Photo by Mozul on Flickr.

Last year, WMATA raised the annual fee for a bike locker at a Metro station from $70 to $200 last July. It was the first increase in 32 years. Today, many of the lockers sit unused.

According to Metro staff, as of spring 2010, about 65% of bike lockers were rented. After the 2010 price hike, lockers are now 41% rented.

Out of the Metro stations that have bicycle lockers, only two of them (Court House and Huntington) are 100% rented. There are 14 sets of lockers that have a less than 20% occupancy rate.

Number of lockers rented and available by station. Stations with the highest percentage rented are at the top. Data from WMATA. Click to view spreadsheet.

During last year’s budget debate, WMATA staff said the $200 price would bring the price in line with inflation over the 32 years. They estimated the hike would contribute around $200,000 per year to the system’s revenues, but with the usage drop, Metro has brought in only about $46,000 more this year.

The launch of Capital Bikeshare may also have cut into the locker demand. Commuters who store bicycles at urban stations to ride to work may now be able to use CaBi, at least when its stations are not empty or full.

According to Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) Executive Director Shane Farthing, “these disproportionately large fee increases came with absolutely no improvement to the [locker rental] program, and many renters simply allowed their contracts to expire.”

“WABA is confident that Metro will evenutally reach the conclusion that the system needs fixing,” Farthing added, “not because they love bikes per se, but because it makes economic sense for them to encourage people to arrive at stations in a less space-intensive manner [than automobile parking].”

At some stations, the lockers may not be the best use of space. Though 10 of Dupont Circle’s 12 lockers are rented out, they all might be more appropriately replaced with additional bike racks, for instance. At stations in less dense areas, there is plenty of room for the lockers, and WMATA should strive to maximize the usage.

So as not to scare away potential customers, Metro should make bike locker prices reflect the unique market conditions at each station by reducing prices when lockers aren’t being used. A good start would be to cut the price at stations where less than 80% of the bike lockers are paid for. A good longer-term strategy would be to maintain a waiting list at each station, and increase the price of the bike lockers when the waiting list gets too full.

In the long term, it may not be possible to fill all of the bike lockers at low-demand stations, even when the price is so low it doesn’t cover the administrative costs. In that case, Metro could look into removing some of the lockers and devoting the space to free racks or other purposes.

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said that responsibility for bike lockers and racks had been recently transferred to the planning department, which is analyzing the lockers as part of its bike parking census.

Disclosure: The author rents a bike locker at Eastern Market, which currently has a 45% occupancy rate.