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Who needs Metro? Not (as often) Capital Bikeshare users in central neighborhoods

Regular riders of Capital Bikeshare have cut down on their use of rail and bus transit, a new study shows. This is particularly strong for those in neighborhoods a short bike ride from downtown DC.

CaBi's effect on Metrorail ridership. Images from the study. Click to see the full image.

In these maps, each circle represents one zip code in which researchers Elliot Martin and Susan Shaheen surveyed CaBi users. The number shows how many responses they got in that zip code. Red is the percentage of those people who used that mode of transit less (rail for the map above, bus below). Green is for those who used it more, while yellow is those who didn't change.

CaBi's effect on Metrobus ridership. Images from the study. Click to see the full image.

It's not only transit which riders are using less. CaBi users also have cut down on car trips and probably even replaced some walk trips with bikeshare.

This isn't necessarily bad for transit. The places where this effect are strongest also happen to be the places where transit is most congested. On the busy Metro lines at rush hour, the trains are full into downtown DC; it's just as well if fewer people are hopping onto an already-packed train at, say, Foggy Bottom.

And many of the people who ride Bikeshare still use transit some of the time. They might still ride it in bad weather, but at other times avoid it at its most congested, or at times of poor service, like the very long waits on weekends during track work.

One potential danger, though, is that if there is lower demand for service on weekends (thanks to a bicycle alternative), that could make it less likely local jurisdictions want to pay for more frequent transit service at off times, even though not everyone can substitute a bikeshare trip for a transit trip.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis (which has much less rail transit), the study found that many people increased their usage of rail, perhaps because the bikeshare system helps them access transit much more easily.

Eric Jaffe writes in Citylab,

Overall, the maps suggest that bike-share, at least in Minneapolis and Washington, is making the entire multimodal transit network more efficient. For short trips in dense settings, bike-share just makes more sense than waiting for the subway—it's "substitutive of public transit," in the words of Martin and Shaheen. For longer trips from the outskirts, bike-share access might act as a nudge out of a car—it's "complementary to public transit."

Honestly, once I started bicycling (first with Capital Bikeshare, and then more and more with my own bike) I personally cut down significantly on using transit. But I live in a downtown-adjacent area where it's a fast bike ride to many destinations; for others, that's not the case, and transit is best for their trips. I also still ride transit some of the time.

Some people in the survey also increased their use of transit. The more transportation options people have, the more they can choose the one that best matches their needs. The road network is already quite comprehensive (though often crowded). We need to offer everyone high-quality transit and bicycling as alternatives so that they can use each when it's the best choice at that time.

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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My most frequent use of CaBi is the last mile of my Metro commute to work on the Alexandria waterfront. Even with CaBi it takes me about twice as long to take transit as it does to drive, but without it I would hardly consider Metro at all because it's either a long walk to Union Street or the hassle of coordinating my schedule with the spotty bus service in Alexandria.

by jimble on Jul 28, 2014 3:29 pm • linkreport

Does this decrease the need for a new blue line tunnel?

by jcp on Jul 28, 2014 3:33 pm • linkreport

Argh. I'm all for biking and bike infrastructure and CaBi expansion. But I can't help but feel this lessens the case for sorely-needed transit improvement. Am I wrong for echoing our idiotic leaders and thinking that these sorts of things are zero-sum?

by Low Headways on Jul 28, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

Am I wrong for echoing our idiotic leaders and thinking that these sorts of things are zero-sum?

Yes. Because they likely are not zero-sum.

Unless someone is able to conclusively prove that bikeshare is 'stealing' riders away from buses and trains, then I don't think you can really assume that they are.

The data for DC is based on a survey of what CaBi members said they did, rather than actual analysis of their trips. Needless to say, this isn't the most accurate way to determine travel behavior.

Even so, there are going to be some geometric limits on bikeshare trips compared to transit trips. The two concepts complement one another far more than they compete.

by Alex B. on Jul 28, 2014 3:44 pm • linkreport

Correction needed: the post says "Red is the percentage of those people who used that mode of transit" - actually, red is the number of people who decreased their use of that mode of transit, according to the link to the survey.

by Chris S on Jul 28, 2014 3:46 pm • linkreport

@jcp - no, it doesn't. You have to remember the scale of the numbers...Bikeshare's single best usage day is around 15k riders vs. metro's 720k rail and 450k bus ridership. So a peak bikeshare day is probably at most 1-2% or so of the region's transit trips.

The study helps confirm a widely-held assumption that bikeshare impacts and substitutes for transit at the margin - reducing crush loads at peak and similar - which is a decent outcome for transit since it reserves a bit more capacity for those folks who perhaps aren't able to use bikeshare.

But the argument for more trans-Potomac transit capacity is strong even if we quadrupled the size of the bikeshare network tomorrow. The demand behind the need for that expansion is simply an order of magnitude or two higher than the demand that we can reasonably expect bikeshare to absorb in the future.

by Bryan on Jul 28, 2014 3:57 pm • linkreport

I can certainly echo the findings. I live in NoMA and heavily use CaBi. Without it, I would be using Metro more. However:

1) Most trips (to/from work) that are offloaded onto CaBi are when Metro is operating at peak capacity.

2) I still use Metro very heavily - any days with rain, for longer trips, particularly hot/humid days and when CaBi bikes aren't available (somewhat frequently, particularly on my AM commute).

3) Some trips I combine Metro/CaBi - Monday nights I have to make a trip out to the far side of Capitol Hill and I usually ride a bike to Capitol South rather than get on at NoMa and ride via Gallery Place/L'Enfant or Metro Center.

4) CaBi does offset auto usage. I don't own a car, but without it on some trips, when I am really in a rush, I'd take Car2Go instead (at peak times, and at the speed I bike, CaBi is as/more competitive time-wise than driving on many trips - and yes, I am stopping at red lights!).

Ultimately, I think a system like CaBi generally benefits Metro overall, and in some ways helps with the capacity crunch at peak times. Nearly all of my CaBi trips are under 2 miles, most under 1 mile. I live very near where I work - if I did not, Metro would see the lion's share of my commuting trips.

by Ross on Jul 28, 2014 4:03 pm • linkreport

I don't use CaBi, but my personal bike has definitely "stolen" me away from my daily Metro commute.

Previously, I exclusively used Metro (bus and train) for my daily commute. Since I bought my bike in early May, I now only use Metro as a backup for inclement weather. I expect that once the first salt hits the road, I'll be back on the train more often, while eagerly awaiting the first signs of Spring. I'll actually be taking careful note of the shadow status on Groundhog Day.

With my bike, I don't deal with missed busses, crowded busses, crowded and/or delayed trains, etc. My bike is there waiting for me at the precise moment I am ready to go.

Every day I ride by the Washington Monument, I pop a wheelie in his honor.

by The Truth™ on Jul 28, 2014 4:07 pm • linkreport

Chris S: Oops, that was supposed to say "used that mode of transit less." But the less got accidentally deleted. Fixed.

by David Alpert on Jul 28, 2014 4:27 pm • linkreport

I use my own bike but since I started bikeing to work regularly 4-5 years ago, I've gone from riding metro every day during the work week to commuting perhaps one or two days per week via metro.

by 202_Cyclist on Jul 28, 2014 4:44 pm • linkreport


by 202_Cyclist on Jul 28, 2014 4:49 pm • linkreport

It makes sense to see a trend in people wanting to be outside enjoying the Summer weather instead of in a metro station. I'm sure we will see a major shift once Winter hits.

by Schultz Trombly on Jul 28, 2014 5:34 pm • linkreport

LowHeadways -- unless we're NYC, with more stations and way more station density, at a certain point, especially in the core vs. walking + transit (either bus only or subway only or bus + rail), biking is going to be faster in virtually every situation.

That's why I started biking in 1990. Then I lived at 6th and H. It took 15 minutes to walk to Union Station (although my ex-wife used to take the bus, because again, it was a direct trip downtown, while the time spent walking to Union Station could be spent on the bus getting to your destination). Then you had to walk to the platform. And wait for the train. And go to your station destination. And walk out of the station. And walk to your final destination.

All that walk time you can spend biking directly to your destination. So within the core, trips 3-4-5 miles are almost always going to be faster by bike.

The same goes for driving at least for trips up to 3 miles, when you factor parking into the equation.

I don't work in the core anymore, but like 202_cyclist, when I did, I barely used Metro. Even now, it's only a couple times a week at most. OTOH, Suzanne uses it 5 days/week, because she doesn't bike.

2. wrt "stealing customers", LowHeadways and Alex B's point, the original research on Montreal bikeshare by profs at McGill did find a diversion of customers from STM. OTOH, if you've ridden Metro there, the cars are smaller and narrower without air conditioning and near capacity during rush, so diverting trips to bikeshare works for riders (it's more pleasant) and transit riders (frees up some capacity).

In the core, there are those elements too. But you could just argue that biking is a better way to accomplish those trips anyway and that transit + bikeshare provides more ways of serving more people than transit alone.

Of course, that's predicated on being in a dense activity center with tight connections between origin (house) and destination (work primariliy but not exclusively).

by Richard Layman on Jul 28, 2014 5:40 pm • linkreport

bike share + transit is not unlike "using" carsharing as a form of managing parking supply and demand (fewer owned cars as carshare customers reduce their level of car ownership) and scarce public space devoted to car storage.

by Richard Layman on Jul 28, 2014 5:42 pm • linkreport

The implications of the study are pretty limited. They used Likert-type scales rather than gathering detailed information about the extent of transit use. Even with the recall bias associated with retrospective reporting would, more detail would be useful. The take home for DC isn't so much less transit as much less use of all motored forms of travel (pretty similar proportions, although the collapsing of categories renders the numbers somewhat lacking in meaning). Still, the title for the posting is misleading.

by Rich on Jul 28, 2014 6:29 pm • linkreport

Another reason why Capital Bikeshare dominates metro downtown: DC's hub-and-spoke metro system is great for commuting into the city, but bad for intra-city trips. Imagine trying to use Metro from NoMA to Eastern Market on a Saturday morning!

An often-overlooked benefit of WMATA's proposed "loop" track is the way it connects DC neighborhoods to each other. This is a real boon for the city's livability.

by DBC on Jul 28, 2014 10:16 pm • linkreport

I've never taken Cabi. My big concern is that relying on a bike being there or a slot being open to return a bike.

Additionally membership for infrequent usage is wasteful. I wish they had better pricing plans for people who want to use it on a blue moon. Some sort of "forever stamp" option would be nice, where you purchase rides in advance, but they never expire.

by Breastaurant on Jul 29, 2014 6:39 am • linkreport

Living along the Amtrak line between Seabrook and Bowie, with an office near either McPherson Square or Federal Triangle, CaBi is usually not part of my commute on the Orange Line. But some days I bike to College Park and take the Green Line in, and then CaBi has either cut about 8 minutes off the walk from the nearest Green Line station (on nice days) or allowed me to avoid having to transfer from Green to Orange when it rains.

I suspect quite a few people use CaBi rather than transferring on metrorail for a one-or-two stop ride that largely backtracks.

by JimT on Jul 29, 2014 7:42 am • linkreport

I should also add that consistent with the point about commuter rail, CaBi makes it feasible for me to take the MARC train to Union Station and bike to work from there. Previously I would carry a folding bike aboard MARC but I never really liked doing that so I tended to simply avoid MARC rather than take a tjhree-train commute.

by JimT on Jul 29, 2014 7:45 am • linkreport

@The Truth - "Every day I ride by the Washington Monument, I pop a wheelie in his honor."

If you take the Silver Line to the new station at it's west end, will you have to pop a wheelie or a veelie in it's honor? ;-)

by Dave G on Jul 29, 2014 8:56 am • linkreport

why we need Metro:
1. wear a suit
2. not a hipster
3. too hot/cold
4. carry laptop/gym bag

by K Street Lawyer on Jul 29, 2014 9:59 am • linkreport

Can we seriously stop it with the "hipster" canard? For crying out loud already.

I wear a suit too, and I sweat profusely anyways. That's why I don't ride a bike. But I certainly don't think of everyone who does as a hipster.

by LowHeadways on Jul 29, 2014 10:45 am • linkreport

All kinds of people ride bikeshare - open your eyes and take note sometime.

by MLD on Jul 29, 2014 10:48 am • linkreport

I don't think anyone would ever label me a hipster. I am simply not a cool, trendy, or ironic person.

However, I do ride my bike to work everyday. Except when there's rain on my working day. It's like a free ride, but I've already paid. It helps me out if there's a traffic jam, when I'm already late.

A little too convenient, don't you think? And yeah I really do think.

by The Truth™ on Jul 29, 2014 11:20 am • linkreport

No one's saying get rid of Metro for CaBi. Just that it appears that some people who live/ work in the core are because it's simply more convenient. Also...

1. It is actually physically possible to ride a bike in a suit. I do it with fair frequency (a woman's skirt suit and stockings and moderate heels, no less).

2. Seriously? Did you just teleport from 2006? Can we drop this one already?

3. Sometimes. Depends on comfort level. Metro is a good backup for those days.

4. Baskets and/or panniers exist for a reason. I will literally never understand how people claim that cycling is inconvenient but also don't take basic steps to make it convenient.

And I'll just add in:

1. It's possible to change clothes

2. Different styles of bikes are more conducive to riding in professional wear

3. It's possible to own an electric bike if the sweat factor is that important (remember, it's about transportation not *necessarily* exercise, plus pedaling an e-bike is more exercise than sitting on a train)

4. Just because you ride sometimes doesn't mean you HAVE to ride all the time. It's not a religious conversion.

by Catherine on Jul 29, 2014 11:50 am • linkreport

Some sort of "forever stamp" option would be nice, where you purchase rides in advance, but they never expire.

Agree there needs to be an option where you buy say 10 rides in advance at a rate that's discounted from the daily rate and they issue you a key. Not only would this be great for infrequent users, it would also be great for members who have a need for a non-member friend to join them on an occasional ride.

Also, one overlooked way Cabi is used is driving to a bikeshare station about a mile away from your final destination and then biking the last mile. In this way you can easily find a parking spot 5 minutes from your destination with no time wasted looking for parking.

by Falls Church on Jul 29, 2014 11:52 am • linkreport

Somewhat echoing what Jim T and others have said... CaBi makes Metro work better in a variety of ways. CaBi has helped me avoid long walks, avoid transfer waits, and has gotten me out of Metro-fail situations more than once.

I may have taken fewer Metro trips because of CaBi, but I certainly enjoyed those trips more. As more people learn how CaBi makes Metro work better, more people will be coaxed away from cars. I think someone should do a study of metro ridership in cities that have added bikeshare versus those that haven't added bikeshare.

FWIW, I have certainly taken more Metro rides as a result of bicycle infrastructure. Improved bicycling was a key element of my decision to go car free.

by Jonathan Krall on Jul 29, 2014 1:21 pm • linkreport

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