. Once you start "punishing" users for using this system as it was desinged, bikeshare's value is decreased. Unlike metro/bus riders who have to suck up fare increases because they just can't get up and move to where its cheaper, CaBi riders can just return to their previous mode of transport.

by cmc on Jun 6, 2011 3:25 pm • linkreport

If CaBi does this, it's Metro's free parking at outer stations all over. Lure people in with a cheap promise and when the program becomes a success, start wrangling money out of people. If stations are heavily used, this is a sign of success and capacity should be added. Not necessarily on that station, perhaps on the next corner. People did not pay for limited bikes. They paid for access to the bikes.

Finally, if you want to give people an incentive to rebalance, give them credit for taking bikes from (almost) full stations and bringing bikes to (almost) empty stations. For instance, give people $0.50 for each of those actions. You can even add the stipulation that the credit only applies to charges, and can not be cashed out. Almost full or empty can be defined as in three or less spots/bikes left, so the deal becomes system wide and completely dependent upon circumstances.

by Jasper on Jun 6, 2011 3:27 pm • linkreport

I think what is clear about cabi usage currently is that one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, people use the system IS for daily commuting. This is what has made the system and program so successful. If people shouldn't or didn't use this system for commuting but only for intra-neighborhood and non-commute trips, then the usage of the system would decrease drastically and we would not be here discussing expansion ideas.

Although the simplicity of pricing is very important, I think it is also leading to some of the current problems. Instead of having annual memberships where one has unlimited 30 minute trips, maybe we could limit the number of trips free of charge or grant a certain number of points. So with an annual membership you get 100 points. (not a number I calculated but am using as a simple example) Non-rush hour rides are 1 point, and rush hour rides are 2 points. Therefore there is an incentive to not use all of your rush hour rides everyday, because you would then have to re-up your membership after 6 months instead of at the end of the year.

Riders would have a similar dilemma to the congestion pricing scheme without costing them any actual dollars, except if they always chose to ride during rush hour and have to re-up their membership early. It still keeps payment simple as a yearly charge instead of getting a bill each month.

You could also use this as a reverse rider incentive. If you take a reverse trip during rush hour it could be worth 1/2 point or 0 pts.

by Ryan on Jun 6, 2011 3:27 pm • linkreport

Cabi has reached the limits of it's own conception: it was designed to do one thing, people are using it for another. They should stop digging now that they're in a hole. Adding capacity downtown, like adding road capacity to 270, does not relieve the system. It simply ensures that we have the exact same problem, but on a larger scale. The only way to discourage the behavior is a cost penalty, but that will result in stagnation of a system that desperately needs to grow it's membership.

The problem that really needs to be addressed is the theft of private bicycles from outdoor parking spots. If you solve that problem, the CABI congestion problem resolves itself.

by eb on Jun 6, 2011 3:28 pm • linkreport

Hey, that's only an extra $500 a year

by TGEoA on Jun 6, 2011 3:32 pm • linkreport

eb's last paragraph hits it. I think Cabi has accomplished the goal of introducing to people the feasibility and desirability of bicycle use in the city. The larger issue now is to push for secure facilities either outdoors in public, or indoors/protected at workplaces. Cabi can't work in the long run if everyone uses it to commute, for reasons that have been explained (Richard, Andrew, etc.).

by spookiness on Jun 6, 2011 3:42 pm • linkreport

eb writes: The problem that really needs to be addressed is the theft of private bicycles from outdoor parking spots. If you solve that problem, the CABI congestion problem resolves itself.

Well, I presume by this you mean longer term parking on the part of commuters. Most places don't provide differentiated long term parking (indoors, secure, access control). So I see your point. My business is working on changing that but it will take quite awhile to see significant improvements. While we are working on a national scale, it's not out of the question to see some results over the next 2-3 years, especially in places like downtown DC.

by Richard Layman on Jun 6, 2011 3:45 pm • linkreport

@Ryan

That's an interesting idea. A little complicated for the average user, but incentives to pick up points lost sound like a worthwhile idea.

No points deducted on weekend rides?

by cmc on Jun 6, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

The statement, "CaBi was never meant to replace daily commuting," not correct, nor should it be. The fact that people are commuting on bikes is great. There's no reason that we can't redistribute bikes, or that redistribution should be viewed as any type of failure. It's only a failure because someone pronounced it to be so. It would be neat if the CaBi system magically circulated bikes so that docks and bikes were always available. Back in the real world, The system will still have to redistribute, even if there is a congestion disincentive.

We may get to a point where BOTH redistribution AND disincentives must be used. But redistribution should always be maximized first, before disincentives are utilized.

by CJ on Jun 6, 2011 3:50 pm • linkreport

I will assume that no one (yet) has built their life in DC around the availability of CaBi bikes, unlike those who are living/working near a metro/bus line, where its very likely the location's existance was faciliated by public transportation availablity.

I manage my friend's condo and the last tennant specifically asked if it was near a CaBi station and how far it was.

Cabi has reached the limits of it's own conception: it was designed to do one thing, people are using it for another.

Not true. Even without adding stations, they can get from 4000-5000 trips per day to 8000-9000 trips. And what makes you think it wasn't designed for commuting. Look where the stations are. Half of them are in high workplace areas. I was in on some early discussions on CaBi and it was always intended to be used by commuters.

Adding capacity downtown, like adding road capacity to 270, does not relieve the system.

I'm not sure that adding bike stations induces demand the same way that adding lane miles to highways does, but even if it is true that's not a bad thing. We WANT more people to bike and fewer to drive. Inducing driving is bad, inducing cycling is good.

the only way to discourage the behavior is a cost penalty

No, in addition to a stick, there is also the carrot (credits for rebalancing). And of course, adding more capacity. There are only so many people who work downtown and live within biking distance. Saturation probably isn't that far away.

by David C on Jun 6, 2011 3:53 pm • linkreport

@cmc

I agree it is a little complicated, but we are talking about people who are signing up for a service, and paying membership dues. Clearly, these people can handle a little complexity, but simplicity is really important.

I am really unsure how to think about all the comments about this system not being for commuting. The system in order to be at all financially feasible needs commuting. Yes, as a largely commuter based system their are issues, but without commuting ridership would not be strong enough for the system to be worthwhile.

by Ryan on Jun 6, 2011 3:55 pm • linkreport

For some perspective, the largest downtown station takes up 3 parking spaces.

There's plenty of room for more docks.

by andrew on Jun 6, 2011 4:01 pm • linkreport

Certainly internalizing the externality seems like the proper solution, but is there any chance we'll be able to hook up our SmartBenefits to CaBi? I'll pay the $1 to use CaBi during rush hour, but it certainly seems reasonable that I should be able to apply for some assistance from my employer, just like my metro/bus co-workers.

by MAC on Jun 6, 2011 4:38 pm • linkreport

I think the surcharge is a terrible idea. My suggestions.

1. Keep it the way it is. If enough people find it too annoying/unreliable to commute via Cabi, they will not do so.

2. turn off the system from 8:00-10:00 AM.

by beatbox on Jun 6, 2011 5:12 pm • linkreport

And can I mention how GGW this idea is?

"Hmm...something has become very popular, we must make it more expensive so the less wealthy will not want to do it anymore."

by beatbox on Jun 6, 2011 5:15 pm • linkreport

Final thought. You will still have an unbalanced system if you charged a lot during rush hour--it just may not happen as quickly. Look at the map. Bikes roll downhill!!!

by beatbox on Jun 6, 2011 5:16 pm • linkreport

Beatbox:

1. Keep it the way it is. If enough people find it too annoying/unreliable to commute via Cabi, they will not do so.

Indeed. People will learn what the system is good for and what it is not. Like any mode of transportation, it has limits. That's fine - there's nothing wrong with that at all.

Any policy change to encourage recirculation of bikes needs to provide an incentive, not a punishment. And, even then, it may not solve the 'problem' - but that might not be a problem bikeshare was meant to solve.

That doesn't mean bikeshare wasn't meant for commuting. It was meant for any trip you'd like to use it for. However, bikeshare is not going to be a super high capacity mode of transport.

by Alex B. on Jun 6, 2011 5:21 pm • linkreport

MAC -- in order for transit benefits to be able to be used for bike sharing, we need to get a determination from the IRS. We were looking to do so wrt Chattanooga, because TVA there offers federal transit benefits, but since we didn't get the contract, we didn't pursue it.

We did talk to a Congressional Office, and they believe that the law would need to be changed, that it wouldn't be strictly a matter of an IRS interpretation.

HOWEVER, in Chattanooga, the owner, technically, of the system, was to be the transit authority, and we thought we could get away with a bundling on that basis...

by Richard Layman on Jun 6, 2011 5:23 pm • linkreport

This would be more palatable if the revenue was directly used for expanding CaBi. That would kill two birds with one stone.

by Dan Miller on Jun 6, 2011 5:42 pm • linkreport

If CABI was designed for commuting then a surcharge will kill it. Why pay several hundred dollars a year extra when you can buy your own bike?

by TGEoA on Jun 6, 2011 8:02 pm • linkreport

A lot of people already pay $1.50 more when they get to a full station and get charged overtime for finding an empty rack at another.

It seems like increasing the number of slots at already-existing stations without additional bikes would not be too expensive.

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 6, 2011 8:21 pm • linkreport

Slot increases should be the next step, definitely. As I have said before, watching how CaBi has been deployed has "revolutionized" how I will recommend deployment if/when BicyclePASS gets some bike sharing contracts.

I noticed on Sunday that the station at 6th and F? by the downtown fire station had 31 docks--the 7 dock base station and 2 12 station sets. That's the biggest one I've seen so far, but I don't look that carefully at the operations data for CaBi (in the context of bikesharing, operations wouldn't be my responsibility so I don't pay as close attention)

by Richard Layman on Jun 6, 2011 8:56 pm • linkreport

TGEoA, the trick would be pricing it at the point where a few people modify their commute, but not everyone. So not $0.01 extra but not $45 extra either. You need the Goldilocks value.

Tom, if you get to a full station, you can get 15 minutes added to your rental free of charge so that you can find another station.

Richard, the firestation docks were expanded for the CaBi meeting last week. Not sure if that's permanent.

by David C on Jun 6, 2011 9:54 pm • linkreport

@David C -- the 5th and F station is regularly 31 docks, though they also had a corral for the meeting.

It's one of the largest, but I thik smithsonian metro is bigger (39?) and a few others are close.

by Jacques Arsenault on Jun 6, 2011 11:38 pm • linkreport

A few ideas

Not designed for commuters? In fact, by lightening traffic on roads and rails at peak hours, this system aids not only cyclists but many others for whom capacity is freed at peak hours in peak directions. Not sure how to quantify, but this capacity is precious and bikeshare commutes contribute to many commutes.

Like many DC residents, I live uphill and work downhill. The system enables asymmetrical ride patterns my own bike cannot: sometimes one way, more often ride downhill and combine rail and bike to return.

Let's explore (really explore, more than a single contest) carrots to encourage the desired behavior before we move to sticks, shall we? There must be half a dozen different experiments that could yield some actual data upon which to base a decision. If, a year on, the problem isn't getting better, then perhaps it's time to explore disincentives.

Last, a little perspective: yes, the frustrations are real, but show me a commuting mode without frustrations and I'll show you a retiree's system...like the folks that complain about Metrorail, Capital Bikeshare is a treasure that could stand refinements. Compare it with any other system in North America and it merits great respect...

by Kim T on Jun 6, 2011 11:51 pm • linkreport

Jacques, thanks for the correction.

by David C on Jun 7, 2011 12:21 am • linkreport

David C - (or anyone)- How do you get 15 minutes added at a full station?

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 7, 2011 12:49 am • linkreport

One point about the Winter Weather Warrior: You're understating the level of participation. While it's true that the top 5 riders had far more trips than the other participants, that doesn't mean it was just those five who were riding throughout the winter. About 200 riders had 60 or more trips during the Jan./Feb. time period. That's roughly a trip a day, in bad winter weather.

There were housands of total CaBi trips among all of the riders. That was effective in keeping the system active in the cold months. The contest also kept CaBi visible among the general public. This could have helped to boost membership numbers in the spring because many people had seen the CaBi bikes week after week out on the roads and trails.

The current Rewards program seems like a stop-gap measure, to ease the bike balancing problems until the new stations are added this summer. Maybe the new stations will help improve distribution. It depends greatly on where the stations are located. If there are still some balancing issues after the new stations are added, the Rewards program could be modified as a regular incentive, as mentioned by others.

The more "reverse" trips, the higher the rewards, throughout the year. While the rewards shouldn't be too great, even a moderate bonus might be enough to motivate a small group of people. Even if it's only 40 to 60 people who participate regularly, that would still have a significant effect. College students and those who work irregular hours could use the rewards program to get free monthly CaBi memberships. Not all of them would qualify, so the system wouldn't lose too much revenue. The improvement to the system with better balancing could help to attract new members, or convince current users to renew.

There are still ideas that can be tried before resorting to something like congestion pricing. That doesn't sound like a good plan to me. Might drive away too many current and potential members.

by Michael H. on Jun 7, 2011 1:27 am • linkreport

not sure what a solution would be but as an avid user of cabi who utilizes a bike after work 4-5 times a week in the late afternoon for the sole purpose of just biking around town for pleasure and fitness, i would probably abandon cabi and save up for a good quality bike if a surcharge arises. i enjoy pulling out a bike without having to worry about surcharges adding up. and i hardly ever have a problem during the afternoon rush hour anyway. perhaps its certain racks, but the columbia heights, dupont circle and chinatown racks are almost never short of anything during the afternoon rush hour. if there is a shortage somewhere, i would suggest more effective truck deliveries and for the drivers to concentrate in trouble areas during those peak hours. a rush hour surcharge will certainly make cabi less attractive and complicate the system. i very often find confused out of towners at a bike rack who are trying to figure out how the system works. adding a surcharge would complicate things even further.

by Juan on Jun 7, 2011 1:31 am • linkreport

First:

The reverse commuter idea will never work. The only people who would actually participate are the people who just happen to take a bike from a typically full to a typically empty station. Can't imagine someone leaving work to rebalance a Cabi station.

Second: Who said the program wasn't desingned to be a commuting alternative ? Why do you think DDOT is involved ? Just for the casual biker

Third:
We are complicating things. The best solution is right under our nose : MORE STATIONS !!!

by Shaw Biker on Jun 7, 2011 6:06 am • linkreport

Congestion pricing for bikeshare is just as silly as congestion pricing for cars -- or parking. In practice it's hard to get the right price. And in theory, it isn't needed. London's system also say a lot of one way commuter flows at first but leveled off as people realized the system wasn't set up for that use.

I also doubt the current software could handle this. $1 payments mean lots of credit card fees as well.

And you have to give some time to see if the Rebalance challenge is working. Forty to sixty people doing the challenge might be enough to solve some of the problems.

I do think there will eventually be more conflicts between alta and CABI because of different priorities. Alta' are controlled by the contract; CABI obviously has slightly different goals. Rebalancing stations in Friendship Heights is mandated by the contact -- but probably not a good or necessary idea for CABI. I'd rewrite the contact, and change the penalty system for open/full stations and focus on the few stations that are getting overused.

by charlie on Jun 7, 2011 8:18 am • linkreport

Let people live near their jobs and you will solve the bikeshare problem and all other commuting problems such as crowded metro cars and clogged roadways. Congestion pricing reduces the problems caused by central planning zoning, where eight or so elitists decide where people live, work, and play. Removing zoning and allowing neighborhoods to grow organically is the real solution.

by David Doctor on Jun 7, 2011 8:57 am • linkreport

Isn't a rush hour fee a solution in search of a problem? I see a parallel with cars -- say day after day I drive downtown in search of a parking space during morning rush but can't find one. Eventually I realize that I'm better off using another mode of transportation to commute to my office.

Isn't that what's happening with Capital Bikeshare? Sooner rather than later some folks will realize that CaBi commuting isn't necessarily their best option, while for others it will remain a good option. People will adjust, and the system will remain in use. Yes, there will be some frustration, but that's the nature of getting from point A to point B.

by Matt. on Jun 7, 2011 9:08 am • linkreport

There's a disincentive for me to use Bikeshare whether there's a $1 rush hour surcharge, or whether there's a risk that I'll get to my destination and there won't be any open docks. In both situations, I'll opt for my own bike most of the time.

That said, if the surcharge is successful and the system is balanced, then CaBi will always be an option for me, maybe because I got a flat tire, or maybe because I'm going out of town after work. If the system is badly unbalanced, as it often is, then it's a gamble. Maybe I'll roll the dice, or maybe I'll just take Metro instead.

by Rob P on Jun 7, 2011 9:30 am • linkreport

CABI should be required to add a few bike rack slots for non CABI bikes on each dock.

by TGEoA on Jun 7, 2011 9:49 am • linkreport

@Tom Coumaris The answere is here.

@Shaw BikerThe best solution is right under our nose : MORE STATIONS !!!

Yes, but as is often true, it's also the most expensive

@MattIsn't a rush hour fee a solution in search of a problem?

No. There is a real problem here. Many users are frustrated by the lack of bikes or stations. Right now people are paying for congestion with their time - and that won't really change. That time is lost and does no one any good. By having people pay with money - and save time - we tap that demand in the form of money and use it to put in more stations (see above comment).

by David C on Jun 7, 2011 10:09 am • linkreport

@ David Doctor: Let people live near their jobs

Yeah, and I want a unicorn. I know a couple where one works in DC, and the other in Baltimore. In fact, I know two of those. I know a couple where one works in NE and the other in NW DC. I know a couple where one works in NW DC and the other works in Alexandria. One works in NW DC, the other in PG County. One in north Fairfax, the other in Ft Belvoir.

Aside from the practical problem of double income families, there's also the financial reality that many people can not move because their mortgage is underwater. Despite being able to pay the mortgage, they can not move by lack of say 50-200k that their house lost in value. Who's gonna cough up that money?

Finally, why do you assume people want to live close to their job? The people that live next to my work describe the neighborhood as a "ghetto". Does not sound enticing to me.

by Jasper on Jun 7, 2011 10:34 am • linkreport

@Yes, but as is often true, it's also the most expensive;

Hmm. I wonder where there are eight unused stations sitting around collecting dust, while they could be used to supplement this crush?

We should take back the White House station as well. It is being used -- more than all the EOTR stations combined -- but not accessible to the public. I have no idea how many bikes are attached to it on a regular basis.

by charlie on Jun 7, 2011 10:54 am • linkreport

. [The White House Station] is being used -- more than all the EOTR stations combined

Not true. As of April, the White House station had 599 uses. The top 4 EOTR stations combined for 746. You can make your point without making up facts.

by David C on Jun 7, 2011 10:59 am • linkreport

@DavidC; looking at my track I see for April:

Pennsylvania Ave SE & Minnesota SE Washington, DC 35 57
Anacostia Metro Washington, DC 28 30
Anacostia Library Washington, DC 27 23
Good Hope and Naylor Rd Washington, DC 24 22
Minnesota Ave Metro Washington, DC 10 5
Randle Circle & Minnesota Ave NE Washington, DC 3 3
Benning Branch Library Washington, DC 3 2

I could find Good Hope Rd and MLK stats.

That is a total of 272. The WH station was used 187 times, so you are correct for April. However, I was talking cumulative uses since opened.

I am glad we agree the WH station should also be moved.

by charlie on Jun 7, 2011 11:14 am • linkreport

Charlie, I used the data from opening to mid-April that Lydia DePillis published a couple of months ago. MLK Road is the third highest EOTR, so that's a bigger one to leave out. The White House one should either be moved, or paid for by the White House.

by David C on Jun 7, 2011 11:21 am • linkreport

To the post's original idea of a rush hour charge, I think that right now it would create more problems than it solved. But I would be interested in exploring the idea further, including:

1. What is the appropriate price point? ($.50? $1, or the CaBi standby, $1.50?). And what is the main benefit CaBi would be pursuing: lower unmet demand, or more revenue?

Not unlike the bag tax, this policy would be pursuing multiple potential benefits -- on one hand, if the surcharge reduces commuting demand, you might be less likely to have as many empty/full stations during rush hour. On the other hand, a smaller fee (50 or even 25 cents, perhaps) that didn't significantly reduce demand, you could have a dedicated revenue source of $1,000 per day that could be put toward adding 2, 3, 4 more redistributing vans, (which would in turn make the service more valuable/available, and increase capacity). The latter seems to be more valuable than a charge that would create disincentives for riding.

2. How would you select the stations? Would charges be based on departure stations, arrival stations, or both? It seems like this would be difficult to do selectively--both in terms of simplicity and perception of fairness.

One simple alternative would be to select a "downtown zone" (possibly equivalent to the no-sidewalk-riding zone of 2nd-to-23rd, Constitution-to-Mass, or else expanded to include Capitol Hill, NoMa and SW office districts). 8-10 a.m. rides ending in the downtown zone, and 4-6 p.m. rides departing from those zones would be assessed the surcharge.

3. Where does the money go?

In order for this type of program to gain any public traction, it would have to provide transparent and visible benefits. If the money collected was directed toward additional redistribution vans (and publicized as such), there would be a visible benefit, in the form of more bikes available for those who do want to commute.

Conversely, the funds could support a to "Rush Hour Station Fund" in which CaBi riders could see the collected amount in a fundraising thermometer, and saw how the funds directly led to a new station (beyond those planned in the DC budget). If CaBi wanted to make this even more interesting, riders who paid in via rush hour commutes could vote on where the next "Rush Hour Funded Station" would be placed.

--
None of these ideas take away from the fact that right now, adding a surcharge would likely alienate some portion of the CaBi membership, who believe that they paid for a system that would give them all-you-can-ride access to bikes. But they do raise some interesting questions about how such a charge might work, as well as how CaBi might want to consider in terms of general expansion/redistribution priorities.

by Jacques on Jun 7, 2011 11:36 am • linkreport

AlexB: "I don't like the idea of charging based on how many bikes/docks are left, because that is entirely out of the rider's hands. They have no control over that, and charging them for something they cannot control is not a recipe for success."

We charge extra to ride the metro at rush hour, extra to live closer to work than further out, etc etc. You cannot control the fact that other people want the same resource as you, but there are always those who will pay for the convenience. Why should CaBi be any different. If I used CaBi to commute, I'd pay more than a $1 to be sure that I had a bike available.

by SJE on Jun 7, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

@SJE -- the problem, though, is that you wouldn't be guaranteeing that you'd have a bike available.

Raising the likelihood, perhaps--depending on the overall elasticity of demand--but not guaranteeing.

by Jacques on Jun 7, 2011 11:50 am • linkreport

@SJE

But I can control it with Metro - if I don't want to pay the peak of the peak fare, I know exactly what times I have to ride in order to avoid it.

If your charge only applies when there are few bikes or docks available at a given station, that's entirely out of my control. What if I grab a bike, check SpotCycle before I go and see that my destination station has 5 docks open - therefore I'd be free of your charge. However, when I get there, there are only 2 docks open, thus my use of one of those docks penalizes me for something I had no control over whatsoever.

That exacerbates the current problem, it doesn't solve it.

Now - what you proposed is different from what this post proposed - a flat fee at a given time of day for given stations. That is in the user's control. I still think that's a bad idea - we should influence behavior with incentives, not disincentives (remembering that we want people to use the bikes since this is a part of a larger transportation system). It's certainly not yet a ripe idea, given that the system has only been running for nine months.

by Alex B. on Jun 7, 2011 12:03 pm • linkreport

@Tom, I recently found out that you can get the time credit multiple times on one rental. I was circling the stations around Whole Foods on P Street last night for 20 minutes, and ended up having to get two extensions from the same machine. I think as long as you extend before the 15 minutes are up, you should be fine.

by Daniel on Jun 7, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport

Alex: you are not guaranteed a spot on Metro during rush hour, and I can attest to waiting while packed train after packed train goes by. Congestion charges never guarantee you a spot, merely sort people by how much they are willing to pay for convenience, and to encourage people who could leave earlier or later to do so.

So, if you come up to a CaBi station, and there is one bike, do you want to pay the extra for that last one, or go get a coffee and wait for the station to be refilled.

by SJE on Jun 7, 2011 12:47 pm • linkreport

In other words, you DO have control: do you take the last bike or not? Is it worth it to you?

by SJE on Jun 7, 2011 1:01 pm • linkreport

RESERVATIONS!!

A "simple" change to the "first come first serve" system would be to implement a limited time-horizon reservation system. The system would permit users with internet access to "reserve" a bike at a specified station for a limited period of time. The system could be set up so that a user could only reserve a short period of time ahead (e.g. 15 mins) and the reservation would expire shortly after the desired check-out time. A reservation could be "binding", meaning that a user will be charged for the reservation if they don't show up and it will expire to free up the bike to other users.

This would then eliminate the all-too-common problem of checking online if a bike is available and heading to a station only to find that the bike you thought would be there has been checked out before you could arrive.

Reservations are a simple and effective means of balancing supply and demand without imposing variable pricing. System capacity and balancing can still be implemented to further improve system availability. However, a reservation system would "guarantee" system availability for users that choose to use it. And it would not impose any new fees.

by BC on Jun 7, 2011 1:26 pm • linkreport

BC, all you're doing then is pushing the queue farther away from the kiosk. People will still find a station empty - except that it won't really be empty, because all the bikes will be reserved, which will be even more frustrating.

There are three ways to deal with an oversubscribed asset: auctioning, queuing or a lottery. What we have now is a queue. What this post asks for is something closer to an auction. I don't think anyone thinks a lottery is a good idea. I generally prefer auctions to queues, but that's because my time is so much more valuable than everyone else's.

by David C on Jun 7, 2011 2:03 pm • linkreport

@SJE

Except that your proposal applied to both bikes and docks - i.e. I get charged if I arrive at a station and take the last available dock.

And you're wrong about congestion charges. Bad congestion charges don't guarantee a spot (like Metro's peak of the peak fare). Good congestion charges are set to achieve some sort of policy goal (like, say, London's congestion charge).

All of that is pointless anyway if you don't consider the entire transportation system. Making CaBi harder to use isn't a solution at all. And, as I keep harping on, making the system punitive is also a bad idea within the large policy scheme.

by Alex B. on Jun 7, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

I wonder what the stats are about usage rates for annual membership riders. How many annual members take <5 trips per week, 5-10, and 10+ trips per week. I think cabi should look more at membership usage rates vs. just station specific data. This way maybe we can figure out better how the system is being used and what some potential fixes could be.

by Ryan on Jun 7, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

@David C,

I only partly agree. The only users that will find a station empty (even when bikes are there) are the ones that don't check online. I would compare this roughly to riding Amtrak. If I buy my ticket ahead of time I am (in theory) guaranteed a seat on the train that I selected. Any riders that show up at the train station expecting to get a seat are taking the risk that the train is not filled yet.

Again, the benefit to this is simply that it removes the uncertainty involved in using the system without imposing a variable pricing structure. For me, at least, that uncertainty has made CaBi a system that I try NOT to use anymore. I have had my plans foiled one too many times.

by BC on Jun 7, 2011 2:49 pm • linkreport

"A common belief is that expanding the system will help alleviate rebalancing problems. Although system expansion should be undertaken so more bikes become more convenient to more people, a larger system will do little to change the underlying rush hour pattern that's been established."

Even if Capital Bikeshare had enough bikes for the average number of (attempted) uses per station during rush hour, the actual number would fluctuate -- perhaps wildly. Excess capacity has to be built in to the system to avoid bottleneck situations, i.e., the system locking up. Capacity should be built to the point it's constrained by cost, as it's one of the conditions for redistribution by users. Special attention should be paid to adding capacity in terms of docks, as that allows greater movement of bikes.

When coupled with a morning surcharge, an evening surcharge is -- logically speaking -- a bad idea. We know that users redistribute bikes toward downtown in the morning and away from downtown in the evening. We also know (from the data) that people tend to bike downhill rather than uphill. Downtown lies downhill of the rest of DC.

Assuming the day is started with a balanced system, the system becomes unbalanced after the morning rush. Even if the morning commuters were the only users, the system wouldn't rebalance itself due to the fact the users tend to bike uphill less than downhill. So you have to incentivize uphill trips. One option would be to make uphill trips free from the rush charge.

The $1 trip idea is great outside of that. The proceeds could be put towards more capacity. I think Bikeshare's cost per bike has worked out to be $1000/bike (including station costs). So charging $1 would probably bring in enough cash to add a bike every 2 - 3 workdays. This would allow more surcharges, obviously, so what you've done is create a positive feedback loop based on a detrimental act, that is, the unbalancing of the system.

by Tres on Jun 7, 2011 3:06 pm • linkreport

Alex: I don't see that its harder to use. If you get to a station and there is one spot left, you can use it. You just get charged extra. If its important to get there, you will pay the $1. If you are just a tourist, and don't really care where you stop, maybe you will go to another bike station.

As David C notes, the current system relies entirely on queuing, and so give no one the ability to substitute price for convenience.

The reservation system makes sense, except having the entire system reserved defeats the ease of CaBi. Perhaps a quarter of bikes could be reserved, and at variable rates.

by SJE on Jun 7, 2011 3:11 pm • linkreport

@SJE

But you have no control and no predictability over whether you get charged or not.

Again, if you want to offer a bonus to someone doing the right thing, that's fine. But if you end up springing someone with an extra charge they were not anticipating and could not avoid if they wanted, that's a bad policy.

by Alex B. on Jun 7, 2011 3:33 pm • linkreport

Alex: if you frequently find that bikes or spare spaces are not available, for any price, you will abandon the system. Thats bad policy too.

Lets look at parking. If I drive early I might be lucky in some neighborhoods to find super cheap (or free) parking. As spots fill up, there is early bird parking in a garage, then regular parking, then hotel parking, each more expensive. The price goes up at each interval, and I pay for the convenience. If I HAVE to be at a meeting, and I have no time to look for cheaper parking, I might have to pay hefty hotel parking charges.

by SJE on Jun 7, 2011 8:16 pm • linkreport

Peak or Peak-of-the-peak should not be mentioned in conjunction with CaBi. It's too pure and innocent for that.

by Mike Hawaii on Jun 7, 2011 11:19 pm • linkreport

i think the uphill component within the commuting question is a big thing that's not being talked about. it seems like many CaBi commuters use the bikes to get to work down hill but then find alternative ways to get home. giving folks $1 in carrots or sticks per ride probably isn't going to persuade those already not biking up the hill to do so. my question is if it's economically sustainable for CaBi if the system is required each night to drive up and deposit bikes that were used for one way commuting down hill in the mornings. it seems like using CaBi for commuting is no problem if the morning and evening commutes are balanced, but i don't see any easy way to make that happen in dc by the simple nature of the topography.

by 11th on Jun 8, 2011 12:26 am • linkreport

@11th

The rebalancing isn't compensating for people not riding bikes up the hill; people do ride the bikes up the hill every day. If you look at the animated map and the graphs for each station uphill (http://bikes.oobrien.com/index.php?city=washingtondc) people are riding the bikes up there from around 5PM onward.

The rebalancing takes bikes from stations that are full and moves them back into the empty areas (north in the morning, south in the evening) so people can take more trips during those one-way periods. It looks like they rebalance way more in the morning commute time (bringing bikes up to U Street and north) than in the evening though.

It's wrong to say that everyone is riding the bikes downtown in the morning and then CaBi has to drag them all back uphill in the evening. That's not happening.

by MLD on Jun 8, 2011 9:01 am • linkreport

+1 for using the carrot for rebalancing rather than the stick for being unlucky enough to have a full station. Even better, update Spotcycle in realtime with rebalance opportunities as stations fill up. For a motivated biker they could possibly make minimum wage biking around the city. If you get them to handle the short trips then you can save the vans for the big trips.

by David R on Jun 8, 2011 9:59 am • linkreport

I am a little late to this debate because I've been out of town but I will repeat a letter I sent to Capital Bikeshare and posted on this blog about a month ago with my "plan" for an incentive/fee program. Some commenters above have echoed things I mentioned and I think any iteration of a pricing scheme for CaBi will make it more reliable for transportation.

----

I am writing to you as a frequent user of Capital Bikeshare and a huge proponent of the concept. It occurred to me; however, that having full or empty stations is a market failure that properly incentivized could be eliminated. In order to be a successful public transit system, there needs to be some level of reliability for users – confronting full stations at a destination can quickly make a bikeshare trip go from the fastest form of transportation in the city to the most frustrating.

While Bikeshare staff have done an admirable job of bike redistribution, why not rely on users to help make the redistribution more efficient?

In a dense system such as Capital Bikeshare, users are often indifferent with regard to which station they use. However, given a small price incentive users would consider gravitating toward stations that need redistribution. For example: this morning the Dupont Circle station was nearly full and the 20th & Florida station was empty. A slight incentive earlier in the morning would have led users to the Dupont station instead of the 20th & Florida leading to a more even distribution of bikes.

My proposal is as follows:

1) Fee: Each user will have a $0.50 fee added to his account when he:

a. Removes a bicycle from a rack with three or less bicycles

b. Returns a bicycle to a rack with three or less slots

AND

2) Incentive: Each user will have a $0.50 credit added to his account when he:

a. Returns a bicycle to a rack with less than three bicycles

b. Removes a bicycle from a rack with less than three slots

In this scenario, the most that a users’ fee could be would be $1, and conversely the largest credit possible would be $1. Ignoring for a moment the software changes, this small fee would be easy to implement because all users have an account on file which can be credit and debited accordingly. In fact, the system is already set up to charge users on a per-ride basis if they exceed the posted time limits.

A 50c fee would not be considered punitive by most riders, and is in fact far cheaper than any other form of transportation. Furthermore it would be much more likely to be accepted by the bikeshare community if a comparable credit were available for helping return the system to equilibrium.

Who knows, maybe some enterprising riders will have their annual membership paid for by helping return bikes to stations that need them! Having users redistributed bikes will be far cheaper for the system and DDOT than driving employees around in trucks through Washington traffic.

Questions to consider:

* Is 50 cents the right fee? I think 50 cents is enough to shift otherwise indifferent riders without scaring riders away or facing criticism for favoring wealthy riders. Other data may suggest a different amount is more appropriate
* Is 3 bikes the right number? Certainly three bikes at a 14 bike station is a different impact than at a 40 bike megastation. Yet simplicity is key to the system and introducing a percentage-based system could be too complex for the average user. Also, perhaps 2 bikes is a better number than three to set as the threshold. Your user data may give some information about the best way to implement.
* Do daily users who are less familiar with bikeshare pay/receive the same fees? While the system would still be fair if they weren’t eligible for the credit and not subject to the debit – that would defeat the purpose of having bikes redistributed. Yet some may think that introducing such a fee structure could be too confusing for tourists. I think they can handle it.

Whether this approach or another gets implemented I think that introducing market-based pricing to alleviate crowding at stations or shift demand among otherwise indifferent users will help make the whole bikeshare system more efficient without making it too complex. Thank you for your kind consideration.

by Chris on Jun 8, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

Like several other commenters, I'm not sure where this notion that CaBi wasn't designed for commuters is coming from. That's *exactly* who it was designed for, to ease the congestion negatively impacting other transportation options, like Metro and driving. (As someone said above, that's why DDOT was involved.)

With that in mind, adding $1 surcharges at peak times, at least for me, obviates the whole point of Bikeshare in the first place. For occasional trips around the city, I can just walk or take a bus or Metro -- because then there's no time pressure, and those are the times when buses/Metro aren't overwhelmed with people.

For those arguing that daily commuters should just buy their own bike and get out of the system...well, that's a nice idea in theory. In practice, DC has something of a bike theft epidemic going on. I've gone through two now, U-locks be damned, and my girlfriend's was just stolen in broad daylight last weekend.

Bikeshare is a nice fix for the crime-spree problem -- but, if it starts adding premium fees for the times when people actually want to use the bikes, then its usefulness is minimal. Why not try expanding the network first and see where that gets us?

by Kevin on Jun 9, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

If you're going to argue that "the whole point of Bikeshare in the first place" is to serve commuters then you're going to need a bit more of an argument than "DDOT was involved".

Your argument hinges on the premise that "Transportation==Commuting". I can see how you'd fall into that fallacy if you're an area commuter--particularly if your commute is an onerous one.

by oboe on Jun 10, 2011 9:52 am • linkreport

In my discussions with DDOT bike people before this launched, commuting was certainly one of the points of bikesharing. But it wasn't the only point.

by David C on Jun 10, 2011 10:52 am • linkreport

As for whether CaBi is an eligible bicycle commuting expense, my agency recently informed me that it *is* an eligible expense.

Charging extra for rush-hour use would keep me from joining, which I plan to do this month. I usually ride my own bike to work, but I would pay the $75 per year for the odd ride to or from work when I can't ride my bike both ways. That extra $1 would not kill me, but I would factor that into my decision to pay a $75 membership fee. If I ride around 25 times, I would be paying $100 per year, in which case I might as well just pay the per-use fee. My past experience shows that paying the per-use fee is not cost- or time-effective for my purposes, so the CaBi program would get nothing from me.

by Roger on Jun 12, 2011 9:47 am • linkreport

When I joined Washington Sports Club I had membership options.
$X/month to go to my location,
$X+/month to go to all the DC area locations, and
$X++/month to go to all the Sports Club locations in the Northeast.

I joined CaBi in December and I have a regular commute from GA/NH to 14th/NY which takes be 20 minutes downhill and 25 minutes uphill. After a few rides I thought it would really suck if that uphill took me 31 minutes because I would get nailed with the $1.50 each time. I think the same is case for people who live further away.

A logical extension is variable Annual Memberships.

If I want 30 minute initial rides I pay $X/year.
If I want 45 minute initial rides I pay $X+/year.

If I want to pull a bike from a typically empty station during the rush or dock a bike at a typically full station during the rush, I pay $X++

With the base membership, you might not be able to pull a bike or dock a bike at every station during the rush unless you upgrade (which you could do anytime online). This pricing would not be a disincentive, would be predictable, and would not have any surprise charges. This pricing method would help capture the extra expense the commuters put on the system causing cyclical imbalance. The extra revenue would help pay for re-distribution.

This variable membership would not have to impact tourists at all, their daily rental would be the same with access to all docks. Their per-ride payment is higher than annual members anyway and would avoid any confusion for them.

BTW, I used CaBi all through January and February and loved it. I have since bought a bike and use CaBi to supplement, so I think I am a success story. I would gladly pay for the elevated membership to have the convenience when I need it.

by Clayton on Jun 13, 2011 4:39 pm • linkreport

Just charge $2 per 1/2 hour of use and forget the subscription model. If someone commutes everyday, it doesn't make sense for them not to get their own bike. For others who use it occasionally to replace a metro ride, cab ride or walking, it still beats those alternatives in many situations.

This first 1/2 hour free business invites overuse under the guise of promoting a green alternative to other modes of transportation. In reality, the one-way bike rental doesn't need that subsidy. If you charge the real cost of the rental, it will still be more convenient and a better value than a cab, metro or walking. All the subsidy does is invite abuse.

by Jeff on Aug 5, 2011 11:58 am • linkreport

All the subsidy does is invite abuse.

First of all, it isn't necessarily a subsidy. Done right, bikeshare can cover it's costs.

Second, using bikeshare for 100% of ones trips isn't abuse. It's success.

by David C on Aug 5, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

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