Photo by afagen on Flickr.

Alexandria’s City Council will soon decide whether to expand Capital Bikeshare in the city. Opponents claim that bikeshare is a waste of money that should be spent on other things, but ridership and revenue are exceeding expectations.

On May 6, the council will vote to fund an 8-station expansion, doubling the local CaBi fleet, and add CaBi operating funds to the city budget. However, some say that Alexandria is not getting a good deal. City Council members say privately that these residents have fixated on CaBi as the place to cut the budget in favor of their own causes.

The person leading this charge is Kathryn Papp, who has a history of opposing bicycles in Old Town. Papp argued last year that “adding bikes increases congestion” by slowing down cars. Now, she is presenting straw-man arguments against CaBi expansion.

"Every other city uses dedicated sponsors to cover operating costs, but not Alexandria,” she states in a letter to the Alexandria Gazette-Packet on April 12, citing New York’s Citibank-sponsored Citibike, which is still under construction. Papp notes that Alexandria also no longer receives federal grants to pay for bikeshare and will instead use $50,000 in development impact fees and $70,000 in revenue from real estate taxes.

In another letter to the Alexandria Times, Papp questions whether the city should pay for a service operated by Alta, a private company, in partnership with Alexandria, Arlington and DC. She claims that a financial dispute between Bixi, Alta’s equipment maker, and the city of Montreal and a lawsuit from Bixi’s software vendor makes Alta unfit to work with. Instead, she proposes that Alexandria use CaBi funds to reverse a proposed cut in library hours.

Conflating the problems of Bixi with Alta, the private company that operates CaBi, ignores the real question of whether it’s actually working for Alexandria.

Alexandria is getting the same deal as Arlington, DC, and other cities with bikeshare systems. Like Denver’s B-Cycle and Boston’s Hubway, CaBi is a public-private partnership in which the city owns the equipment and contracts out operations to a for-profit company.

As with Minneapolis’ Nice Ride system, CaBi lists a number of major sponsors on its website, though Nice Ride covers its operating costs with user fees and sponsored stations. Capital Bikeshare could partner with a corporate sponsor, but it’s a regional system, and all of the jurisdictions involved should make that decision together.

Despite what Papp says, Capital Bikeshare also saves money. Capital costs of the proposed eight-station expansion are about that of a single DASH bus. Operating costs per ride are well under a dollar for CaBi, versus over a dollar for Metrorail and over two dollars for DASH. System-wide, CaBi moves about 8,000 people per day, almost as many as the 11,000 that DASH moves.

Papp complains that CaBi will get some financial support from local taxes, but Alexandria recently chose to dedicate 2.2¢ of its real estate tax rate to a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), including 3 designated transit corridors and supporting infrastructure for biking and walking. Given that 2 of the 4 busiest Alexandria CaBi stations serve nearby Metro stations, CaBi clearly fits in with the program’s stated goals.

Besides, Alexandria can’t simply move the funds to support libraries. TIP money must be spent on transportation, and since it’s a new program, raiding TIP funds for libraries would only weaken it as a funding source. Just as CaBi is a transportation service that should be evaluated in the context of Alexandria’s transportation program, libraries are a social service that should be evaluated in the context of Alexandria’s other social services.

Capital Bikeshare has proven its worth to Alexandria, but a few detractors want to discredit this valuable service. The City Council should listen to the facts and support bikeshare funding. They will be voting on the budget next Monday; you can contact them here and voice your support.