The National Park Service hasn’t spoken to Guest Services, Inc., the concessionaire that runs bike rentals on the Mall, to determine if they’d object to placing Capital Bikeshare stations on Park Service land.
The Capital Bikeshare service “glaringly” omits the large swaths of Washington and Arlington controlled by the National Park Service. The City Paper‘s Lydia DePillis reported that DDOT “ruled out” placing any stations on NPS property (including Lincoln Park) specifically because of the NPS concession with GSI.
This week we reached out to GSI for a response. GSI’s Kris Rohr stated that his company “has never been approached by anyone, including Capital Bikeshare, about placing bikes on the National Mall or the other parks [we] mentioned,” including West Potomac Park, Roosevelt Island, and Dupont Circle.
The Park Service declined to answer any of our dozen specific questions. NPS National Capital Region spokesman Bill Line provided only the following cursory response: “There have only been recent, informal discussions between the NPS and DDOT about exploring the possibility of Capital BikeShare station placement on NPS property. No formal presentation or request from DDOT has been made. The NPS has a contractual agreement with Guest Services, Inc., for bike rental services, with Guest Services, Inc. having the right of first refusal for any new or additional services.”
GSI defended the limiting of commercial services to those with concession agreements by arguing that they allow one to “enjoy the Lincoln Memorial without being approached by a t-shirt vendor who has set up shop on the steps.” While, according to Rohr, the “‘right’ that [their] agreement ensures is the right of first refusal to new or additional similar services,” when asked, he demurred from expanding upon the distinction between bikes rented for short point-to-point transportation (like Capital Bikeshare) and bikes rented for longer periods of time for leisure (such as those GSI currently offers “for $7 or $8 an hour” at “several of [their] locations”).
Because GSI has “not been approached by any organization, including the National Park Service, DDOT, or Capital Bikeshare with regard to the placement of bike racks or bike rental facilities within any of the locations that [they] are contracted to operate on the National Mall and in the National Capital region,” Rohr suggested it was “premature” for GSI to address specifics of possible programs that have never been proposed to them. Encouragingly, however, Rohr stated that GSI is “open to suggestions about other rental arrangements.”
When asked about the nature of their contract with the NPS and its term, Rohr declined to answer specifics, but stated that “[t]here are no automatic contractual renewal terms.” This might not matter, as the Park Service has been loathe to make changes to other concession agreements upon renewals in the past.
According to Rohr, the concession contract covers the “National Mall and Memorial Parks, and President’s Park; also for the C&O Canal National Historic Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Rock Creek Park, and National Capital Parks-East.” NPS lumps small parks—like Capitol Hill’s squares and triangles—as part of the “National Mall and Memorial Parks” or “National Capital Parks-East” divisions.
NPS has been experimenting with an alternate bikesharing system known as B-Cycle for its employees since the fall of 2009 and appears to have at least some interest in expanding bikesharing to its visitors. As with most decisions in the region, the strength of area leadership will likely determine whether the players can all come to the table to ensure an interoperable system.
We requested comment from the Park Service and will release updates as we have them. In the meantime, if a dialogue with the NPS proves difficult, perhaps DDOT, Arlington, and Capital Bikeshare could directly engage with GSI on the issue as well.
Update: This article has been amended to include the Park Service’s response.