Capital Bikeshare and me: One man's troubled relationship


An earlier version of this story misspelled DDOT's Chris Holben's name. We regret the error.

That’s happened a few times now. I see a bike I want, but the attraction is no longer mutual. Keeping Capital Bikeshare’s three-speed geishas humming — which is to say, keeping me happy, which is to say, keeping me mobile — is an 18-speed operation for which DDOT relies on Alta Bicycle Share, a contractor (though the bikes and docking apparatus belong to the District).


Capital Bikeshare
Can the early popularity of Capital Bikeshare be sustained once the weather warms up? (Photo: TBD Staff)

Long story short

In the beginning, Capital Bikeshare was easy. Is it already too popular?


Alta’s one-year contract with DDOT — with annual renewal options for another four — requires their maintenance crews to touch every bike in the system at least once every two weeks. Though their six-month post-launch grace period gives Alta until March to get performance up to snuff, so far the service is hitting its numbers: In December, says Holben, Alta staffers performed 1,480 bike inspections and 220 repairs. There are only about 750 bikes on the street at present, according to Holben, because Alta pulls some out of circulation to protect them from the elements during the winter months, when demand is expected to be lower anyway.

Maybe I should tell Alta about my 20-degree-and-no-bike experience.

As far as usage goes, Holben says a predictable pattern has emerged, with downtown stations, like McPherson Square, filling up early each morning, while neighborhood stations, like the one in Petworth from which he begins his five-minute a.m. commute to DDOT’s office at 14th and U, hitting capacity at night. So far, says Holben, most stations in the system have been racking up a roughly equal number of check-outs and check-ins each month, beguiling any assumptions that large numbers of riders would slide their keys in Northwest, coast downhill to work and take other avenues back uphill in the evening. That’s a pattern Holben says he sometimes follows, biking to DDOT HQ, catching the Circulator to his childrens’ school in Columbia Heights, and then walking them home. "I’m the multi-modal transit poster child," he says.

That may be true, but at least he’s grounded, a family man. Me? I am a man of constant borrow. Since my Bikeshare key came in the mail in early October (accompanied by a free T-shirt!), seldom has a day gone by when I haven’t had at least one five-to-20-minute dalliance with a bike I might never mount again. On busy days, four or five such transactions are not unusual. No one’s tried to stage an intervention yet, but it’s clear I’m the one violating the Terms of Use in these casual relationships. I’ve committed the cardinal sin: dependence. I need these bikes a lot more than they need me.


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