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.