Dear PoP – Capital Bike Share Bikes Scarce

“Dear PoP,

I’m a big fan of the Capital Bike Share system, was one of the charter members ($50 a year instead of $75), and simply love the concept. However, I feel like Columbia Heights and Petworth tend to get the sticky end of the stick when it comes down to actually being able to ride a bike. Consider this morning, here we are again with close to zero bikes available.

I was walking to the station at 14th and Harvard and thought it might be a good idea to see if any bikes were available. Not a single bike at Petworth OR any of the CH stations. Yet again.

Rush hours happen, I get it, but this is at midday on a Monday. The other end of this problem is finding somewhere to dock a bike on the other end. On a Saturday I often have to get a 15 minute extension to try and find an open dock on Corcoran St by Safeway (17th Street restaurants) and nearby stations on 14th St. I mentioned these problems to a friend in Barcelona (they have a similar system called ‘Bicing’) and he said they’re really on the ball over there and he’s never seen this happen.

The CaBi system just offered half price memberships on Living Social and I read that somewhere in the region of 4,000+ memberships had been purchased. I’m all for funding expansion of the system but only if the members can actually use it.

Is this just my bad luck or are there other black hole stations in the system that need addressing? I’d like to suggest something to CaBi and am curious about other’s experience in the area.”

Are you guys noticing it is getting harder to find a bike at the bike share station? I’m usually able to get one at the intersection of Georgia and New Hampshire Ave, NW by Sweet Mango though I was thwarted last Sunday afternoon on H St, NE:

103 Comment

  • Lincoln Park also is an all-or-nothing proposition. And I have been thwarted on H St. NE as well. It’s a deflating feeling.

    • There’s also one in the H St NE area at the Starburst intersection (Bladensburg Rd/Benning Rd/15th St/H St/Maryland Ave/Florida Ave). Usually has a good stock of bikes.

    • I have had problems on H St., as well. I’ve had problems at the 3rd & H station, so going down to the Starburst intersection wouldn’t make sense. The station near Union Station/the SEC is usually my second place to look, but if there are no bikes there I generally just hop on the Metro at Union Station or take the X2. I’ve also had problems at the station by Eastern Market metro.

  • If you have a “smart phone”, make sure to download the free SpotCycle app. It shows, real-time, how many bikes are available at each station.

    • It showed me real-time this morning, at 9:00am, that the nearest bike to my house near DCUSA was at Howard University.

      Useful information, sure, but didn’t really address the problem…

      • Makes you wonder why there isn’t a DCUSA and/or CH Metro bike station. The sidewalks are certainly wide enough on Irving to handle it.

        • The problem wasn’t a lack of local stations. There are four stations within a five-minute walk from my house.

          The problem was a lack of local bikes.

          Unless they added capacity or got better about recirculating bikes within the system, a CH Metro bikeshare station would just be another row of empty gray racks in the morning.

    • I’ve found that this is only somewhat helpful. It’s not always 100% accurate or (and this is my own fault) I can’t decide if I want to try to go to a station that’s slightly out of my way if there are say, 2-3 bikes available when I’m leaving.

    • Two Monday’s ago, I rode a bike downtown. The iPhone app (and the system the customer service rep was using) were both 2 hours behind real-time. After trying to find an empty dock for an hour, I rode back to Dupont, returned the bike and walked downtown.

      Unless the money from the Living Social deal is used to vastly improve capacity, this is only going to get worse and the system’s going to be unusable.

  • They need more stations in general. Its exciting that so many have signed up. keep the momentum going and add more stations and staff to reshuffle the bikes. Im not yet a member because I got the spot cycle ap and noticed that the stations I would use most often had the same problems. Once they work out the kinks I plan on joining. Im sure there are others like me on the fence

  • the living social deal may ruin the bikeshare just like it ruins other businesses

  • At the risk of getting yelled at, I admit I don’t really understand the concept of CaBi… what’s the advantage compared to just buying and riding your own bike?

    • what if you’re out, don’t have your bike, and want to bike somewhere. that happens to me a lot.

      also, you can bike to a place, then not worry about locking up your bike.
      also, you don’t have to deal with maintenance.

      you can bus somewhere, bike home.
      you can bike somewhere metro home

      all without having to deal with your bike.

      but then again, it doesn’t sound like the service is for you.

    • A. Don’t have to worry about it being stolen.

      B. Don’t have to worry about getting it back from wherever you ride it to (which is great on those all-too-typical DC days when it’s nice in the morning and raining buckets in the evening).

      C. Don’t have to worry about maintenance.

      D. Still, much cheaper than buying my own bike (with the introductory rate in 2010, and the Living Social deal to renew, it’s cost me $87 for two years… just try to find me a decent bike for that price.)

    • Say you’re checking out the wares at Miss Pixies with your partner on a Saturday evening. A friend calls — everyone’s meeting at Sticky Rice for dinner. You hop CaBi bikes over to H Street. By the time you close your Biergarten tab at 1am, you’re stumbling, so you both take the 3rd cab you flag down back to Petworth. The cabbie tries to sell you a book he wrote, but you decline — despite being seriously impressed at the time.

      I’d describe the convenience as on par with having a bike you could magically shrink and keep in your pocket.

    • CaBi? Really? Come on. I’m on my way from CoHi to NoMa via CaBi. Jesus.

  • That’s a tough station, because riding back up the hill sucks. I suspect a lot of people leave the bike and grab the circulator up the hill. They need an incentive to bring bikes back to empty stations. Paris has an uphill credit, where riders are given free extra time if they return the bike to a high station.

    They also need to really increase station density.

    • I like that idea, very creative.

    • +1 i think this exactly what happens. i see a lot folks riding the red bikes down meridian hill, not too many working their way up. at night the folks in the bikeshare vans drive those things up and restock the CH stables. this strikes me as a little bit ridiculous, but probably inevitable.

      • Ridiculous? It strikes me as exactly how the system should work. They simply need to actively shuffle the bikes around the stations more effectively. Hopefully these are growing pains and they will increase staffing to move the bikes and ensure stations are not fully or empty.

        • to each his own. driving a bunch of bikes up a hill each night so folks can ride them down the hill in the morning strikes me as a little bit ridiculous. incentives to encourage people to ride uphill make sense.

          • an even better solution would be to build office buildings on top of hills.

          • this is simply not a reasonable expectation if you want a broad cross section of people riding bikes.

            Everyone riding bikes everywhere works in Amsterdam because it’s flat as a pancake. DC is not. If we want all ages and fitness levels of people using the bike lanes even when dressed in work attire we’re going to need to deal with the fact that the hill just above U street is very difficult to climb on a heavy bike.

  • I heard someone from Alta (the company that manages the CaBi system) speaking last week and he readily admitted that they’re still working out the system for getting the bikes balanced. I think they have two vans currently that they use to take bikes from full stations to empty ones.

    The rush hour problem, and the “all the bikes end up downhill problem” are tough ones to manage and they’re discussing ways to possibly give incentives to riders who go in opposite direction to try to keep things more even.

    With that said, maybe they should have figured out these systems a little better before the whole living social deal.

  • Those people who ride those clumsy red bohemoths are more of a menace than your run-of-the-mill cyclist who knows how to ride a bike but simply neglects every single rule of the road.

    Many CaBi riders both don’t know how to ride bikes, and also neglect every single rule of the road. It’s a dangerous combination.

  • Now that it’s warming up it’s tough to get a bike in Columbia Heights or Adams Morgan during the morning commute and nearly impossible to dock anywhere downtown.

    I love the system and know that DDOT and Alta are doing what they can with limited resources. But it’s in danger of becoming a victim of it’s own success if serious expansion in the city core doesn’t happen soon (even sooner thanks to the living social deal). I trust they realize this but wonder if there’s anything members can do to support a larger expansion of the system than what’s already planned to meet demand and realize gains from scale. Any ideas?

  • I don’t really have an interest in this issue at all. However, I object to the moniker, CaBi. This seems almost as dumb as when Columbia Heights tried to pass itself off as CoHi a few years ago. It’s just lazy and pretentious.

    That is all.


    PeWo Resident

  • I’m not a member and think it is a great program BUT I have noticed that in some areas there are always bikes (SE near Giant or is that a Safeway and Harris Teeter) and then in other areas not so much.

    CaBi, should do some trending on the areas with most/least use and potentially move the existing docks from one less used area to a more used area…at least until they get more docks.

    • Politically untenable for a publicly funded enterprise. While there are stations on the periphery that see little use you can’t just take them away. See this map for an awesome time lapse of station capacity: The stations on the fringe (yes, in SE primarily, but I’m surprised at how little use the upper NW and Crystal City stations get comparatively) just don’t move much. I’m sure there are individual bikes that stay docked for days if not weeks, but in a climate where “bike lanes” is code for “gentrification” you can’t just say “Sorry, Anacostia, we’re taking your bikes. The yuppies need them.” That’s not even getting into the barriers that prevent usage from low income households (primarily: you need a credit card). It’s going to take some creative thinking to overcome that. Unlike others I’m not convinced that those bikes won’t get used if you find another way to enable access to them.

      • You don’t understand the system very well.

        • anon seemed spot on to me, so i must not understand either. please enlighten us

        • No, I understand the system pretty well. What did I mis-state? Is there more inside information on the administration of Alta/CaBi I’m missing that you’d like to provide?

          • I think two main factors drive usage of the system:
            1) How close the next station is, and
            2) How many possible destinations are close by.

            Given those parameters, the stations on the edges will always be used less, and stations that do not have several nearby stations within 1/2 mile or so will also be used less.

            So I’m not surprised by low usage EOTR or in Upper NW.

  • Bikeshare was meant to be for short distance commuters, CBD here-to-there type of thing. Something to counter you otherwise taking the metro or a taxi.

    What kills me is the tourists who use them for hours at a time to explore the Mall. But I guess jokes on them, after that first 30 mins they are getting screwwwwwwwwwed

    • how do you know that’s what they are doing? i’ve taken them around the mall too. at 30 minutes you put it in the lock, then take it back out.

      • Because he’s the weird dude following tourists around down on the mall, taking notes to see if they’re using Capital Bikeshare bikes for a really long time.

  • @Rukasu — those tourists are helping to fund the system for the rest of us.

    I agree that there are issues with distribution, and while some of it should (and hopefully will) be fixed with more bikes and stations, I don’t think this will ever be a system where all 1,000+ members in Columbia Heights/Mt. Pleasant will be able to bike commute daily on CaBi bikes. The numbers just won’t bear that, no matter how many new stations or redistributing vans there are. And at $75 (or $50 or $37) for the year, it’s not a reasonable expectation either.

    But hopefully there will be an increase in both stations and redistribution frequency, and also, hopefully some of the people who face empty docks will either:
    a) wake up and head to work earlier, if CaBi usage is that essential
    b) buy their own bike, now that this has shown them that bike commuting is feasible, and shift their CaBi riding to off-peak trips.
    c) realize that this is one additional component in a growing transit system in DC, and figure out how to make the pieces (including metro, metrobus, Circulator) work in each of our schedules.

  • It seems to me that the District/Arlington were necessary to get it going and will be necessary to keep it going, but as far as new stations go, there’s no good reason why Civic Organizations, businesses (both local and national) and other groups shouldn’t consider sponsoring stations.

    • This is probably the best solution. I imagine the BID groups would be falling all over themselves to help put more docking stations in their business districts, as its a huge incentive to bring people into the area. I really hope letting private groups pay for stations is in the idea mix for future funding.

  • There were actually 8,200 Bikeshare memberships purchased through the latest deal – I was one of them and I checked to see how many were sold. Hopefully this will provide an infusion that will mean more bikes, and I look forward to using the bikes.

    • currently i think there are bout 1100 bikes.

    • Not all of the 8200 Living Social deals purchased are new memberships. You could have bought to the deal to renew your current membership at a low rate. I did. Considering how frugal bike riders are I bet a substantial % of the 8200 are existing members who wanted the deal.

      • CRAP! I should have done that. That had not occurred to me, Dude.

      • On twitter, folks are saying that over 5,000 of the LivingSocial deals were for new memberships. I haven’t seen a definite source for that figure, but most of the people tweeting it are the same ones that typically have access to the info.

  • Buy a used road bike on CL for about $150. Then you can park it anywhere and ride it for as long as you want. Plus, it won’t weigh 40 pounds.

  • When I was checking a bike out of the 14th and Harvard station the other day there was a CaBi employee restocking the station. He looked a little frustrated to see me take a bike right after he’d checked it in, as if stocking those stations has become a Sisyphean task. He did, however, volunteer that they were hiring drivers. So if anyone wants to help get those Columbia Heights and Petworth stations in supply, check out the CaBi website for the application.

  • Sounds like the system is working well…

    “No bikes on a Monday afternoon” (all the neighborhood members/comumters picked them up) & “no spaces on the other end” (Sounds like the parking lot is full)

    Maybe suggest an expansion of the existing rakes – say add three more bikes/space…

  • One problem is that the CABI membership is a narrow demographic, like or not. There is a profile of member, and they tend to have similar interests, hours, and destinations. The Living Social promotion probably just reinforced that.

    So, one solution would be to target memberships to a broader demographic. Free membership for teachers, for example, who have to work at 7:30 in diverse neighborhoods, or older people who won’t be needing a bike at 1 am on H Street. Maybe target downtown blue collar workers who clean offices in the evenings, but live in Columbia Heights. A different demographic could lead to more shuffling and better distribution.

  • I totally agree with @Rukasu, especially in regards to the other options for CaBi users who can’t find bikes. I am one of those original members and I’ve heard all of these rumblings about future difficulties, so I followed @Rukasu’s advice and now ride earlier in the day (even at 8, 8:10 there are always tons of bikes at 14th and Harvard), and I also bought my own bike.

    For me, Bikeshare was a great and relatively cheap way to show me that riding in the city is fun, safe (enough), and economical. If riding weren’t those thing, It would have sucked to buy a bike and not use it, but $50 wasted is no big deal. Now that I’m a big boy DC cyclist, I decided to take the plunge and buy my own bike. I haven’t abandoned CaBi, though. Before I leave, I weigh my options and decide how I want to get where I’m going – Today, I broke out my own bike, but rode back home once I realized I was going to get caught in the rain. I slicker-ed up and trotted off to CaBi so I wouldn’t have to leave my bike in the rain all day.

    We can’t expect CaBi to be as functional as a bike of our own, just like we can’t expect the buses to run as well as cars we own. However, just like the bus is convenient in ways our cars aren’t (like never paying for parking), CaBi has its perks over bikes, too (maintenance, security, flexibility). ALSO like buses, if you plan ahead enough, it can still probably be a primary method of transportation.

    • You said it. The great thing about this is that multitudes of new people are being exposed to bikes for urban transit. Hello new paradigm. I think many CaBi users are going to end up buying their own bikes while still keeping the membership for one way/spur of the moment trips. That bus/car analogy is really apt, btw.

      If you commute peak hours, you’re going to have to get your own bike eventually. Them’s the breaks.

  • i think they’re working on improving the system for redistributing bikes. personally i own a bike and use cabi to supplement it. if i were really going to rely on using cabi to get to work during rush hour, and then complain that there are no bikes/docks at the busiest times and locations, i probably would get my own bike at that point. or just accept it, and be more flexible.

  • Another comment about time credits for people biking up the hill –

    I understand how that might work in Paris, but DC is much smaller, and I would say that most CaBi members can get to where they need to go in 30 minutes, and if they can’t, they can easily park their bike in a station en route and continue. I bike home from Foggy Bottom to 14th and Harvard every day, and the struggle is not ever time but rather the physical effort from Florida to Fairmont. I don’t see how a time credit would motivate me to make that trek more than I do.

    I’d like to see a money credit for riding far uphill (although even if that’s the case, I don’t think 14th and Harvard is far enough to count for that), but that seems unrealistic. Maybe there should be a membership credit? Riding uphill a certain number of times gets you an extra day of membership? That wouldn’t incentivize riding uphill for short-term memberships, but it’ll at least be something.

    I’m just brainstorming here.

    • I actually love the idea of a certain number of uphill (or counter-cyclical) trips adding a day to to your membership, or making you eligible for a certain prize/reward.

      I think that’s the type of incentive that could certainly drive some behavior on the margins, particularly for CaBi riders who are competitive, cash-strapped, or both.

    • Just credit the user’s account. Whether that money is used for future 30+ minute rides or as a discount on renewal shouldn’t matter. That would only apply to keyfob holders (not daily/weekly purchasers), but I don’t see much wrong with that. Whether a $0.50 or something credit would get somebody to ride a bike up a hill for a trip they would already be taking by bikeshare is another story. You’re either going to use the system or you aren’t.

    • If you made it effectively free for people to ride to uphill stations, that would help tons. People love free stuff more than anything. Or conversely, add a surcharge for peak downhill usage. Or both:

      Downhill during peak from CH is $1 extra, but if you ride a bike back that evening, you get the dollar back — or maybe even $1.50 back.

      I think that would go a long way towards a solution. It would make many people angry as well. But it would also allow the incentive/deterent tool to be priced without regard to the actual cost of using the vans to move bikes uphill — in other words, pricing for maximum psychological impact as opposed to pricing as a stopgap measure that would have to keep under the cost of just getting more vans/drivers.

  • bfinpetworth

    The other option is a surcharge for one-way trips down hill. Say, $10 for every 5 trips you make one way downhill in a 24-hr period. Increase revenue, decrease one-way trippers. A sin tax, so to speak.

  • I would really LOVE to see more bikes and/or more stations in the Mt Pleasant area. 15 bikes for that neighborhood just doesn’t cut it weekday or weekend). Unless you get there really early, don’t even bother, now that the weather is nicer. Over the winter, it was no problem at all. Now, it is becoming painful. I’m constantly updating the spotcycle app as I get ready for work, and on the brief walk to the station… invariably, by the time I get there: no bikes.

    I love the CaBi program, but I am with all the others who worry about the new riders from the living social deal without the influx of sufficient bikes to support the already previously strained membership.

  • Bottom line is that it’s absurdly elitist to expect older people and people who are wearing work clothes to pedal a heavy bike up meridian hill.

    • oh god, “elitist”?. how about just “not thinking it completely through”. elitist. you guys crack me up.

      • You must not have dealt much with the bicyclist community in this town. the idiots who ride their bikes in the travel lanes on Rhode Island Avenue during rush hour etc.

        • Huh? Is it elitist to ride with traffic? Or are you expecting cyclists to stick to bike lanes ONLY? Get real. I’m one of those “idiots” riding to the far left on RI Ave in the mornings as cars easily pass me on the right. It’s called “getting to work”.

        • calm down, eric. i simply observed that, to me, it seems absurd to have a van drive bikes up the hill and unload them each night so they’ll be ready in the morning to take folks back down. it’s just a funny day in, day out process. i’m not for the bikeshare folks stopping what they’re doing now, just agreeing with others that part of the problem might be relieved by a gentle incentive nudge so that SOME (those who choose to) can bike up the hill from time to time. my 65 yr old 270 pound dad has biked up and down meridian hill with me before. i see lots of folks going up slow and steady, others sprinting up. again, to each his own. seriously though, calm down, eric.

          • I am plenty calm. I am just dreading the day I clip some moron who decides to pass in my blind spot by riding between lanes during rush hour on a major artery. I was very pro-biker and pro-bike lane (I use them myself) until I started observing a new flavor of idiocy and entitlement amongst bikers in DC that is mirrored by a radical, elitist defensiveness on forums such as PoP.

          • it sounds like you’re fantasizing about the day you clip one of these radical, entitled, elitists, not dreading it. not to endlessly rehash unnecessary arguments unrelated to the original post, but i bike and follow the rules and have folks swerving into bike lanes pretty regularly. my basic point is you should calm the righteous indignation. your outrage is out of proportion to what most are saying, i.e. reasonable recommendations on how to make the bikeshare better.

          • no, seriously, i am terrified of accidently injuring or killing someone during my commute. the last thing i’d want to do is hurt someone and it drives me crazy that there are so many irresponsible morons who insist on biking like fools in heavy traffic in all weather conditions.

            like i said i ride my bike around the city and use bike lanes myself. however i retain a healthy recognition that i am surrounded by fast-moving, heavy machinery, unlike many of the idiots on bikes during rush hour.

  • Get homeless guys to ride the bikes back up the hills instead of running.

  • It should be pretty simple. If you take a bike from a stationg that is 75%+ occupied and deposit it at a station that is 25%- occupied you get a $0.50 credit.
    If you were a regular commuter and were to do that on 2 trips a week over 50 weeks (2 week vacation) you would substantially subsidize your membership – $50 for a $75/year membership. This would be fairly simple to implement and hopefully improve the system and lessen the need to use more vans to shuttle bikes around.

  • A little off topic, but I’ve noticed a bunch of billboards for CaBi on Kennedy street. I know it’s silly for me to even hope, but does anyone know if a new station is opening there?

  • I love LivingSocial, but it really is a shame when existing, loyal customers of a place/thing have to suffer because the business suddenly triples without the resources to do so.

  • The beauty of having a networked system of bikes and uniquely identified account holders is that they will be able to tweak incentives to make this work, but it will take a while. I’m all for adding over 30 minute credits to members who pedal uphill and return bikes to empty stations. They might also have a leader board showing who is leading in claiming these CaBi Credits. Introducing competition into the mix can do wonders.

    In the meantime, I wouldn’t use CaBi as a daily commuting option. If you’re a daily commuter, you should seriously consider getting your own bike– on a daily basis it will be more reliable, in that you won’t be disappointed by finding empty stations, and faster, because your bike will weigh half what a bikeshare does. I use CaBi for impromptu trips: bouncing around town on the weekends, riding home on a nice afternoon after taking the bus on a rainy morning, or riding home after talking a leisurely walk somewhere, but I would never rely on it for regular commuting.

  • I thought they were going to put some at Georgia and Upshur but were waiting for the street work to be done. Maybe they’re waiting to do Kennedy at the same time?

    • I’m a little worried that they don’t have that station at GA and Upshur on their map anymore. Not even as a “planned station”. i’m holding off purchasing until they get that one installed.

  • Agreed. I recently requested (and got) a refund on a LS deal, because the deal was about to expire, and in 5+ months, I had never been able to make an appointment. Either they didn’t answer the phone, or when they did, said the person I needed to talk to was on vacation. Infuriating. But the refund was cheerfully offered when I finally called customer service at LS.

  • isn’t it the business that decides whether to participate? it seems that they should have as much say in the supply/demand capacity as the consumer.

  • Next Sunday night I’m gonna empty out the bikeshare station in CH by taking all bikes downhill to U St. and come back in the morning just to capture the reactions of the commuters.. would make an awesome social experiment/documentary.

  • Living Social sucks, i’ll never buy anything from them, they’re very shady and don’t enforce their own guidelines and thus their customers think they don’t think they have to abide by the deal guidelines

  • My home station (17th & Corcoran, 11 slots) has always been a dicey proposition for commutes — No bikes by 9am, a full rack by 6:30pm. But, if this morning is any indication of the post-Living Social CaBiverse, it’s about to get nuch worse. At 8:40am, in the middle of a bike-unfriendy rainstorm, 17th & Corcoran, 15th & P, and 14th & Rhode Island were all empty. Once spring hits for real, I fear the system will be unusable unless they build out the number of bikes/slots a la Smithsonian.

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