Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

A fresh look at Capital Bikeshare's virtues as NYC debuts CitiBike

May 10, 2012 - 10:35 AM
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(Photo: flickr/roryfinneren)

This summer New York City is launching CitiBike, its bikeshare system of 10,000 bikes and 600 stations, to a mixture of reactions, but one big effect is a renewed focus on how D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare, with more than 150 stations and more than a year and a half old, operates and charges both users and taxpayers. What philosophies guide the NYC bikehare system compared to D.C.'s and how do they match up to others around the world? Perhaps most important is pricing.

Consider the global comparison of bikeshare prices in this chart*, featured courtesy of WNYC's Stephen Reader (and hat tip to Transportation Nation for showcasing it). When looking at hourlong and 90-minute bike rides, New York's new system will cost more than other systems despite promises of "cheap" trips. CitiBike says it's "privately sponsored, privately launched and privately operated, with no public funding" whereas Capital Bikeshare runs as a public-private partnership of Arlington, D.C., and Alta Bikeshare. D.C., based on the times listed in the chart above, is comparable to most other systems and has the benefit of costing many members nothing for trips under 30 minutes, the same as the new CitiBike system. The crucial difference when considering these shorter, free trips is overall membership charges (a NYC annual membership costs $95 compared to Capital Bikeshare's $75, and CitiBike's 24-hour pass is about $3 more expensive than one in D.C.).

The debate has also stirred some of our local politicians. Two days ago, a producer for The Peter Schiff Show badgered D.C. Mayor Vince Gray about why D.C. couldn't follow the lead of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and save local taxpayers the burden of the bikeshare cost (although looking at Capital Bikeshare's first year of operating costs versus revenue, our region is doing rather well). Gray didn't accept the criticism lightly, however, and entered an extended exchange with the man on Monday afternoon in full defense of Capital Bikeshare. This little rhetorical moment stands out to me for several reasons, in part due to how it eclipses any initial doubts about whether Mayor Gray would continue the policy of progressive transportation that the previous administration had begun to spearhead. In the last year, the mayor has elevated his rhetoric on long-term transportation goals, on Capital Bikeshare, and on ambitious plans like the D.C. streetcar and has sought to assume an ownership of these projects. His transportation department may struggle to implement elements of them at times, but his vocal support should no longer be questioned.

See the mayor's extended exchange on Capital Bikeshare, Storified below:

*Update, 7:36 p.m.: The price comparison chart, as some of you have also observed, is a little off in places, and Stephen Reader and I have corresponded on some of those points and he's created a new version of the chart that integrates more accurate reporting. The new version of his chart is now featured above.

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