Image by David Alpert.

Dockless bikeshare has increased the total number of shared bike trips taken in DC, and District pedal-pushers have probably added to those trip totals without eating into the large and growing ridership of Capital Bikeshare. That’s according to data presented by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) on May 2 to the Bicycle Advisory Council for DC.

Dockless bikeshare added new trips

The dockless bikeshare trial period began in September 2017, but all five participant companies weren’t operational until October. From October 2017 through January 2018, about 155,000 dockless bikeshare trips were taken, compared to 1,220,000 for Capital Bikeshare (CaBi).

CaBi trips were down 1% from the same four-month period spanning late 2016 to early 2017. But, it’s not likely the new dockless trips represent CaBi riders abandoning the station-based bikes for undocked fleets nearby. Though Capital Bikeshare lost 12,000 trips compared to the previous year, the 155,000 dockless trips were probably complimenting the already-established fixed counterparts.

If DDOT believed there was a more direct trade-off in trips, they would likely do something about it. According to David Cranor of the Bicycle Advisory Council, “DDOT also said they don't want dockless bikeshare to cut into CaBi's ridership and that they would move to protect CaBi if that happened.”

DDOT has extended the initial seven-month dockless bikeshare trial to run through August 2018. At that point, the agency will have one year of data to show a substitution effect between modes, if there is one to show.

Image by the author.

Dockless data show inequity and require a deeper look

According to Stefanie Brodie, Research Program Specialist at DDOT, three key factors are being discussed by DC officials: equity, data sharing, and company viability. Speaking on a webinar coordinated by the Eno Center for Transportation, Brodie said monthly data reports provided to DDOT by the bikeshare companies showed significant inequity.

“Wards 2 and 6 have high percentages of trips,” Brodie said. “Trips starting and ending in Ward 8, in Capital Bikeshare trips are about 0.2%, and in dockless bikeshare about 0.5%. But it’s important to note that these are all under 1%, so the impact is a little less than we hoped.”

Image by DDOT.

Brodie added that later research will dive deeper into bikeshare trip data: “Looking at trips based on Wards doesn’t give you a fine-grained impression on where these trips are heading or they’re starting. One of the things we would like to do is look more fine-grained and dig into the data to show where exactly these trips are.”

DDOT will have no shortage of data for that effort. “Companies are required to provide a public API, along with anonymized trip data, information on parking and safety incidents, and information on repairs and maintenance,” Brodie said, pointing out that parking location data specifically is being collected.

Capital Bikeshare ridership declines predictably during the colder, winter months and during inclement weather. A few months of data is too small to reach significant findings about dockless bikeshare demand in DC.

Dockless bikeshare serves different users than station-based systems

A new report from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) shows early signs that station-based systems will continue to provide the backbone of shared bike transportation in the US.

Dockless bikes made up 44% of the national shared bike fleet, but only 4% of the trips taken. The NACTO report suggests dockless bikes are used differently from station-based bikes, furthering the argument that new dockless trips are net new trips — in other words, a demand unmet by the existing station-based system.

According to NACTO, 65% of Capital Bikeshare members report using bikeshare as part of longer transit commutes. A much smaller portion of dockless bikeshare riders seem to be using the colorful fleets for such mundane trips — rather, they’re likely unlocking dockless bicycles for slower, fun jaunts.

All this indicates that dockless bikes are an important and unique addition to the city’s transportation network.

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Gordon Chaffin is a journalist and multimedia producer with expertise in public policy and economics. Born and raised in Michigan, Gordon is an advocate for more housing, rail trails, public transit, and streets designed for every mode of transportation — especially bikes. He lives in a shipping container just big enough to fit his running gear.