Scarcity of Capital Bikeshare Bikes during the Morning Commute?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr.TinDC

“Dear PoPville,

I’m relatively new to Capital Bikeshare (within the last year) and have really loved it’s convenience when getting around on the weekends. During the week though, not so much.

My office recently moved to Shaw from Takoma Park. Since I live in Columbia Heights, Shaw is a very easy commute, so I’ve been trying to bike as often as possible. However, I’m a late starter in the morning and usually go to work later than the conventional rush hour. By the time I’m out the door (usually between 9am and 10am), all the bike stations nearby never seem to have a bike available. I’ve emailed the Capital Bikeshare customer support five times since June about their bike balancing and availability after the main rush hour is over. Each time they have either not responded or responded saying that they are “working on it.” While I appreciate them getting back to me, I’ve grown pretty frustrated by the fact that I haven’t seen any progress.

Has anyone else experienced the same issue? Am I the only one reaching out to Capital Bikeshare? Capital Bikeshare is such a great concept but it sucks that my morning bike commute has been so unreliable.”

Ed. Note: We once talked about the scarcity of bikeshare bikes back in 2011. Anyone else notice an improvement since then? Anyone successfully commute using bikeshare? If so, what time do you usually get a bike?

94 Comment

  • It helps when several people complain about a particular area. I know they’ve been better about re-balancing in my neighborhood (East Capitol and Eastern Market) since when they first started. Not perfect, but a definite improvement.

    • I’ve been a customer using the Eastern Market station for almost three years now. I was able to grab bikes pretty easily in the past, but have actually noticed it has been getting *worse* over the last month or so. The racks seem to be empty at the end of every work day. Sometimes I will check Spotcycle throughout the day just to see how things are and there are usually only one one or two bikes. Checking the app right at 4:45 is showing that there are zero bikes. I let them know and they said that they would “file a complaint” but I haven’t noticed any changes so far.

  • In the exact same predicament – it’s nearly impossible to get a bike in MtP/CoHi past 8:15am.

    • Agree – it seems that the MtP dock by Lamont Park has the space to be larger, which could help. I love using Bikeshare to get around town, but mainly do it during ‘off’ hours like daytime and weekends. Rush hours are just too scarce.

      • Accountering

        There should be more docks in MtP too. A bit ridiculous that we just have the one station.

        • We need one at the Western side of the hood, maybe near 19th and Lamont in that park, or near 19th and Park.

          • Accountering

            Tough part is the hills, they try not to put them at the bottom of hills, as it creates re-balancing. I could see one going in at 18th and Monroe or Newton though, as well as perhaps one at 19th and LaMont. Time to start hassling Nadeau! 🙂

      • Totally agree. The only available morning docks in Mt P are at the zoo entrance.

    • I live right across from that dock and it’s useless to me. Always empty when I need a bike or full when I’m coming home.

    • it’s actually super easy to get a bike at that time anywhere in the city – YOUR bike.

      a shared resource like this cannot be designed with capacity such that everyone can use it at once without incurring massive costs and oversupply at non-peak hours.

      this is why metro is such a pleasure to ride during rush hour – it WAS designed to handle the capacity it gets at peak times. thus, everyone fits, you have plenty of personal space, and you have a reliable and on-time trip to work. you can’t expect bike share to be designed with so much excess capacity as the metro system.

  • I am on the other end of the problem. I can originate a bike with (normally) no problems, but by the time I get to Farragut, all the racks are full, as are most of the surrounding ones. I know the app does a nice job of letting people know how many bikes are at a specific stations, but by the time I get to the office (10 min ride) the station can go from 10 open spots to none.

    I hope bike share could either (a) give a live updates on where their re-balancing vans are or (b) just have a several re-balancing vans waiting standby at multiple downtown locations, then usher the bikes back uptown once the vans are full.

    • I don’t know where you work in Farragut but when I worked there I found the best solution was to park my bike at the huge station in Dupont Circle (right in front of the PNC bank) and walk down CT or 19th street. I also found that the station at 19th and K usually had space even at busy times in the morning.

    • Same issue here. Arrived at McPherson on Monday at 7:45 am with every single dock filled :/


    • If your destination is north or east of Farragut, the station at 17th and RI usually doesn’t fill up.

  • I find that some areas are definitely scarce — good lucky trying to get a bike in front of the Giant on Park Road in the morning — but it’s pretty consistent from day to day. Check spotcycle or their website and see if there’s a spot (maybe a block or two in the wrong) that tends to have bikes. That’s worked for me at least.

    In the long term however, Bikeshare is expanding a LOT in terms of users, but for reasons beyond Capital Bikeshare’s control, it’s been hard to get new bikes, new stations, and new keys (it has to do with financial trouble for Alta, the company in Montreal that makes the equipment). If that can get sorted out, then station and bike growth can start to match user growth and you will hopefully have fewer of these issues!

  • While I love the concept of Capital Bikeshare, I was disappointed with the execution. When I lived in Columbia Heights, the station at 16 & Harvard never had bikes. I’ve noticed riding down 11th in the mornings that the station at 11 and Kenyon is often empty, too. People take bikes from the top of the hill, ride down and don’t ride the bikes back up. Eventually I just canceled my membership and bought my own bike and a good lock.

  • I got “dock blocked” last night on H street and had to go 6-8 extra blocks to drop off the bike. This is a far worse situation because you are stuck with a bike and nowhere to put it, while getting charged extra $$. I’ve learned not to rely on bike share certain times of the day due to commuting patterns. I’m sure it’s something that they will find a way to resolve over time. The easiest way is to continue to add more and more stations, which they appear to be doing.

    • It’s true that this situation is annoying BUT it’s not true that you have to pay for it! If a station is full you can get an extra 15 minutes for free to move to another station. You have to go to the kiosk, click “more options” (or something like that) and then “time credit” and then enter your key’s ID number. It will then give you 15 more minutes for free. I am not sure but I think you can keep doing this as long as you need to until you find a free station.

      Also as I said above, hopefully the most popular areas (like H street!) will start to get more stations soon, so that at least you won’t have to go as far to find another one, and there should hopefully be more space.

    • You can request extra time on the kiosk to get to another station. Entering your bike share number will get you an additional 15 minutes to get elsewhere.

      • Another note, if it’s late you can take the bike home and return it in the morning at that station. A quick e-mail/call to customer service and they have waived that fee. Just make sure you do the same more options check-in at the station so they know you tried.

  • Silver lining? The system is hugely popular and there is great demand for expansion. A constantly full/empty station is empirical evidence that proves it.

    • Agreed – “I can’t stand Capitol Bikeshare, it’s too popular!” is commuting version of “This restaurant is too popular, nobody goes there anymore!”

  • I don’t rely on Capital Bikeshare for rush hour commuting, and would guess that the presumption they could re-balance between 845 and 930/1000ish when you need a bike is expecting a bit much from them. I’ve watched the rebalancing folks move bikes around and suspect that it takes more than an hour to load up a van downtown, travel to CoHi, and unload. With that in mind, if you regularly and reliably need a bike to commute to/from work, why not buy a used one?

    • +1. Its great for what it is but really not a replacement for daily commuting.

    • I was going to post somethign like this. Expecting Bikeshare to rebalance the stations *during* rush hour, so people leaving for work on the late side can use them strikes me as pretty unreasonable.

      • I don’t think it’s unreasonable. It’s a goal to work towards, but there are understandable logistical limitations.

  • I live in Eckington, and it is absolutely impossible to find a bike in the morning. All of Eckington and Bloomingdale is cleared out by 8:30. Eckington Place & Q NE, 1st & R NW, T & Rhode Island NW, and NJ & R NW are always empty. Interestingly, there are always tons of bikes on 1st & M NE and 2d & M NE — NoMa, I guess. I have no idea why they’d put two docks so close together there, particularly when both always have availability. The other docks I mentioned should be expanded. I like Capital Bikeshare, but there is absolutely no way you can rely on it for transportation to and from work. Not even close.

    • NoMa has bikes because there are offices there that people ride CaBi to in the morning. Mixed use, dense development.

    • “Interestingly, there are always tons of bikes on 1st & M NE and 2d & M NE — NoMa, I guess. I have no idea why they’d put two docks so close together there, particularly when both always have availability.”
      Probably because the developers (or the NOMA business association) paid CaBi to place docking stations there. Even if those massive buildings are not yet filled, the developers want them there to draw people in. Follow the $$$….

    • I can tell you as someone who works in NoMa on 1st & M st that those docks empty during the evening rush hour. I leave the office at 4:30pm and can usually find a bike but if I stay a little late (between 5 & 5:30) their isn’t a bike in sight.

      • Interesting. The NoMa racks must be the first ones over the divide between areas where people take bikes to work and areas where people drop bikes off when arriving at work. Too bad I don’t live closer.

  • Bikes near me on the southern edge of Columbia Heights are all generally gone by 8 am (usually by 7:45 if the weather is great like it’s been this week). It is what it is…

  • I ALWAYS have the problem of no place to park at the Reagan Building. There’s just one tiny rack for thousands of employees, many of whom work for the EPA. It does no one any good to try plan your morning commute only to have to ride, and then walk, blocks and blocks away, to arrive late and sweaty 🙁 If they could fix that problem — either by adding extra racks, having more frequent van pick-ups to re-balance, or just have a person at places like that for an hour or two to check the bikes in, they’d have a lot more business.

  • the purpose of capital bikeshare was never to facilitate commuting. if you ride to and from work every day, get a damn bike. the whole point was to serve the same purpose as taxis – taking you between places that you don’t routinely and systematically go often enough.

    • and it’s highly ironic for a bunch of liberal bikesters to be patting themselves on their backs for being so environmentally friendly when a big truck has to drive up repeatedly during rush hour to pick up their bikes and drive them back for the next bikester.

      • There’s no irony there … is it not obvious that 1 van moving ~20 bikes is a lot better than 10 cars or how many other car-based trips the bikes are replacing?

      • the vast majority of rebalancing is done simply by bikers themselves, when they take a bike out from point A and return it to point B. Then another person looking to do the same thing in reverse brings the bike back. Bike sharing absolutely helps the environment, for example, China has been creating the largest bikesharing programs in the world to help get cleaner air in its cities.

      • Thanks for projecting your dumbass assumptions about bike commuters onto everyone commenting here. I didn’t notice anyone patting themselves on the back for anything. Just people trying to find an efficient way to get to work.

      • Troll much? Making the decision not to drive a personal vehicle to work is rarely based entirely on do-gooder feelings of saving the environment. Financially, it’s much more affordable than driving or metro (usually).

      • “and it’s highly ironic for a bunch of liberal bikesters…” blah, blah, blah…

        It’s always nice to get a little wisdom from one of the 7 conservatives who reads Popville. What a shame he/she/it doesn’t understand the basics of how a bikeshare system works.

    • This. Commuting via CaBi is a waste of your time and money. It’s smarter to just invest in your own bike.

      • skj84

        I’m a bike owner and I use Bikeshare when I’m in the city. I like the flexibility of Bikeshare, I can just grab one on a whim, bringing my bike with me everyday requires commitment. With bikeshare I could bike to work and if I need to go somewhere afterwards I don’t have to worry bringing my own bike back.

        • Sorry, I should have put “daily commuting”. The occasional commute on CaBi is great. It’s also great for errands and the short jaunt between places not serviced by public transport. But it’s not dependable for daily commuting unless you’re leaving home at 7am and leaving the office at 4pm. I think it’s totally ridiculous to expect CaBi to rebalance throughout the dau when people leave their house at 10am. If you’re a daily commuter, just buy your own bike! It more than pays for itself if you measure it against the cost of a CaBi and the value of your time.

          • As a bike commuter with my own bike… yeah it will pay for itself vs CaBi. In about 10 years! Granted I could have gotten my own bike for a bit less than I did, but it’s hard to get a comfortable and reliable commuting bike for less than about 4 years’ worth of a yearly CaBi membership.

      • Wrong. bike share is 75 bucks a year with no maintenance fees. the slight inconvenience here or there is still cheaper (and obviously better in some peoples’ eyes) than the hassle of a bike that could get stolen.

        • However, you forget to place a monetary value on your time and effort. Time wasted looking for an empty dock costs you money. CaBi bicycles are a pain in the butt to ride and require more effort due to their weight. All of this has value in the real world. CaBi costs you more than $75 when you factor these issues in.
          Instead of whining on a local blog, people should just buy a used bike on Craigslist for $200.

          • I actually think the fact that the bikes are heavier is a bonus – it makes my morning commute more of a workout.

            Definitely not the the right commuting option for everyone, but works great for me. Totally agree with your final point though.

    • skj84

      I’m pretty sure commuting is one of Bikeshare’s mission. Short trips like commuting, running errands and getting across town.

      • I always thought that their mission was to be a transportation “stopgap” to help you with quick jaunts between places not easily accessed by public transport but also a bit too far to comfortably walk (ex. going from U Street to Dupont Circle on the weekend, running quickly to the supermarket to grab an item, etc).
        Another main goal of CaBi is to re-introduce adults to biking. The whole idea of CaBi was to get you back on bikes and then eventually you’d “graduate” to getting your own bicycle. Aside from durability, I think this also explains why CaBi’s are so heavy, clunky, and uncomfortable. They were never meant as something you’d use every time you wanted to get around. They assumed you’d get your own bike if you loved cycling so much. I guess never underestimate the power of human laziness.

  • I love bikeshare but it’s sort of unavoidable that there won’t be bikes available during certain times of day from residential areas, especially during this time of year (pleasantly cool). You’re at an added disadvantage being up on the hill which makes it easy for people to coast to work. Unfortunately it’s not something that can be 100% relied upon.

  • Nationals Park is the absolute worst for BikeShare.

    With that being said, BikeShare is nice, but not a dependable way to go anywhere. You can never assume that you will be able to get a bike. I have written several times, but nothing changes.My annual subscription just expired and I probably won’t sign up again until there is some improvement.

    • Nationals Park has 30,000 people going in and out at the same time but only on 100 nights per year. To meet the need for docks and bikes they’d need to maintain an inordinate amount of stations on the site and the inflow of bikes on a game night would completely imbalance the system for the length of the game, while hundreds of bikes sit unused.

    • I find that while the station right next to the stadium is usually empty by the time I leave games, the ones 2 blocks north and 2 blocks east usually have some bikes.

      Now if we could talk about getting a bigger space for non-bikeshare bikes….I love that they have a designated bike parking area but this year proves the demand is WAY too high for how small it is!

    • I know in the past they’ve had “bike corrals” at Nats Park, so you can drop off your bike with the CaBi staff regardless of how many are already there. They’ve also done this for big events on the Mall. Was this a one-off thing, or something they used to do? Or are they doing this for home games still?

    • Love the guys at the Nats Bike Valet. What a great service. I hope everyone is tipping them well.

  • There was an awesome piece over on GGW that broke down the odds by bikeshare station throughout the day. Seems like the biggest problem is the imbalance of residential intermixed with commercial zoning. I also see it every Saturday and Sunday around 10-1 in Adams, U St, 14th St, Dupont for Capital Bikeshare and Car2Go when everyone in the outlying neighborhoods that crashed on a couch goes home.

  • I use bikeshare every day to get to work. I get my bike from the either the New Jersey and R station or the 3rd and Florida station at around 730 or 745 every morning, then it’s a 20 minute commute to work. When I leave the office, I use spotcycle to see which station has bikes and then I walk there and get it. I rarely have problems, but if I leave my house too late, like around 815 or 830, then I won’t get a bike.

  • This post is making me feel three years younger. I joined CaBi when it first opened and remember how frustrating it was to go from a having an available CaBi bike every single day to seeing none after the LivingSocial membership promotion. They’ve since expanded quite a bit but too slowly to keep up with growing demand. So you’re definitely not the first to notice that you cannot to rely on CaBi for commuting from most parts of the city. And that’s ok. It’s still a very useful system at other times. I recommend buying a used bike for your commute and enjoying the increased reliability and speed you’ll get from it.

  • I’m in the same boat! I typically commute from Columbia Heights to Downtown just after 9AM and have never successfully found an available bike within a 10 block radius. I just sent an email to BikeShare echoing this, thanks for the inspiration.

  • This problem runs rampant in Crystal City. Looks like everyone on here is getting Dock Blocked!!


  • To me, this is a good problem to have. The District has definitely kicked it up when it comes to biking in general. If lack of bikes lead to users just buying their own rides, still mission accomplished in my book.

  • Hi all – I’m the one who originally posted the note. Thanks for all the comments. It’s great to see all the advice and to see how many people have had the same frustrations with the Capital Bikeshare reliability.

    In regards to getting a used bike for commuting – I have no intention of this. I drive to work most days, as I often have to commute around town during the day. However, my goal is for Capital Bikeshare to be reliable enough to bike to work on days where I have no other meetings and I’m just going to/from the office. I assume others on this chain are in a similar boat.

    Hopefully that clears up the intention of this post. Thanks.

    • Your goal is a bit unrealistic in the short to medium term. It’s great to push for more bikes but realize that more bikes will just induce more users. Great news for bike advocacy but probably not gonna help your commute. The system would have to have significantly more bikes than it needs on average to keep up with existing and latent rush hour demand (ie: existing and future members who would also use CaBi to commute daily if it did temporarily become more reliable).

      • It doesn’t have to be reliable enough to bike everyday, but reliable enough that the docks aren’t empty every single time I look for a bike in the morning. That can mean extra bike stations, yes, but can also mean putting more priority on the trucks going from down the hill to up the hill. It’s the same thing everyday and seems to be a very noticeable pattern.

        • Every single time you look for a bike happens to be the busiest time for the system. Still unrealistic.

          • …it’s similar to complaining about a 2 hour wait at Le Diplomat on a Friday night. What did you expect? lol

          • Yeah, but that’s clear evidence that Le Diplomate needs to expand their restaurant.

          • Or clear evidence that you should plan for a different time. Or for Le Diplomat/CaBi to raise their price.
            If demand is outstripping supply, raise the cost.

        • “It doesn’t have to be reliable enough to bike everyday, but reliable enough that the docks aren’t empty every single time I look for a bike in the morning.”
          Oh, so you don’t ALWAYS want a bike in a dense residential neighborhood just after rush hour – it would be enough that Bikeshare is clairvoyant and guesses which mornings you’ll want a bike? Well, that shouldn’t be a problem. Perhaps they could give you a private number, and you could call at around 8 or so so they can pack your desired station with bikes on the mornings you choose?

  • I think it is unrealistic to expect Bikeshare to be your sole, daily form of commute. There are only so many bikes they can stock in a neighborhood and can’t possibly be expected to keep up with demand for rebalancing during the morning rush. I get that you’re paying for a service, but if you want to be guaranteed to have a bike every single day, I think it is time to revisit the idea of purchasing your own bike.

  • What you’re asking for just isn’t possible, if you stop to think about it.

    Ever try to rely on a taxi to commute during rush hour? Doesn’t really work, right? Why is this?

    It’s because the whole city is moving in the same direction at the same time. Bikes are the same.

    Here’s a rule of thumb: If it’s a bad time to get a taxi, it’s a bad time to get a bike. (Unless you’re doing reverse commute!)

  • Went to get a Zipcar near 15 & Euclid and the CaBi dock was empty!!! When I returned just 2:30pm the dock was still empty!!!

  • Have to second the commenter about these massively heavy CaBi bikes being a better workout than a normal lightweight bike. Keeping it in the hardest gear on a hill forces me to stand on the pedals and grind it out — a killer but in a good way. I also think it’s safer — with only three gears it’s hard to get going at anything approaching an unsafe speed.

    • Mmmm so you are one of those people who stands up and wobbles all over the road looking really inexperienced and dangerous…. Number of speeds don’t necessarily affect velocity of the bike, BTW… And certainly is not safer if you are intentionally choosing to operate the bike in the wrong gear, raising the center of gravity with your body, and increasing the likelyhood of parts failures by abusing the gears, pedals, etc….

  • I find that I use CaBi mostly during the winter and summer. There are more bikes available when the weather is too cold or hot. When the weather is nice, like it is lately, don’t count on a guaranteed bike. That being said, I still wish there were more bikes available on upper 14th – north of Columbia Heights. I’d like to point out that during a recent visit to NY I noticed that the typical CitiBike stations had a lot more bikes than a typical CaBi Station. Also, in NY you can keep a bike for 45 minutes instead of 30. Would be nice if we could up it to 45 minutes here too.

  • This is exactly why I cancelled my CaBi membership.

  • In Bloomingdale it is slim pickings after 8am. Most bikes are gone from Florida and R by 7.50 am and 1st and Rhode Island a few minutes later. Sometimes I get lucky and get a bike from Eckington (Eckington Place) shortly after 8am.

    The situation is the same in reverse in the evenings. Recently had to go to 4 different bike stands to find a spot to leave a bike (only one spot left) at 11pm. I’ve tried reporting it to Capital Bikeshare but there are similar shortages around the city.

  • Wow, are we really surprised that stations that hold 10-20 bikes can’t keep up with rush hour demand in a major metropolitan area? CaBi is a great tool to get around the city. However, I would never rely on a bike a share with 12,000 other people to get to work.

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