Recently, I had a chance to give the Capital Bikeshare program a test ride while visiting Washington D.C. Overall, I was really impressed with the program, as it had done a lot of things right for such a bikeshare network to be successful. Rather than seaming 100% touristy, it felt like it was apart of the city, with regular commuters using it. So let's go into how the program works.
All through out the D.C. area there are currently 110 stations to rent bikes at. With over 1,000 bikes available, anyone with a credit card can go up to a kiosk and rent a bike. The bike can then be returned to the same location or a different Capital Bikeshare station. To rent the bike, simply swipe your credit card and click away on the kiosk, agreeing to a waiver and accepting the pricing terms. In a matter of a minute or two, your able to receive a 5 digit key code. You then can use this key code to unlock a bike of your choosing from the racks. Once unlocked, your free to roam about the city. However, the pricing scheme encourages short trips (less than 30 minutes).
The pricing of the bikeshare is designed to limit bikes from being used all day, and not allowing others to use them. For first time users, the bikeshare charges a $5 membership fee, for a 24 hour membership period. After this membership fee, the first 30 minutes are free. After the free 30 minutes are up, and the bike has not been returned to any of the station's a $1.50 fee is imposed on the credit card used to check out the bike. If the bike is still not returned within 90 minutes, then a $3.00 fee is charged. Each additional 30 minutes after is $6.00. Notice the different tiers of pricing to limit longer trips. This prevent's bikes being out for too long so others can use them. This also keeps trips just across town for a few errand's, rather than for tourist rental bike operation. This pricing scheme works well, as it keeps people on the bike moving to their destination, and responsible for returning the bike quickly. If a longer time was allowed, I feel that users would try to run in a grab a coffee while the bike wait's unattended outside the store. The program also allows for yearly memberships, which currently cost $75/year. This allows riders to have a personal "key" to unlock the bikes and by pass the credit card and kiosk hasstle. When considering initial bike investment, matinence fees, bike lock security and storage, the $75/year price tag is relatively attractable. It is worth mentioning that if the bike is not returned within 24 hours from being checked out, there is a $1000 charge for the bike.
Returning users, who have a 24 hour membership, simply use their credit card to obtain a new 5 digit code (using numbers 1,2 and 3) and rent a bike. I found this very handy, as long as you remeber which credit card you used. While visiting the city, I did happen to see a Capital Bikeshare vehicle with up to 4 bike racks on the back, so it could transport bikes to the different stations as necessary to make sure stations were not over or under supplied with bikes.
The bikes themselves, worked really well. They felt really solid to ride, and held up fine dropping of curb's and skidding in the snow. The tires were wide road slicks, with a high psi rating (65 psi+) to prevent punctures. The front bike rack is also a great addition to stow a backpack or some groceries. The bikes had a front Dynamo hub for a front light, and a kickstand for supporting the bike. The bike was also equipted with rear flasher lights, great for visability during night riding. The gearing was a simple 3 speed with an internal hub in the rear. The internal hub speeds gave good leverage for climbing the ascent's of the city, but had you spinning your gears on some of the downhills for not being able to go in a high enough gear. This is probably a good thing, to prevent people going too fast. One minor flaw is the internal hubs take a second or two to shift gears. This can be a little frustrating to try and shift quickly for a hill, but I guess it's better than the chain falling off and dealing with derailer problems. One of the nicest features of the bike, especially for a wet winter city like D.C. is the fenders and side protectors. This helped a lot from water splashing up your bike side while riding. While riding in light snow one morning, I was able to travel the 3 miles across town with only the bottom 6 inches of my dress pant's being wet. Not bad considering how wet it was outside.
Although the above mentioned seams like Capital Bikeshare is a perfectly implemented bikeshare program, it does have a few flaws worth mentioning.
1. 30 minutes is 30 minutes. No grace period. I found it a little annoying to be 2 minutes late returning a bike and having to pay $1.50. Not having any leeway to return the bike a minute or two late is a bit fustrating. Excpecially when trying to find a bikeshare rental kiosk rack, which leads me to the next flaw.
2. Once you leave the bike rental station, the only map of where the other bike stations are is at another bike station (or on your smart phone). I found this highly annoying, not remembering the directions to the next bike station while the 30 minute (free) clock is ticking down. A simple waterproof map built into the bike handle bars would be a huge improvement. I am unsure if it's intentional or not, but it seams like they want you to get lost, to be charged for additional time, or they encourage frequent users of the system, not tourists.
3. No helmet rentals. In a big city, where bike ride next to cars, a small helmet rental station would be greatly appreciated. Head wraps could be worn to protect others hair from being used in the same helmet. This simple addition, would be a added bonus to help make the city safer for cyclists.
Overall, it's a great program to have for a relatively flat city like D.C. A Bikeshare program may not be perfect for all citys, but a city like D.C. it works out really well. They seam to be even expanding it and looking for new locations for bike stations. It was a honor to participate in this cool bike program, and be able to see more of the city for pennies compared to a taxi or tour bus.
- Riding around town in D.C. on the Capital Bikeshare Program for less than 30 minutes at a time: $5
- Saving money on a taxi for a quick trip across town: $8 (+ emissions)
- Flying off a curb on a rental bike and returning it without need to repair any damages: Priceless
There is an issue with bike helmets being required in Melbourne, Australia to ride a bike. Renting and sharing helmets does not appear to be too appealing between users. One possible solution would be to "borrow" a "Invisible Bicycle Helmet" and only pay anything if you get into an accident and deploy it. Essentially allowing you to have the option to protect your Mellon without spending a pennies and then protecting your knoggin if you needed it. Since this helmet sits on your shoulders, it does not mess up hair, or transfer hair follicles! A win win!