View Full Version : CaBi, The Pentagon, and other thoughts

01-09-2013, 02:21 PM
At this week's ABAC meeting, people discussed the continued lack of CaBi station at the Pentagon. This is an unfortunate and difficult problem to remedy. Last night I was thinking about this a bit, in terms of what other ways the problem could be addressed. It led me down the path of thinking about Pentagon in terms of transportation. One thing that many Pentagon employees use is the federal Mass Transit Benefit Program (MTBP). The MTBP came about as a result of President Clinton's Executive Order 13150. The opening paragraph reads as follows:

"By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (Public Law 105-178), section 1911 of the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (Public Law 102-486), section 531(a)(1) of the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984 (26 U.S.C. 132), and the Federal Employees Clean Air Incentives Act (Public Law 103-172), and in order to reduce Federal employees' contribution to traffic congestion and air pollution and to expand their commuting alternatives, it is hereby ordered as follows:"

It got me to thinking, is there any way for CaBi to attempt to become a qualified means of transportation (QMOT) system for MTBP? Perhaps they already have tried to do this, I honestly have no clue. It seems that the EO above being based on the "Clean Air Incentives Act, to reduce Federal employees contribution to traffic congestion and air pollution, and to expand their commuting alternatives," that CaBi is a perfect fit for the MTBP. If CaBi was an approved use of MTBP funds, it would not only allow federal employees to get subsidized membership, but might also aid in CaBi's desire to be at the Pentagon and other federal sites.

Just my thoughts.

01-09-2013, 02:52 PM
when I started looking into the MTBP I asked the questions to Capital bikeshare about this exact point. I believe it all comes down to Alta Bicycle systems Inc. accepting metro checks (or the online equivalent-smart benefits) for payment of membership and service fees. I was told by Alta that because service fees (30 + minute usage, damage, etc) require a credit card account, a simple government stipend check would not suffice. Since Alta needs our credit card it didn't feel the need at that time to invest in the process to accept smart benefits.

When the MTBP was cut to $125 last year, I lost my financial motivation to persue it more. CaBi has grown significantly, and the MTBP has changed since I originally asked, and there might be reason to ask again.

Another way to make it work would be to work with a third partysuch as commuter direct (which kind of acts like paypal for smart beneftis for Marc/VRE/Vanpools). Commuter Direct would have to partner with Alta to accept Smart Trip credits and pay out membership dues. The pricing system of Capital bikeshare does provide some challenges since montly commuting costs are not necessarily constant (annual dues vs. montly dues, and usage fees), but these challenges are not insurmountable.

As with most things I think the infrastructure will drive usage. If you build a CaBi station at the Pentagon transit center or 9-11 memorial, people will ask for a way to use it with their benefits.

01-09-2013, 06:37 PM
The transit benefit was raised to $240 a month in the recent "fiscal cliff" legislation. But the $240 monthly level will only last through the end of 2013.


01-10-2013, 06:14 AM
Essigmw, thanks for the info. I didn't realize that the payment went to Alta, vice the local DOT's. Agree though that with smartbenefits, there should be a way to work around this. The example is that now smartbenefits go directly to your smarttrip card, which can also hold funds for your own personal usage. Seems like you could create a CaBi account using your own credit cards, and use smartbenefits to pay the monthy fee, possibly using Commuter Direct to clear it. With the new system as well, MTBP does a much better job of calculating the exact cost of your commute, making you re-verify each month, and takes the unused funds back. A fairly simple worksheet should be able to estimate the monthy commuting costs of CaBi use (distance*an average CaBi speed?). Either way, I think there is a way to figure out the structure.

To your point about if you build the station, people will drive getting it for MTBP, I would normally agree. This situation is a little different however, because CaBi wants to build stations there, the Pentagon (or Washington Headquarter Services, I think) won't allow it. That's why I was thinking about all of this in the first place. I thought in this situation, attacking the problem in reverse might be helpful. It seems like CaBi would have an easier time being a qualified MTBP transportation system than it would convincing the Pentagon to build a station. If CaBi was on MTBP, I think the argument to the Pentagon could be strengthened, in that they would be preventing their employees from using their transit benefit. A station at the Pentagon is important for a number of reasons, both on the part of it being a great location for the system, and in helping move forward the posibility of trail connections between Columbia Pike and the MVT along the edge of their property.

Again, I'm not saying I know all the inner details or why this would work/not work. Just trying to look at the problem from a different angle....

Tim Kelley
01-10-2013, 08:50 AM
It got me to thinking, is there any way for CaBi to attempt to become a qualified means of transportation (QMOT) system for MTBP?

From what I've heard, bikeshare has run into issues with the FTA recognizing CB as a form of mass transit. The major limitations being the requirement of a credit card, the inability to just pay for a single trip, and because it's a single occupancy vehicle.

In Arlington, we've created the Arlington Bikeshare Transit Development Plan (http://www.bikearlington.com/pages/bikesharing/arlington-bikeshare-transit-development-plan/) in hopes of having the system recognized by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation in the same way the ART Bus system or some of Fairfax County's local bus systems are recognized, which would help provide funding for future operation and expansion.

01-10-2013, 10:29 AM
Thanks for the explanation Tim. I can see how difficult it is with the CC requirement and the lack of single trip pricing. The single occupance vehicle is up for debate, I suppose, based on whether you look at the transport system as the bike, or the network of bikes and stations. I guess what I'm saying is do you look as the CaBi bike as a bus, or a seat on a bus. To me, the dock station is more of the bus, and the bike is a seat/ride on that system. Then again my point of view is slanted in a way that perhaps those who CaBi would have to convince are not.

Best of luck with BA's efforts to have the system recognized in the development plan!

01-10-2013, 05:55 PM
I'm imagining a world where cabi qualifies for the federal subsidy, and creates a special monthly federal employee membership of $125 for unlimited rides. I wonder if the system would become self sustaining. ..

01-11-2013, 06:14 AM
I'm imagining a world where cabi qualifies for the federal subsidy, and creates a special monthly federal employee membership of $125 for unlimited rides. I wonder if the system would become self sustaining. ..

Agreed. Though technically the MTBP doesn't subsidize monthy subscriptions (though I'd argue that's what van pools are). That's one of the problems with the CaBi pricing structure. Basically the MTBP shouldn't be paying for trips taken for reasons other than commuting. For example, you aren't supposed to use MTBP funds to take metro during the middle of a work day or on the weekends, because it is not commuting, even if it is for work purposes (like if you metro'd midday to a meeting). A lot of people do this because most end up with more MTBP funds than they use in a given month (sick days, maybe the drive a time or two or ride in, etc.). I think the new smartbenefits was supposed to solve this, where your smarttrip card would have two banks, one for commuting and one for personal time. However, I simply haven't seen this work on cards. I think what happens is you can have your own funds on the card and smartbenefits, but your personal money doesn't start being charged until your total smartbenefit total is used.

I think to your above point, what MTBP would likely require is some sort of commuting pricing structure, like the ability to pay for 40 rides per month (typically around 20 work days and two trips a day).

01-11-2013, 09:02 AM
Reiterating a point I have made previously. We became CABI partners. Our GC concluded that the CABI benefit does not fall under the transportation benefit, and therefore is a taxable benefit. So not only can you not use your transit benefit for CABI, if you do give CABI memberships out, it is a taxable event. Something to keep in mind.

01-11-2013, 02:04 PM
I know that others have discussed how to stregthen the relationship between Capital Bikeshare the Feds. There is or was a group advocating bicycle amongs Feds. I hope the group hasn't died. http://www.fedbikes.org/

While it could be worse, the Pentagon has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to cycling, starting with its complete lack of signs. There certainly is plenty of room for a CaBi station. In 9 years of riding around it, I have yet to see a full parking lot - not that I like full parking lots, I just think the space could be better utilized. Is there really no room to apply pressure?