Dear PoPville – DC Capital Bike Share Feedback?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoPville,

I live in VA and am currently doing a project for graduate school on bike share kiosk station usability. It looks like you have some readers who are avid cyclists and users of the DC bike share program.

I’m trying to get feedback on what they like and don’t like about the system in general, and the kiosk design in particular, and suggestions for improving it.

I’d also be interested in knowing if they have any opinions or suggestions on improving the mobile application (Spotcycle) or any of the social media sites.”

Personally, I love the system and the kiosk. I just get very frustrated when I go to a kiosk and there are no bikes left. This used to be a very common experience but lately there has been an improvement with at least 1 or 2 bikes available. Also, I’m very glad to hear of the expansion plans.

What do you guys think of the kiosk design itself? What are your thoughts on the system in general now that a bit more time has passed?

49 Comment

  • I agree, the only big problem we ran into using it was that there seemed to be waaaaay too few bikes available.

  • The kiosk could not be easier to use for annual members. There is room for usability improvement for day members, starting with the quality of the touch screens. Quibbles, though – the system works seamlessly so long as there’s a bike (and then a dock) available.

  • I’m an annual member also and have no issues with the kiosks or process to get the bikes. The one issue is the lack of availability issues from time to time but I think the addition of bikes and stations are on the way.

    I use the Bixou app and have found it to me dead-on accurate. It updates the number of bikes at the station real time and has never once not had the exact number of bikes at a station. The map of where the stations are is also helpful in planning a trip.

    • I also use the Bixou app and like it much better than SpotCycle–runs quicker on my phone, accurately updates when refreshed after a few minutes, etc

  • I love everything about the system except for the lack of bikes and stations in various locations around the city. For annual members it’s totally easy and intuitive to use. Just need more bikes and stations everywhere!

  • It’s a wonderful system. Bikes are great, checkout is great. Only real problem is dockblocking, and to a lesser extent, bike availability.

  • i love bikeshare. i work from home with occasional meetings or visits in the middle of the day to various parts of the city.
    there is always a bike and dock for me and my needs/time of day. i wish the app had a trip planner option, but otherwise i use spotcycle and it works well.

    my suggestion for a trip planner would include estimate time from dock to dock ( gotta keep it under .5 hours!) it could tell me nearest dock to my destination instead of manually searching map. since i live 10 minute walk to 3 docks, it could tell me which one i should go to, to pick up the bike.

    cool choice of research material! very relevant.

    i never even look at the kiosk maps. since i tend to plan my trips and consider walk, bus, bike , metro in my decision making process, i already know where i’m going before i get to the kiosk.

    • Hello, I work for Spotcycle. I took note of your comment and will be discussing it with our developers. Hopefully, we will be able to add this feature one of our future versions.

  • gotryit

    Great system, but the bikes suck. I can’t ride one of those for a half hour regularly. So I bought a cheap single speed that is far more fun to ride, and I don’t mind locking up around DC.

  • Suggestion to the OP: this might already be part of your project, but you’ll probably need to do usability testing if you want insights into the weak points of the kiosks. There’s a lot to learn, but the kiosks aren’t something people think about much, least of all for regular users who have key fobs.

    Maybe try paper prototypes, or even ask a volunteer or two to walk through scenarios on real kiosks.

    • Thanks for the input! The project is actually for a Human Factors in Information Design program. So, we actually already did one on one interviews, focus groups, multiple paper prototypes, usability testing on the prototypes as well as usability testing at The Hubway in Boston. However, since Boston’s system is so new, I was looking for insight from users of a more mature system.

      Thanks again for the great feedback!

  • CaBi members don’t do anything with the kiosk. They just go up to the bike and put their card in. This question is better directed at tourists.

    • Not true. I use the kiosk if I reach a station and there are no docks. I can locate other nearby docks and see availability (quicker than waiting on my phone to load). Also, you can punch-in at the kiosk in these cases as needing a few minute grace period to get to the next open station.

  • I’m an annual user and have few logistic complaints. However, if they are looking for suggested improvements here’s a few:
    1- when non-annual members purchase the two bike option, it requires you to do an oddly reinsert your credit card to get the second bike code. How about just printing two bike codes on one receipt?
    2- why not have a display which shows close stations and their availability on the payment kiosk stand? They could just copy what the phone apps already do.

    • You can display the nearest half dozen stations on the screen (if you can read it in the sun!). It’s not obvious you can do this from the start screen, but drill down through the most obvious option and you’ll get there.

  • I’ve only been riding the bikeshare bikes for 2 days (just joined), but I agree that I can’t think of any problems that annual members would have with the kiosks. They could not be easier to you.

    As for availability, I’ve found the website and the Spokeo app to be very helpful in terms of locating available bikes. I studied the station map for a while before I joined to make sure that were available enough near me that it was worth the cost of joining. I’m lucky that I live within a few blocks of 4 different stations, and work near 2 stations, so I have more options for getting a bike. I don’t think I would have joined if that wasn’t the case.

  • I am a regular user but I have recently used the kiosks as well. I think the screens are not as user friendly as they could be. They are somewhat small and are not very bright depending on how the sun is facing.

    I was in Montreal recently and their bikeshare program is significantly larger than DC’s. One way they were able to fit more bikes at a station was putting them in two rows facing one another instead of one long row. I haven’t seen any station in DC take advantage of this design, but I have only been to a select number of stations.

    Also, the kiosks could be more informative about how the system actually works. People seem to approach the stations with intrigue but a certain amount of confusion. Perhaps better information about how to use the system needs to be present.

    And finally, the placement and design of the wayfinding maps could be better. The maps are often situated directly in front of where a bike is docked, requiring the user to lean over a bike or squeeze between the bike and the map in order to read the map more carefully. I think this happens because advertisements are on the other side of the kiosk (facing outward to the sidewalk to increase visibility).

    And while the maps are extremely helpful normally, they could be more tailored to individual stations instead of showing an entire map of the District and Arlington as they do now. It would be helpful if the maps were zoomed in to show bike lanes and other stations within, say, a 1 or 2 mile radius of the current station. On the day of the earthquake, I used the system to bike from Crystal City to DC. The off-road trails were clearly labeled on the kiosk map but the map was so small that it was not clear how to access the trails from the current station. I ended up having to circle the immediate vicinity and using road signs to figure out where the trail ingress was located. In that respect, the map could have been more helpful.

    I think the app is really neat, but I agree with another commenter that a trip planner could be helpful. I’m not sure if this is an issue others are having, or just me, but the bike lane overlay does not always load correctly when I open the app. I have to usually turn bike lanes “off” and then back “on” to get it to show. This is probably more a glitch in the app than a design flaw, though.

  • I’m an annual member and love the system. I have, however, encountered some usability issues — a few times, I’ve used my key to get a bike, and the bike won’t come out. I would say this has happened 4-5 times since I got my membership about 6 months ago. One time I called the issue in, and the operator told me there was nothing wrong with my account and that sometimes the kiosks just have issues. I can handle not being able to find a bike — it is bikeSHARE, after all.

    Would also like to lend some support to what j.h. said in his first comment. Before I was an annual member, I once tried to get two bikes but the system wouldn’t let me have it. Two receipts would probably have worked.

    • As I understand it, they lock bikes to the docks if the bikes (or the dock) is out of service — for instance, if the bike needs repairs. I’ve been using the system for about a year and I’ve only encountered this issue once or twice. The somewhat good thing is that if you are using the app (and probably the website too), a bike that is locked to the dock does not appear as available for rental.

  • I think the kiosk is great for CaBi.

    I was just in Paris and signed up for a five day pass for Velib (Paris’ bikeshare). I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but I couldn’t figure out how to get the bike off the kiosk. The directions were in English and everything.

    I gave up and walked. A few days later I decided to give it a try again. NOPE, couldn’t figure it out. So, I stopped someone on the street and asked if they knew how it worked. He wasn’t a member but tried to help me out. And together we couldn’t even figure it out!

    Ugh, I felt (and feel) like an idiot. I consider those 8 euros a donation to the good of all bikers in France.

    Moral of the story – DC’s bikeshare kiosks are really user friendly compared to Paris’.

    Paris definitely beats DC is bike availability though. Rarely, did I see a completely full station or a completely empty one. And they are basically every other block throughout the entire city, it’s crazy how many stations there are.

  • I am an occasional user. My biggest issues are bike or docking availability and the bikes themselves. I think the bikes are sturdy but they are definitely geared for the average sized person. I’m 5 feet tall and even if I can get the seat lower, the handlebars are still too further away. I would suggest that, in addition to being able to raise the seats up and down, that you can also move the seat back and forth. Also add more gears. Even the “hardest” gear is way too easy.

    That said, I noticed a comment above saying that the awkwardness of the bikes made him buy his own. I’m already a bike commuter and perhaps my comments are because I’m so much more comfortable on my bike and know how they’re suppose to fit. But, if CaBi encourages others to buy their own bikes, that’s really cool too.

    • Agreed about the gears, especially when I’m on a cycle track with cyclists who use nice street bikes, I sometimes feel like I struggle to keep up with the flow of traffic. I assume there is a reason for only 3 gears (liability concerns? availability of bikes for Cabi to purchase? etc). But there are definitely times when I’m pedaling with a ton of slack b/c I can’t shift up any higher.

      • I think there are only 3 gears to help cut down on maintenance and because they don’t want the bikes to go very fast. After all most people who ride CaBi do not wear helmets.

  • Getting dock blocked is wayyyyyy worse then a bike not being available.

  • This is a great system, it has changed my life, I love it. I think it would help if the Spotcycle app defaulted to where I am located rather than the middle of the Potomac River. It would be awesome if the kiosks had the app built in for people who don’t have the app on their phones. I wish the key fobs were smaller. With Smartbike, it was a card that was in my wallet.

  • The first time I used the kiosk to get a bike for the day, I was totally confused about how to do it — I didn’t realize that the code you get is only good for a few minutes, and that to get a new one all you have to do is swipe your card again. Also of note, the legal contract they display for you on the kiosk touch screen is a total joke — it has 105 little screens you are supposed to tab through to read, and is evidence of why consumer contracts are so ridiculous these days b/c nobody reads them. A total legal fiction.

    For physically getting the bike out of the kiosk, there’s a difference between getting a bike OUT and putting it back in. The first time I tried to get a bike out I didn’t realize you had to yank so hard, so I was confused. (and then my code timed out, leaving me even more confused.) Putting the bike back in, however, is very well designed — there are a lot of physical indications that you’ve done it correctly (the clunk of getting the wheel in the doc; the beeping tone; and the green light.)

    Finally, I wonder if less educated/non English speaking users understand the fee structure for the daily/weekly use based on what they read on the kiosk screens.

  • One suggestion for kiosk/dock design–it’d be nice to have some indicator that the bike is out of service when you reach the dock. I’ve had times where I reach a dock and the only three bikes there are all out of service. But I have to insert my key into each dock to find that out. A small gripe relatively speaking, but definitely an annoyance & time spent investigating instead of me walking to another station.

    Also, a general suggestion for system improvement: more of the larger stations (like the double-sided station in Chinatown). Many locations have space constraints (see 16th and U) and wouldn’t be able to handle it. However, other high-use stations (16th and Harvard) definitely have space for a larger, double-sided docking system.

    Finally, I think the system needs more infill stations. That’s what makes the Paris Velib system great–there are so many stations close together, you don’t get so upset with the system when you’re only biking 2 blocks b/c you got “dock-blocked.” Also people are more likely/able to take the bikes for shorter trips, negating some of the distribution problem currently handled by the vans. It’d be interesting to cost out expanding/adding stations vs staffing and running those ‘redistributing vans.’

    • The out-of-service thing isn’t that small a gripe. Before I ran into lots of out-of-service bikes, I used to adjust the seat and pack up the basket before I inserted my key. That way I would have two extra minutes of riding. But because I’ve run into so many out-of-service bikes after getting the bike ready to ride, I check it out with my key first. So if there were some way to see which bikes were out of service before using the key, that would be great.

    • CaBi suggests if you report a bike out of service (or find one that is), turn the seat around as a visual cue to the next Cabster to come along.

  • I’m an annual member and occasional CaBi user. The only improvement I would suggest for the Spotcycle app is integration with directions–I try to plan my trips to get from dock A to dock B and it can be difficult to determine the best route without this functionality actually within the app.

  • As an annual member I noticed a major difference when the Living Social deal dumped thousands of new users into the system. I currently live in a fairly dock-heavy area where there are 4 docks within reasonable walking distance. There have been times, mainly late-night on a weekend, when I have had to walk from more than a mile away – after having ridden around trying to make it to one of the stations that was showing an open dock. Frustrating, but it is relatively cheap to use so I can’t complain too much.

    Spotcycle does not seem super-accurate; I usually won’t trust it if it says there is only 1 open dock. I know they are working on scaling up, but just more docks in many of the smaller neighborhood sites would be. I’m moving to Petworth and am somewhat nervous about the small number of stations and docks up there since it is now my favored mode of transit on a night out. Also I often use the system with my boyfriend and finding a station with *two* open docks is usually the challenge late-night weekends; we have had to split up, which can be frustrating.

    In all I am so glad this system exists and I think it works well in a geographically small space like DC. I don’t really have a problem with the bikes themselves. Yeah, going downhill you are basically just sitting there waiting for the thing to get to the bottom, but I have bikes that I use when I actually want to get somewhere fast. I love how sturdy they are – you can take them over a curb, which I would never do on my road bike. Bikeshare is the best because it allows one-way trips, not having to find a place to lock up, etc.

    They just need to expand a bit faster, that is the main issue I have with the system right now.

  • My experience lasted for one day. I have been a cyclist for many years, and have several bikes of my own, but none suitable for riding downtown in dress clothes to meet clients. I thought bikeshare would be a great compromise. I was wrong. The gearing is preposterously low. The saddle is like a rubberized couch. When you’re ready to come back home, finding a bike is a pain in the ass, and it really stressed me out. I hated it. And I doubt anyone who has commuted on their own personal bike for any amount of time will be able to tolerate bikeshare.

    I really thought it would be like Zipcar, which I’ve used since 2003 after my brief owning-a-car-in-DC experience came to an end. It’s nothing like Zipcar. Maybe if you could reserve a bike… And maybe if the bikes were a bit… faster, a bit less like a Mack truck.

    • I own a personal bike for commuting and I don’t have a big problem with the bikes. Sure, the gearing is really low, but its nice to switch to a commuter bike style from my road bike from time to time. Also, my commutes are pretty quick (much less than a half an hour) so it doesn’t bother me as much.

  • I have only used this a couple of times, and while some have found it user friendly, I found it to be a bit of hassle. At the very least, there’s a learning curve for day users learning the system. It’s also not intended to be cost-effective for longer rides, like if I wanted to spend all day tooling around on a bike. So, the system seems set up primarily to benefit regular commuters. I’m much too chicken to be a bike commuter, but most regular bike commuters I know would prefer to use a better bike. All the same, I’ll probably keep using it for the occasional weekend jaunt across town.

  • austindc

    I love Cabi and I use it more than my own bike since I like to walk to work and then bike home. The bikes are clunky, but I like the solid, comfortable feel, and I think the gears are fine. I am guessing DDOT doesn’t want a bunch of tourists jetting around unfamiliar intersections at racing speeds.

    Oh, but you asked about the docks. My bad. I think the display is a little tough for one day users. I am an annual user, so the key is idiot-proof for all by the hardiest idiots, but I tried to help some people out once, and I couldn’t figure out how to get their second code. We just ended up calling the bikeshare number (and the guy was super nice).

    My favorite thing about the stations is that they are easy to install. They just drop them there with a crane. That’s brilliant. And they are solar powered, so they don’t need to be hard wired. Also brilliant. That was a vast improvement over the old smart bike stations, may they burn in hell.

    I agree with what’s his face about how it would be cool to have maps that are particular to your current location, but that would probably cost more. Also, I bet it is a pain to update the maps when there are big changes–I recall how much effort it takes for Metro to update their location-specific maps in the stations.

    What would be amazing is if they had that display like they had at the Reeves Building on every Cabi station. It would be an electronic screen showing you what’s around with up to date info on Cabi stations, zipcars, arriving trains, arriving buses, and zeppelin rides. I know those are expensive and probably require some sort of internet connection and power source, but that thing is great.

    Docking, undocking, and all other dock related activities couldn’t be easier. I once saw a dude ride his bike straight into the dock without getting off. That dude probably will go on to be president.

    Another suggestion that I would have for the stations is location, location, location, by which I mean, lots of locations. I know it would probably be more expensive, but I think it would be cool to have lots of smaller stations rather than one big station. I noticed this in Denver. They have a much smaller system, but there were times I could stand on a corner and see three stations nearby. Sure, they were smaller, but more small stations means that you may not need to walk as far to find another one.

    Good luck with the research!

  • The whole thing STINKS…

    now hopefully people will stop using it so that I can have a bike available in the morning in Columbia Heights. Always empty circles all over the map!! Darn you Living Social!

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