Capital Bikeshare gets creative to keep growing

WASHINGTON — Capital Bikeshare is getting creative in order to keep its system growing, by adding more than two dozen used stations and more than 200 bikes from Ottawa, Canada.

At least 10 of the “new” stations and bikes will be placed in D.C., and eight of the stations have already opened in Alexandria.

“The system is exactly the same as the technology we’ve used,” says Kim Lucas says, D.C.’s Bikeshare program manager.

“Even though they’ve come from the same manufacturer, because of different years of purchase, [Capital Bikeshare] stations already are a little diverse in the field, so they won’t stand out any more than our existing kind of patchwork system does.”

Especially since the bikes from Ottawa’s seasonal system were already red, everything should blend in seamlessly, she says.

“They’ve all been tested,” says Lucas. “We’ve tested to make sure that they would interact with our keys fine, to make sure the bikes would talk to the existing docks that we have on the street, and that bikes that we get from them will work with our existing docks, and that the docks we get from them will work with our existing bikes, so it’s all been thoroughly tested before it’s been rolled out.”

She explained that since the equipment was bought used, Capital Bikeshare got a discount on it from CycleHop, the company that is going to fully roll out Ottawa’s new system, based on different technology, next year.

Capital Bikeshare jurisdictions bought all 25 of Ottawa’s old docking stations, along with about 250 bikes after CycleHop reached out to Bikeshare’s operator to say that the equipment was available. The bikes and stations in the Bikeshare system are paid for by D.C., Arlington, Alexandria and Montgomery County, while membership and usage fees pay for system operations.

Despite big expansion plans, brand-new stations are not an option right now for the Bikeshare system due to a shakeup among key suppliers.

“We have pretty much exhausted our supply. I don’t know of any other systems that would be doing this kind of strange, wholesale arrangement of getting rid of all their stations to switch to a new technology,” Lucas says.

“It is very, very complicated. In a nutshell, the equipment that we have on the street, while it looks like the equipment you see in New York and Chicago, is actually very different,” she explains.

“The brains” of the existing Washington-area equipment come from one company, 8D Technologies, while the bikes are made by PBSC, a Montreal company also referred to as Bixi, which declared bankruptcy in January, throwing uncertainty into bikeshare expansions around the world.

The two companies no longer work together.

Alta, which operates the Capital Bikeshare system, announced a partnership with 8D earlier this year on a new type of docking station that would dispense membership keys among other improvements.

Lucas has just returned from a conference in Pittsburgh that included the first North American Bikesharing Association conference. The leaders of both 8D and PBSC were there.

“Right now there isn’t a solution for us. Each of those systems has offered potentials in the future, but nobody has a station that we can purchase today. We’re promised one very, very soon, that they’re working on ways for us to be able to expand using technology that’s from one partner or the other, but today, there wasn’t a station for us on display,” Lucas says.

In a blog post this week, the District Department of Transportation indicated they hope to have 40 or more of the new stations ready to go in D.C. by next spring.

“We’re in a bit of a holding pattern. We were told by at least one of the manufacturers that there would be something available for purchase possibly as soon as the end of this year, but as the industry is kind of steadying itself after this big shakeup of a bankruptcy and partners that no longer work together, we can’t really speak to timeline,” she adds.

D.C. is looking at 12 possible locations for the 10 stations from Ottawa that DDOT is sure are coming to the District.

They are all places identified in expansion plans as long ago as 2012, or locations that are near current docking stations that are often completely empty or completely full:

  • 1st Street and K Street NE
  • 5th Street and Florida Avenue NE
  • Division Avenue and Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue NE
  • 11th Street and S Street NW
  • 14th Street and Irving Street NW
  • 15th Street and L Street NW
  • 17th Street and G Street NW
  • 18th Street and R Street NW
  • 19th Street and G Street NW
  • Connecticut Avenue and McKinley Street NW
  • Georgia Avenue and Missouri Avenue NW
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue (at St. Elizabeths Campus)

Lucas says the idea is to relieve the pressure on some stressed, existing stations, while also installing at least one new station in each of D.C.’s eight wards.

“Twenty-five stations, while it very much helps, and where every individual location will greatly improve the service, it’s less than 10 percent of the total number of stations that were already on the street, so we don’t have a lot of wiggle room with regard to their locations,” Lucas says.

Alexandria chose the locations for its eight new stations from Ottawa based on suggestions from community meetings and online interactions.

Those stations opened in Alexandria last month doubled the number of Bikeshare docking stations in the city. Three are between the Old Town and Eisenhower Ave. Metro stations, while the other five are in and around Del Ray and Potomac Yard.

Plans to expand Capital Bikeshare to College Park have been put on hold because of the equipment delays.

Fairfax County has also expressed interest in joining the Capital Bikeshare program, and is exploring whether it would work in Reston.

“Even though we’ve kind of been in a holding pattern in terms of expansion, we are still having record breaking months and total ridership. We are now over 8 million trips on less than 3,000 bikes

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