The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Capital Bikeshare's first year results exceed expectations

Just over a year ago, Capital Bikeshare launched with great fanfare. Looking back to the program's start last September, most people agree that it has been far more successful than anticipated. How much more successful? Membership, the number of riders, and revenue have all exceeded expectations in CaBi's inaugural year.

Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

According to a Capital Bikeshare press release, CaBi managers were "aiming to attract 8,000 members in the first year and hoped they would take 500,000 rides." With approximately 18,000 (other sources report fewer) members and 1,000,000 rides to date, the reality appears to be far more impressive.

Incidentally, CaBi manager Chris Holben wins the prognosticator award. Back in late May he called the exact day that CaBi would hit 1,000,000 trips. "How long before a million?" he was asked. "An exciting date would be September 20, 2011. And we think we can make that," he projected. They did.

During the same time, CaBi riders racked up around 1.79 miles per trip, higher than the predicted 1.5 miles. Although August and September numbers have yet to be released, we can deduce that riders pedaled approximately 1,790,000 miles in the first 365 days of use.

In addition to higher than expected ridership, revenue is significantly stronger as well.

With 18,000 annual subscribers and an additional 66,534 short-term users, (approximately 2,000 of whom held monthly memberships), CaBi more than exceeded projected earnings from member dues. According to revenue numbers provided by DDOT they made about $1,500,000 in membership revenue for the first year, which is well above what they expected.

Overage fees add up, too. About 1% of trips by annual users and about 8% of trips by casual users run long (down from 15% of trips that were longer than 30 minutes under SmartBike), and these trips garner additional fees. As a result, according to DDOT, they made an additional $770,000 in overage fees.

This results in a total of $2,270,000 in revenue. In their TIGER II application the organization estimated $942,000 in revenue, assuming an $80 per year annual fee.

Not only did they vastly exceed revenue, they report that when they compare DC's monthly O and M cost to revenue (membership/usage fees) generated, they have a surplus of $300,000. A statement they've echoed elsewhere, according to Josh Moskowitz of DDOT and Scott Kubly (formerly of DDOT) "the operations and management for Capital Bikeshare is entirely self-sustaining—even profitable for the department."

It's not unreasonable to think that Arlington has had similar success.

If we consider the positive external benefits, CaBi looks even better. As DCist noted, the system has proven itself to be "a vital component of moving around the city during an emergency."

A study of the Barcelona system showed that their bike-sharing network saves lives, reduces CO2 emissions and provides health benefits that are 77 times greater than the risks. And by getting more people on bikes, it's making biking into a more normative behavior, leading to more bicycle sales.

To try to quantify the benefits of CaBi within the DC metro area, I tweaked the worksheet CaBi submitted with the TIGER II application by replacing projections with the actual ridership and membership numbers that the system experienced this year. According to those calculations, CaBi created around an additional $1,500,000 in environmental, health, safety, access, travel time and travel cost benefits. This means that with both external and internal benefits considered, the system made approximately a $1,800,000 return.

And while the gains were higher than expected, the downside was not nearly as bad as some feared. Vandalism has not been the problem that some projected it would be. Nor has safety.

One specific criticism prior to the system's launch was that the stations weren't placed densely enough. Transportation blogger Yonah Freemark expressed this concern:

This could potentially cause significant problems for the users of the new U.S. capital system.

There are two main reasons for this: One, light station density makes short neighborhood commutes via public bicycle more difficult, reducing the chance to attract occasional riders; Two, insufficient density can cause logistical problems in situations where stations either run out of bicycles or, inversely, run out of dock spaces—not infrequent issues, at least considering my own experience using the Parisian system extensively.

Based on the massive number of day members, even without access to the National Mall, it's hard to back up the claim that CaBi has had trouble attracting occasional riders.

And the problem of empty docks or full docks is not unique to CaBi. In fact, both Montreal and Paris have serious problems with that issue, as well.

Catherine Maurency of Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique has analyzed bike-sharing data and notes that almost every city that's tried bike share has experienced some version of the problem. As Maurency points out, "if there's a subway breakdown you will have issues because there will be no more bikes and all these regular patterns will disappear. If it rains in the morning and it's sunny in the afternoon, then all the patterns change."

It's possible that a tighter placement of stations would have worked better. It's also possible that a looser placement would have been more successful. It's hard to say. But, at this point, it's even harder to say the numbers that CaBi is posting are indicative of a poorly functioning system. There is no definitive consensus on the appropriate dock density, and more likely than not, it differs from city to city anyway. However, this does not change the fact that DC's Capital Bikeshare is getting a lot right.

Another early concern, and one that led to a small controversy, was about the potential for a bike-sharing station to make a neighborhood more dangerous. Specifically, this was an issue with the Lincoln Park station, where neighbors were concerned about traffic, safety, trash, and so forth. But looking back, the whole issue seems rather silly. No one has asked that a station be moved further from his or her doorstep. Lincoln Park seems to have embraced the idea. And, indeed, most docks enjoy a warm reception.

It's exciting to see that Capital Bikeshare has exceeded expectations. The model has been more popular than expected, and it has cost less than projected. At the same time, it has been safer and more manageable than many anticipated. These are nothing if not solid indicators of a thriving, new system.

But perhaps the greatest testimony to its success is that not only is CaBi expanding within DC and Arlington, and to Rockville, Alexandria, and possibly Bethesda, but that other cities such as Chicago and New York are also following suit.

Crossposted at the Washcycle.

David Cranor is an operations engineer. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and former Texan (where he wrote for the Daily Texan), he's lived in the DC area since 1997. David is a cycling advocate who serves on the Bicycle Advisory Council for DC.  


Add a comment »

I analyzed the usage fees before. I'd say closer to $800,000. Significant number of riders using the bike for more than 3 hours. In fact, a significant number using it for more than 5 hours.

EOTR usage continues to be way down compared to the rest of the system.

Best thing: making it normal to bike without a helmet.

Worst: after the living social deal, you could not rely on getting a bike.

by charlie on Sep 28, 2011 10:40 am • linkreport

Charlie, you're off. I got official numbers from DDOT just before this posted, and the update should be publishing soon. It's at my site now. It's more like $1.5M

by David C on Sep 28, 2011 10:51 am • linkreport

This program is one transit initiative the city should be very proud of.

@David C--Since CaBi was profitable (to the tune of $300,000, as you report) what becomes of those profits? I sincerely hope that every cent goes back to CaBi investment and NOT into some general DDOT fund where the money will see less return.

When a program like this has both exceeded expectations and been run efficiently, it deserves full access to its own profits.

by MJ on Sep 28, 2011 10:58 am • linkreport

@DavidC; confused -- did you change the numbers of this post already? It is now saying 770, which is close to my estimate.

In any case, usage fees will probably decline in time. A lot of that is tourist money and as the thrill wears off people won't be taking bikes out for 5+ hours. That is actually better for everyone in terms of usage, and it is a nice revenue bump for the first few years.

by charlie on Sep 28, 2011 11:06 am • linkreport

@MJ -- I would guess that the surplus is somewhat connected to the recent announcement of a 50-station expansion in 2012. It seems that whether the surplus is directly contributing to those stations or not, the District has recognized the success and is putting dollars on the line to support CaBi expansion.

@David C -- I am a huge CaBi supporter, and fortunate enough to live and work in spots where dockblocking is less of a concern. That said, I do think that the density argument holds water. It's not a matter of the frequency of dockblocking, but the impact of it. If a rider is dockblocked in Paris, finding an alternative station only takes them a couple minutes out of the way, while in most spots in DC, a dockblock could lead to a 10+ minute detour (between biking to an open station and then walking back).

As the 34-station expansion and the next phase 50-station push are implemented, we'll see how that impacts the dockblocking phenomenon. The valid counter-argument is that increased station density will encourage increased ridership, and that we'll see the same situation on a larger basis, but until we start to see it play out for real, this is all based on a theoretical argument over ideal station-to-member, station-to-dock, and bike-to-dock ratios.

by Jacques on Sep 28, 2011 11:06 am • linkreport

Did this article change already? I pulled it up, read it, got called into a meeting for a few minutes, came back and it seemed to have different numbers.

by freely on Sep 28, 2011 11:15 am • linkreport

@charlie Best thing: making it normal to bike without a helmet.

Is that a good thing? Not so sure... I cringe every time I see a cyclist without a helmet, CaBi rider or not.

by Jack Love on Sep 28, 2011 11:16 am • linkreport

@Jack Love; cringe away. You think a helmet is going to protect you from a car? Is it a magical device? No.

Corollary to the helmet is bringing back riding at a human pace. Thank you, cabi.

by charlie on Sep 28, 2011 11:19 am • linkreport

Somebody told me that Clear Channel owns Capital Bikeshares. If that is true, it is sad.

by Henry on Sep 28, 2011 11:23 am • linkreport

@Henry -- not true. Clear Channel owned/operated Smartbike, the CaBi predecessor, as part of a deal with DC to control bus stop (and to a larger extent "street furniture," whatever that is) advertising.

It was something they did as a throw-in, without any real incentives to grow the program, which was why it was never that successful.

Capital Bikeshare replaced SmartBike, and it's a public-private partnership, where I think DC and Arlington governments own the bikes and stations, but the maintenance and operations are done by a company called Alta Bike Sharing.

by Jacques on Sep 28, 2011 11:27 am • linkreport

The numbers in the post did change. We requested data from DDOT, but they were unable to provide it. David made some "back of the envelope" calculations.

Just as the post went live, DDOT sent us the actual numbers. David edited the article to include those numbers. The only changes were inserting the numbers referencing revenue.

Clear Channel owned SmartBike. That system predates Capital Bikeshare and no longer exists. Clear Channel has nothing to do with CaBi.

by Matt Johnson on Sep 28, 2011 11:30 am • linkreport

As I recall, Clear Channel used to own Smartbike, a different bikeshare system that predates CaBi.

by Scoot on Sep 28, 2011 11:30 am • linkreport

I am also not understanding the numbers so I am looking forward to seeing them.

Are the short term users all $5 day memberships, or are you counting monthly memberships "short term"?

If their revenue is right (1.5 mil) and they made 333K on the short term (again, I need clarification as to what short term is) memberships, then that means they pulled in revenue of 1.17 million on 18000 memebrships, or about $65 bucks per.

I find that pretty hard to believe considering they signed up 8100 people on the LivingSocial deal and cabi only got 18.50 per membership (half the $37 deal goes to LivingSocial). The first few thousand members were also discounted (althought I don't remember, thinking it was in the $50 range)

by freely on Sep 28, 2011 11:31 am • linkreport

@Matt Johnson; so, which is it?

I think the orginial post had something like 120 in overage revenue. My estimaet was 800; now the post says 770, but David C's comments makes it sounds like 1.5M.

And did the revenue numbers change, or David C's CBA at the end as well?

Not to nitpick, but this is where the strike-thru is helpful.

by charlie on Sep 28, 2011 11:34 am • linkreport

@charlie You think a helmet is going to protect you from a car? Is it a magical device? No.

Protection in what way? Slammed up against a windshield? Probably not... But automobiles are far from the only threat to cyclist out there.

Just as common, if not more so, are the typical spills that result from pot holes, sudden maneuvers, and other losses of control. These riders stand a good chance of hitting the pavement. That's where your helmet protection is, and that will mean the difference between a concussion and unconsciousness.

I'm not a CaBi customer (I have my own rides) so I can't say what, if any, release CaBi has for its riders, who should all be aware of the risks of going unhelmeted. I don't this making it seem normal is a service at all.

by Jack Love on Sep 28, 2011 11:40 am • linkreport

MAybe it's better to just include a footnote "update" to describe the changes to the original article. You guys usually do this.

by HogWash on Sep 28, 2011 11:42 am • linkreport

I left DC just as CaBi went in: is there any facility whereby a rider arriving at a dockblocked station can swipe in to get an extra few minutes to find an empty dock before the 30 minutes run?

by Lucre on Sep 28, 2011 11:43 am • linkreport

I'll 'fess up. I was a naysayer who thought the low station density would drag the system down. I still think it'll be better as it increases, but clearly it hasn't inhibited success in a significant way in the first year. Bravo!

by Gavin on Sep 28, 2011 11:44 am • linkreport


Yes, if you arrive at a full station, you can get an extra 15mins plus information on the closest available docks.

by jyindc on Sep 28, 2011 11:49 am • linkreport

@Jack Love -- you have your own "rides".

Let me guess -- custom $3000 carbon fiber bikes? Some racing stuff? Training?

Ride slowly and carefully -- and a 50 pound bikeshare bike makes you do that -- and with fat tires -- and the hazarsds you point out disappear.

(The only weakness of the bikeshare bikes is extremely weak brakes. Unnerving to go down hills)

My average speed on bikeshare is about 10 MPH. At that speeds, I'm not too worried about my noggin. Scapes -- yes. Major head injury, no.

by charlie on Sep 28, 2011 11:50 am • linkreport


I believe you get an extra 15 minutes free if your station is full. Not sure how that works, however, whether you have to call them or what.

I've only had one instance of a full dock, at 17th and Corcoran. Almost hit the 30 minute mark. Otherwise, the bigger problem for me is stations with no available bikes, especially near 16th and Harvard. I hope the expansion this fall can take care of that problem somewhat.

by 80p on Sep 28, 2011 11:51 am • linkreport


On the station screen, you type in your key fob number to get the extra time. That same screen also lists nearby available stations.

by jyindc on Sep 28, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

Charlie, I misunderstood your first comment, I thought your estimate was of membership fees, not usage fees. Sorry for the confusion.

by David C on Sep 28, 2011 12:14 pm • linkreport

freely, I believe the short term members are all the non-annual members.

by David C on Sep 28, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

Specifically, this was an issue with the Lincoln Park station, where neighbors were concerned about traffic, safety, trash, and so forth. But looking back, the whole issue seems rather silly.

No, it seemed pretty silly back then too:

by Steven Yates on Sep 28, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

Sorry about the lack of strikethroughs. I thought I was going to finish adding DDOT's actual numbers before it posted, but I missed it by a couple of minutes. I didn't realize it was live until after I submitted the changes. My rough estimates aren't really relevant except to show that I'm far too conservative in my guessing.

by David C on Sep 28, 2011 12:17 pm • linkreport

Cabi is a triumph of the step through bicycle frame - the super practical and ergonomic design that is going to replace the "sissy -castration bar" that is no longer necessary for structural integrity in a bicycle. Sit up posture is the best way to ride a practical utilitarian bike. Cycling's 21st century is here at last !!!

by w on Sep 28, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

@David C ; it's not a problem, just wasn't sure what the numbers were.

I'd love to see the overage rates on weekends vs. weekdays. CABI might even want to create a "weekend" rate. That is when availability really drops across the system as people take 5 hour joy rides.

of course what this really tells me is there is a market failure for rental bikes.

Another great thing about CABI: built in lights! Far far more useful than a helmet. The bell is a nice touch, but it is a bit confusing to use. I'd go with an Intelibell type solution in the future.

by charlie on Sep 28, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

Charlie: I don't think there necessarily is a market failure for rental bikes. I think a lot of tourists do not understand that there are usage fees over 30 mins. I have told people to go rent a bike rather than use CaBi because their plan was to cruise the mall all day. Just this weekend a guy responded that he was OK because he was buying the all day pass!

I wonder how many of these, if any, CaBi is offering refunds to. I'm sure that most if not all 5 hour users are pissed when they get their credit card bill and some portion have to call and complain.

It's good to see the revenue CaBi is bringing in. Hopefully they can keep up maintenance on the bikes. Bells particularly are a problem, but I've also noticed some of the seats are wearing out. I haven't seen any brake or gear problems yet, so that's good.

Overall someone would be hard pressed to say it's not a successful program.

by Greg on Sep 28, 2011 12:45 pm • linkreport

someone would be hard pressed to say it's not a successful program.

Meet that someone.

by David C on Sep 28, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

I wonder how many of these, if any, CaBi is offering refunds to. I'm sure that most if not all 5 hour users are pissed when they get their credit card bill and some portion have to call and complain.

I hope none of them. Failure to read and/or comprehend is not an excuse to get out of your obligations.

by dcd on Sep 28, 2011 1:02 pm • linkreport

I am sitting here happily eating crow. I predicted this entire thing would fail miserably. I couldn't have been more wrong. It is truly amazing how this has taken off.

It has gotten to the point where you don't even notice people riding these red bikes anymore.

by seaster on Sep 28, 2011 1:17 pm • linkreport

The signage on the kiosks about the total cost is much more clear now than it was initially.

It's quite clear: [membership fee] + [applicable user fees] = [total cost]

by Alex B. on Sep 28, 2011 1:18 pm • linkreport

@charlie, dcd

I know of a couple friends who have gotten refunds due to the dock not properly detecting their return of a bike and charging them for several hours of use.

by MLD on Sep 28, 2011 1:22 pm • linkreport

I know of a couple friends who have gotten refunds due to the dock not properly detecting their return of a bike and charging them for several hours of use.

I've got no beef with that at all. Frankly, it could happen to anyone. But that's a far cry from someone thinking they could rent a bike for the day for $5, then complaining when they're charged $51.50 for their 4 hr 45 min jaunt.

by dcd on Sep 28, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

@MLD; I threw away the spreadsheet but off the top of my head it was about $120K in revenue (estimated) for 5+ hour rentals, and that was back in July. I'm sure the incidents you described occured, but I don't see widespread complaints about $300 bikeshare charges.

by charlie on Sep 28, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

I thought it would fail too. I really hope people keep riding in the colder weather too. It will be interesting to see how people in Chicago tolerate the more extreme conditions in this respect.

by aaa on Sep 28, 2011 1:33 pm • linkreport

I think CaBi's biggest challenge is expanding fast enough to meet demand. I would like to see CaBi sell advertisement space on the bikes and stations like they are doing in NYC and use the extra funds to increase the pace of expansion.

I know some people will say that this will dilute CaBi's brand but I think a funny looking bike plastered with advertisements for (hopefully) local establishments will be just as noticeable. Think NASCAR race cars.

by Falls Church on Sep 28, 2011 2:05 pm • linkreport

Falls Church, unfortunately, DC may have already sold Clear Channel exclusive rights to advertise in DC public space (as part of the bus shelter contract in 2005). And Arlington has a law against that kind of advertising. So those issues have to be resolved. Maybe Alexandria or Rockville can use ads.

by David C on Sep 28, 2011 2:16 pm • linkreport

@charlie @Jack Love -- you have your own "rides".
Let me guess -- custom $3000 carbon fiber bikes? Some racing stuff? Training?

Uh no racing for me, thank you, already in my mid-50s. 3K carbon poly? Hardly... (I've seen them shatter) No I could buy my ride six times over for that sum. And what's with the hostility anyway?

Good to hear you move nice and slow on the CaBi bikes. Like I've said, I've never ridden one so I can't speak for weight, brakes, and top speeds. Just be careful out there ok?

by Jack Love on Sep 28, 2011 2:24 pm • linkreport

@Jack Love; I overeacted. My apologies.

by charlie on Sep 28, 2011 2:45 pm • linkreport

I was initially suspicious of Cabi, I thought it was the stupidest idea ever. After working downtown for awhile, and become a Cabi member, I became a convert. Not a morning person, so biking to work never worked for me, but biking home from work worked. Especially later at night, when the streets were calm and I was able to see the city in a new way. It was a definite +1 on the good side of my love/hate relationship with DC.

by spookiness on Sep 28, 2011 2:48 pm • linkreport

What is the timeline for the DC expansion?

by Boomer on Sep 28, 2011 5:20 pm • linkreport

Put me with the commentator above that believe that the lack of density has hurt the system, but obviously not crippled it.

The good news is that membership will only go up as they keep adding stations in the existing service area.

by JJJJJ on Sep 28, 2011 6:32 pm • linkreport

@Boomer -- the next 30-35 station increase is scheduled for whenever the stations arrive from the manufacturer. CaBi is hoping to start the construction/expansions in October, and finish by November.

They haven't yet announced a process for selecting the next 50 stations, or a timeframe, other than "early 2012."

by Jacques on Sep 28, 2011 7:28 pm • linkreport

I believe the rules were recently ammended in DC to allow advertising on stations, including station sponsorship. I imagine that would greatly increase revenue to further expand the program in the years to come.

by cmc on Sep 28, 2011 7:53 pm • linkreport

"... the next 30-35 station increase is scheduled for whenever the stations arrive from the manufacturer."

Heard from an inside source yesterday that components for 30 stations are already on hand.  Some assembly required, no doubt, but it's encouraging that the process is moving along. 

What will be the effect of the huge NYC and smaller Chattanooga systems on the station and bike delivery pipeline?  Will further expansion here and in Boston end up on back order? 

by cabi addict on Sep 28, 2011 8:53 pm • linkreport

Now that CaBi has been proven to be such a success and bike share is being introduced in even more cities, what we members should really hope for is universal accounts. If I could use my CaBi key to access bikes in other cities run by Alta when on vacation or visiting friends, that would just be icing on the cake.

by Bryant Turnage on Sep 28, 2011 10:17 pm • linkreport

@Bryant Turnage:

I agree -- and quite frankly, I wouldn't even mind being charged full price as a visitor for a 1-day pass, if that could be charged to my CaBi account. The interoperability, versus price, is what would really sell me on it.

(Key fob interoperability with normal prices would also reduce the likelihood of people trying to join an out-of-town bikeshare just to get a better price on their local one).

by Jacques on Sep 28, 2011 10:56 pm • linkreport

cabi addict, that is an interesting question. Can Alta handle running three large systems, and can Bixi handle making enough parts? Dont forget, Bixi sells to London, Montreal and others.

Hopefully, Boston and DC aren't going to play second fiddle to station requests from NYC and London.

by JJJJJ on Sep 29, 2011 2:37 am • linkreport

can Bixi handle making enough parts?

I've spoken with a couple of the maintenance guys who've mentioned difficulty getting certain parts. You'll notice a lot of bikes are missing end caps for their handlebar grips...small things like that.

My guess is as these bikes are torture tested, and parts are replaced, they'll become more resilient rather than less.

by oboe on Sep 29, 2011 9:21 am • linkreport

Capital Bikeshare is amazing, seriously. I was one of the inaugural members and loved the system before it got so crowded, because I could always get a bike. But after the Livingsocial deal, I often can't get a bike in the mornings. Yet I'm still an uberfan. I know they are rebalancing as quickly as they can and with the expansions coming up, it will be less problematic in the future. Their customer service is wonderful. They have really built a brand/phenomenon that has the capacity to unite a group of people and change how they navigate the city. It is amazing that this has happened in the span of one year, but it speaks to need and/or desire. It is exciting that Capital Bikeshare has been leading the way, because I think bikesharing will change the dynamic of many US cities in the future.

I'm totally smitten. And I know I'm not alone.

by TJ on Sep 29, 2011 11:08 am • linkreport

Seeing as the timeline for CaBi expansion predates the NYC rollout, I wouldn't worry about bikes not being available. The bikes are improving, too -- the next generation has moved the light from below the "basket" to the front of the basket, so it's not blocked if you're carrying something.

I still meet a lot of people who are confused by the prices. The sticker explaining the price seems pretty clear to me -- and clearer than in some other cities I've been to -- and there's even a "hey! you'll pay use fees!" screen cluttering the checkout process. Still, though, there has to be a clearer way to say this. Maybe call the "membership" a "daily access fee" and say there's a "per-ride charge" of 1¢, $1.50, etc.?

by Payton on Oct 1, 2011 12:14 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us