SmartBike Expansion Gets a Flat

GM has been increasingly excited about the planned expansion of DC’s bike sharing program, SmartBike. As early as last August, just a few weeks after the initial roll-out, DDOT was already talking about expanding the program to places like Georgetown or Capitol Hill. This spring, DDOT filled our heads with visions of 50 stations, then 100. GM was certain that we’d have SmartBike in Georgetown by this Summer.

Turns out he was wrong.

GM heard through the grapevine that the expansion has hit a major snag. Clear Channel runs the program and does so in exchange for being able to control the advertising in DC’s new bus shelters. That was the original deal. Well it turns out that Clear Channel doesn’t think the deal they agreed to includes running an additional 90 bike stations. So as a result they’re balking. On top of it, District officials are interested in expanding the program to reach Arlington or Alexandria. Since they don’t allow advertising on bus shelters in Arlington, Clear Channel is particularly uninterested in running the program there.

So the Plan B is to take Clear Channel out of the equation and bring in a another system that would be run by a multi-jurisdictional public entity (like WMATA). This will obviously take time.

GM is extremely disapointed in this because the reports from last spring got his hopes up that he’d soon be able to pick up a SmartBike at Dupont and ride it home. Additionally, if they go with a completely new system, it will add significant delay to the project, and will give the first bike sharing program in the U.S. an air of failure. Moreover, it seems that the District didn’t negotiate with Clear Channel strongly enough. If they anticipated the expansion and got it in the agreement, then Clear Channel wouldn’t be in a position to refuse.

The only possible silver lining to this is that it could result in a better system in the end. The biggest fault of the first Smartbike system was that DDOT and Clear Channel didn’t think big enough.  Paris’ successful Velib program started off with 750 stations. Now it’s up to 1,450 stations with 20,000 bikes. And it’s extremely popular. GM stopped by Paris during his honeymoon and saw them being used everywhere.

SmartBike was a successful proof of concept. Let’s hope SmartBike mark II lives up to its full potential.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “SmartBike Expansion Gets a Flat

  1. Justin

    I never saw the point of SmartBike: all the bicycles were at Metro stops. Why not just keep riding the Metro? Granted, maybe someone would want to bike somewhere *close* to a Metro stop instead of walking, but they had a limited time frame to return the bike.. for someone who lived in Glover Park at one point, the program was utterly, utterly useless.

    And I just came back from Paris. Velib was wonderful!

  2. @Justin, if the SmartBike system becomes more robust–adding dozens of locations in addition to those at Metro stations–it’ll become a seamless part of our public transit system.

    Imagine, being able to use your SmarTrip card to check out a bike after you get off the subway. If that’s a possibility in the late future, then I’m all for a WMATA takeover.

  3. GM

    Justin for what it’s worth, I frequently use Smartbike to go from Dupont over to U St. or Logan Circle area. There’s not really a convenient metro that does that. Plus I really don’t like riding the Metro just one or two stops. I’d rather just hop on a bike. Smartbike isn’t supposed to replace trips over one mile or so, or serve as a long term rental. It’s supposed to handle short trips from point A to point B. In your case, I bet you’d love to be able to hop on a bike in Glover Park and coast down to Georgetown or Dupont, and then not worry about someone stealing your bike or having to bike back (unless you want to). For it to work like that, we need many more bike stations than what was originally planned. I think 100 is only a decent start (particularly if they sprinkle them far and wide).

    Bailey: I don’t think they’re considering having WMATA run it. I was just using it as an example of a multi-jurisdictional entity. But I agree, there could be some good synergies there. And I hate using the word “synergies”, so they must be really good.

  4. Ben

    Justin- I attended a session on bike-sharing programs the annual Transportation Research Board meetings this past January. One of the panelists said commented that these programs help extend transit ‘the last mile’ to places that transit does not currently serve. Accordnig to transportation and planning literature, at most people will walk about 1/4 of a mile (7-10 minutes) to a metro station. The SmartBike program helps expand the radius of people within walking/bicycling distance of metro stations.

    GM- one problem with the SmartBike program is that you need to have an annual membership to use the bike. Users of Montreal’s system can use the bikes on a daily basis. The operator generates a lot of revenue from this single-day use.

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  6. Justin

    Sorry, I think I worded that poorly! I think it’s an absolutely genius idea, and wonderful, and I hope it gets bigger. I just thought the implementation, as it were, was useless. It needs to be like Paris where you can go from A to B anywhere in the city and find a bike stop close by to check it back in. I desperately, desperately want this!

  7. Conrad

    ClearChannel has, for a long time, had such a terrible reputation. I
    always thought this was undeserved.

    When they agreed to participate in the DC SmartBike program I thought
    to myself “Great- This will let people see that having a large media
    company around, like ClearChannel, can actually be very helpful and
    can benefit the public.”

    Boy, was I wrong- Now I found out they’ve agreed to administer the
    pilot program for Smartbikes and then withdrew their support as soon as
    they received advertising concessions from the DC government. Their claim
    that Smartbikes were “never supposed to expand beyond the initial ten
    stations” is an obvious and malicious way to shirk their part of the
    agreement. It appears they have successfully blocked the SmartBike
    program in DC and have probably set back the implementation of
    SmartBikes in this area for years- If only they had never gotten
    involved in the first place.

    Apparently their poor reputation is well-deserved, after all.

  8. DAMN! I was so waiting for a good announcement soon. Maybe they could renegotiate? This was a truly progressive initiative that would set a spotlight on DC as a sustainable, livable city. I’m hoping for the best…

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