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How about a weekend-only CaBi membership?

CaBi is emptier on weekends compared to weekdays. Update: or maybe not. Would a weekend-only membership, which charges a small fee for taking weekday trips, bring in more ridership when the system isn't in heavy use?

Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

Darren Buck, who worked on a Capital Bikeshare survey and report as a graduate student, writes:

One suggestion was to offer a membership that restricted ridership to off-peak times, such as weekends. Our surveys were collected on weekends, and 34% of respondents were "local." We felt that a membership fob option that allowed unlimited weekend rides (with perhaps a fixed checkout fee around $1 to use the fob for weekday trips) could provide another option for local users to maximize non-peak ridership.
To be sure, there would be a tradeoff in lost revenue from the lucrative 1-day passes for the additional ridership encouraged by all-you-can-ride weekend memberships. With approximately 100,000, 24-hour memberships sold in the past year at $7 each, over $230K in annual revenue would be put in doubt by the offering of a weekend-only membership. This is assuming approximately 1/3rd of all 24-hour members are local. Moreover, it doesn't even consider the higher-than-average trip lengths, resulting in usage fees, taken by 24-hour members (looks like CaBi can afford it, though).

But there would also be customer service benefits from diverting many casual users from having to interact with the kiosk. One observation by survey collectors from the intercept survey, which is at odds with these survey responses, was their experience with the kiosks. While people reported an OK experience figuring out the kiosk (77% "easy" or "somewhat easy"), we observed a fair bit of confusion, slow processing, some queuing, and a lot of time consumed with having to navigate the screen processes.

Of course, total ridership does dip on the weekends. Incentivizing locals to maximize weekend use of the bikes could grow ridership in a way that does not stress the system at peak times. Additionally, a fee-for-peak ride, at worst, yields some additional revenue for taking rides at the most disruptive times. If service outages (full/empty docks) continue in peak commuting hours, perhaps a variant of this pricing model should be considered for all memberships going forward?

I can see some pros and cons to this approach. This could push more riders toward buying plans that best fit their preferences and possibly drive more weekend use. Or, would it end up discouraging weekday use?

There's a lot of power in simply making something free. It psychologically pushes people to consume more of it while even a small charge has the opposite effect. This is why Metro should encourage more unlimited passes since it has plenty of unused off-peak capacity, as well as why parking in high-demand areas should not be free since overuse leads to more circling and traffic.

Anyone who buys an unlimited Capital Bikeshare membership suddenly has an amazing power: they can grab a bicycle in scores of locations with no guilt at all. That's a powerful incentive to bike more, become more confident riding in the city, and ultimately start riding a personal bike instead for many trips.

Capital Bikeshare's goal is not merely to match up supply and demand. It also achieves far broader goals of helping people become comfortable bicycling. Would this system boost that effect or hinder it?

Any system of off-peak rides won't precisely fit with the excess capacity. Some areas don't experience much dockblocking. In the middle of the day, even on weekdays, the system isn't that busy. This pricing system could discourage rides in those areas where we'd most want to foster new riders and more usage.

On the other hand, there are segments of the public who might not be customers under the current pricing systems. I actually might not renew my Capital Bikeshare annual membership the next time it comes up for renewal. I've only used it on 2 separate days in the last 8 months. That's not because it was not useful, but because I became accustomed enough to riding my own bike that I almost always use it instead. I don't have to walk a few blocks on each end when I use my own bike. (A station near Archives would cut down on that extra walk quite a lot!)

I could pay $7 for a day pass in the occasional situation I need a one-way trip, but that's a lot for a short trip, and it's time-consuming to use the kiosks. Also, now that it's in Alexandria, where I periodically go, it might become extra useful for trips between Metro and North Old Town. Buck's plan might better meet my needs. Or maybe without it I'll just pay the $75, though I'm more willing to spend money on bicycle programs than the average person.

What do you think? Is this a good idea or a bad one?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I don't think CaBi is on empty on the weekends as people think. There may be less traffic, but the most heavily used stations are still consistently empty or full on weekends.

by Adam L on Sep 24, 2012 3:00 pm • linkreport

Sigh. We do not need a more complicated pricing scheme. CaBi has regretfully already made things more difficult since its start. Let's keep it simple. If you want to go for a weekend, you can buy two one-day memberships or a three-day membership for a dollar more. Problem solved.

Let's please not turn CaBi into metro's incomprehensible pricing mess.

by Jasper on Sep 24, 2012 3:00 pm • linkreport

Let people get a fob who aren't annual members. Then they could activate a daily pass by just checking out a bike. Before I was a member, I never bothered with the kiosk/credit card system. For non-members, having a fob that could be used to quickly grab a bike would be more convenient.

Just like having the Uber app configured on a phone - doesn't mean you will use it, but it's there just in case, and the increased convenience probably would lead to increased use.

And it would also permit semi-unlimited membership, you could turn on a weekend-only plan for your fob, or nights and weekends, etc.

by PS on Sep 24, 2012 3:13 pm • linkreport

I really don't get the basic premise. CaBi sets ridership records on weekends, not weekdays. Average ride duration and length is higher on the weekends. How does that mean CaBi is used less on the weekends?

by Corey H. on Sep 24, 2012 3:59 pm • linkreport

@CoreyH; yes, I was wondering the same thing. I know that used to be true, and not sure if it true anymore.

A solution in search of a problem.

by charlie on Sep 24, 2012 4:07 pm • linkreport

I agree with Charlie and Corey. I don't think the first sentence of this article is correct. See this analysis of CaBi usage data:

Weekdays and weekends total ridership is essentially the same. The pattern is different, but the total usage is very similar. If anything, the weekend usage patterns are less peak-y and therefore probably easier for rebalancing and so on.

by Alex B. on Sep 24, 2012 4:11 pm • linkreport

The busiest CaBi days are weekend days. I think each of the last four or five record days were on weekends.

I'm not sure how much demand there is for something like this, and what the price would be. $75 for one year of riding is an incredible bargain. I'd need to see some polling data to see how many people don't join because the fee is too high. But, if such a program were offered, my wife would definitely take the lower price - and I'm sure she's not alone.

So CaBi would make less money. And my wife would now have to pay extra to use the bikes on weekdays which might reduce ridership. Members might be net winners, but CaBi would probably lose (in all the metrics that matter).

by David C on Sep 24, 2012 4:13 pm • linkreport

I also question whether we need to encourage use on the weekends. Total trips on weekend days are about the same as on weekdays ( Trips are more spread out into an all-day phenomenon though. Casual members take a higher percentage of trips on the weekend. As an annual member I find that it is hard to get a bike in the middle of an afternoon on the weekend.

by MLD on Sep 24, 2012 4:18 pm • linkreport

I'd reject this proposal only for the sake of simplification. If there's any need for a new purchase plan, I'd much rather see them rent the bikes for single trip - something cheaper than the $7 fee for 24hrs; perhaps $3.

by M.V. Jantzen on Sep 24, 2012 4:30 pm • linkreport

I second the idea from above of allowing the loading of day passes onto key fobs without a monthly/annual membership.

Why not make it like the SmarTrip card? It would save a ton of time at the kiosks, whose interfaces are quite poorly considered, in my opinion. It simply takes too long to check out a bike the second time in a day with a day pass, especially if you use the same card for two bikes.

Because I'm sure the key fobs have a not-insubstantial cost to CaBi, you could require day pass users to pre-load their account with at least $21, to be auto-reloaded when they get down to $7. This gives CaBi a little up front money as well and gives their finances a slight bit more predictability (as a side benefit).

by Joey on Sep 24, 2012 4:50 pm • linkreport

i would use CaBi if they didnt want to hold money on my debit or CC for more than 10 days which they say is the banks doing, i didnt want to buy a membership for something i knew i wouldnt use often

by Jerome on Sep 24, 2012 4:59 pm • linkreport

Revenue is key. Frankly, when I write responses to RFPs for bike sharing, I say anything less than one month you're giving money away--and most systems (except for Chicago, NYC, and SF probably) don't have the kind of revenue potential from tourists that DC has.

Similarly, why Bcycle would provide complementary usership in other systems by members makes no sense to me either. I use WMATA. That doesn't mean when I go to another city that I expect to ride transit for free. But it does make me familiar with transit generally and willing to try it (and pay for it) when I am somewhere else.

by Richard Layman on Sep 24, 2012 5:08 pm • linkreport

Let people get a fob who aren't annual members. Then they could activate a daily pass by just checking out a bike.

I like this idea. I think what prevents more casual use on the weekend is not the cost but rather the inconvenience of interacting with the kiosk.

Cabi is analgous to internet retailing. Everyone thought that the reason people would buy stuff on the internet was because it was cheaper. It turns out the number 1 reason why people buy stuff on the internet is that it's more convenient. Similarly, Cabi isn't about saving money vs. the alternatives (at least for many people), it's about the convenience. Want to increase ridership, then increase convenience and don't worry so much about the cost.

That said, the biggest inconvenience is dock-blocking and no bikes. Perhaps an incentive scheme for riders to ride bikes from full stations to empty stations could be implemented. How about giving memberships free to poor people and paying them a small amount for every bike they ride from a full station to an empty one?

by Falls Church on Sep 24, 2012 5:09 pm • linkreport

@ Falls Church:How about giving memberships free to poor people and paying them a small amount for every bike they ride from a full station to an empty one?

Yeay, let's have people do work for less than minimum wage and no benefits. Bad idea.

by Jasper on Sep 24, 2012 8:31 pm • linkreport

Yeay, let's have people do work for less than minimum wage and no benefits. Bad idea.

Does that mean you're opposed to poor people who sell Street Sense newspapers?

by Falls Church on Sep 25, 2012 10:34 am • linkreport

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