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Thread: Is Capital Bikeshare moving semi-dockless?

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    Default Is Capital Bikeshare moving semi-dockless?

    Recent developments suggest Capital Bikeshare is now moving fast towards a semi-dockless model in its Lyft era. I am seeing a few real signs of this, including:

    (1) their recent move to put "scan here to rent" stickers on every bike, which would allow them to be scanned and rented from anywhere;
    (2) their announcement that the to-be-reintroduced electric bikes will be dock-optional; and
    (3) the cancellation of the dock-based Bike Angles program (which I'll post another thread about).
    Shifting energy towards dockless may also explain the slowdown in their other services I've noticed over the past few months compared to previous years.

    It sounds to me like someone at Lyft is using the re-introduction of eBikes to push the entire system towards being semi-dockless, possibly including the regular bikes, either now or later.

    Anyone have further info? Thoughts?

    As I longtime and regular CaBi user, I am against a move to semi-dockless.

    Will post a reply with more thoughts on why, but for now, this:

    I wonder if the people who made this decision actually use the CaBi system, have been able to observe how the system has worked. Because it sounds like a profit-driven decision rather than a system-health-based decision. IMO. Expressed another way, "penny wise, pound foolish!"
    Last edited by Yule; 03-02-2020 at 02:36 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yule View Post

    I wonder if the people who made this decision actually use the CaBi system, have been able to observe how the system has worked.
    The 7 jurisdictions own all of the docks and the non-electric bikes and all have to agree to changes in how the system operates.

    The three people I know that are involved in making these decisions for the jurisdiction are all CaBi users and CaBI makes up a large part of their job responsibilities.

    Itís unfair and unkind to imply that these public servants are not competent based on a guess that the municipality owned bikes are going to be semi-dockless.

    The addition of QR codes to the non-electric bikes is great. There are lots of people that always unlock with the CaBi app and the QR code will be an easier way to do so.


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    In addition to agreeing with everything Judd said (of particular note is that the public vs. private ownership is a big difference between CaBi and some of the other Lyft-operated systems), I wanted to share one other reaction:

    Quote Originally Posted by Yule View Post
    (3) the cancellation of the dock-based Bike Angles program (which I'll post another thread about).
    The Bike Angel program is not "cancelled" - they have suspended it while rolling out the new app and reintroducing e-bikes. That makes perfect sense to me as the whole balancing approach that CaBi uses will have to be re-examined and potentially updated to account for the impact e-bikes and their semi-dockless nature will have on the system and workload. Since the whole point of the Bike Angel program was to incentive users to do things that made it easier for CaBi to keep the system balanced (by giving you points they save money in operating costs by not having to have someone in a van or the bike w/trailer hauling bikes around), it makes sense to me that you pause such a program until you figure out what/how best to incentive people in the future. They've also recently confirmed that points will be restored (so nothing gained previously should be lost).

    Expanding on a point the DDOT CaBi contract manager shared (one of the 3 people Judd mentioned?) - CaBi's been operating with the same basic infrastructure/setup for a decade - before most smart phones. It's quite the challenge in updating the back end to accommodate the e-bike rollout , and for this to be one of the only short-term trade-offs is really quite remarkable.

    Quote Originally Posted by Judd View Post

    The addition of QR codes to the non-electric bikes is great. There are lots of people that always unlock with the CaBi app and the QR code will be an easier way to do so.
    Also - the QR code is what the "competition" uses for a lot of its bikes/scooters, so having an option for CaBi to operate in a similar fashion makes it more user friendly to the occasional user/tourist as well.

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    Thanks for the replies, though I am somewhat reminded why I don't post here more often by the tone and the down-talk. It's a discussion forum, right, and since about 2017 there have been people proposing Capital Bikeshare be (semi)-dockless. It's worth talking about, even if my immediate ideas are wrong.

    I agree with you, LhasaCM and Judd, that the QR code alone can be a good thing, and noted it with interest when it came in a few weeks ago. The change being now aligns with some of the other signs I've seen and talk I've heard.

    This post is partly due to the fact that they are making big changes without (I feel) explaining what's going on; many of us core users feel a little more than customers who have to be pitched to, if that makes sense.

    They have totally changed the app, as well. Total change. It is unfortunate for those who were used to the old app; the new one is better in a few ways and worse in many ways, less user-friendly (are criticisms allowed, or should people only use twitter for that?), but in any case some of the changes I perceive in the new app do look like they are meant to facilitate semi-dockless.

    LhasaCM wrote:

    The Bike Angel program is not "cancelled"
    Notice I wrote that the dock-to-dock Bike Angel program has been cancelled. I have been in Bike Angels for a long time and was surprised by the email announcing the "Pause." I wrote a long post here about Bike Angels but refrained from posting it. Maybe will later.

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    Okay, here are some further thoughts on what I see as the negatives to CaBi potentially moving to a partly-dockless-oriented model. Even if it is definitely wrong that they are moving this way for now, the docked-vs.-dockless discussion will always be with us, so I want to record some thoughts here. Sorry for the length.

    I am a bikeshare user for years with thousands of trips. Everything I say is because I like bikeshare and want to see it succeed.

    ___________________

    On the Downsides of Dockless

    Surerly people remember the big "washout" of all the dockless bikes in 2017 and 2018. Despite all the predictions of the End of Docks at the time, someone on this forum posted a thread called "The Dockpockalypse Nears" in Sept. 2017 (a timestamped example of what I mean), it turned out that docks really were needed, to provide some predictability to the system. It turned out what actually disappeared was every single dockless-bike player in the market.

    It turned out that people didn't understand the novel concept of Bikesharing, at least as we have it in the Washington/Arlington area. Understandable. They didn't understand that docks were the infrastructure needed to keep a system like this thriving. (It's different in Beijing.)

    Even today's dockless scooters and the handful of surviving dockless bikes out there (of which all are eBikes) end up often getting/using/having a form of station infrastructure anyway, just not one they pay for or maintain, but one they sponge entirely off the the CaBi infrastructure. The biggest single place that dockless scooters accumulate is next to CaBi stations, presumably because many scooter people feel guilty about just tossing them anywhere and impeding sidewalk movement, potentially hurting people who bump into them or etc., or just looking like jerks (and the worst are the people who leave scooters in the middle of Key Bridge). Besides end-user scooter people who are looking for a least-intrusive place to park, the people running the scooter systems also usually line up freshly recharged ones right next to CaBi stations, something I always shake my head at when I see, as it is a form of blatant economic free-riding. The scooters are just airdropped-in and did not pay for the stations whose 'anchoring' presence they are taking advantage of. Another form of evidence on the need for bikeshare station-anchors is the conversions of parking places to scooter/dockless-bike parking zones that began as early as the end of 2018. The lived-experience evidence of this is everywhere, if you have engaged at all with bikeshare or even walked the streets in bikeshare areas, you'll have noticed it.

    So we have several years of experience, now, suggesting that stations provide predictable anchors, system stability, and comfort that encourages people to use the system, a positive feedback-loop.

    Dock/station infrastructure is what has allowed CaBi to grow in the way it has, and it is risky to go the route of dockless. This would immediately disrupt, and probbaly long-term discourage, "regulars," the thousands who use CaBi to commute or for little daily trips who depend on the reliability of the system and are a lot less likely to do a "Pokemon-Go"-like chase for bikes every time.

    If Capital Bikeshare wants to maintain its solid group of regular users, and expand it, system stability should be the top priority. CaBi has done a pretty good job at this,* but any move towards Dockless is seriously risky for system stability and overall system health.

    (The opinion of a bikeshare fan and bikeshare evangelist who means well.)

    _____________

    * - The main problems limiting growth in ridership IMO are (1) a lack of system expansion so that more individuals are covered in door-of-home-to-destination way by the bikeshare network (expansion has gotten sluggish); and (2) lack of capacity at peak times at peak places, notably places like Rosslyn and Georgetown. The latter's stations generally get up around 100% capacity on most any fair weather afternoon, but definitely Fri./Sat./Holiday; on the old CaBi map app it was common to see the nearest eight or so stations all at 100%-full capacity at such times. It has often crossed my mind that there may be pen-pushers involved somewhere along the line who wouldn't see this when glancing at aggregate numbers, say for a month-year period. "Oh, rides have only grown slightly; the system is not as successful as we thought it might be." That's because demand is significantly outstripping demand.
    Last edited by Yule; 03-03-2020 at 01:33 PM.

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    I hope they stay exclusively with the docked model. Dockless seemed like a huge fad and most of those companies have gone out of business and left the DC area. I think most of that is due to the dockless bikes being stolen and damaged, neither of which is much of an issue for a docked system.

    I was really disappointed with the Bike Angel system. A few months ago, I had an issue where there are two stations located 425' apart in Courthouse. The one had no bikes and the other was full. So I took a bike from the full station to the station without any bikes and got like 2 or 3 points. Then, I walked back to the station with bikes and tried to do it again, but it wouldn't let me take a bike out. I got really stressed out because I thought may be I had incorrectly docked the bike at the empty station and so I sprinted back to that station, but found that the bike was correctly docked. I concluded that you basically aren't allowed to take consecutive bikes out of the same station unless you wait a certain period of time. This basically means the program is a joke because you want to encourage people to take bikes out of full stations, ride them to empty stations, and then run back to the full station and do the same thing over again.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Relwal Noj View Post
    I was really disappointed with the Bike Angel system. A few months ago, I had an issue where there are two stations located 425' apart in Courthouse. The one had no bikes and the other was full. So I took a bike from the full station to the station without any bikes and got like 2 or 3 points. Then, I walked back to the station with bikes and tried to do it again, but it wouldn't let me take a bike out. I got really stressed out because I thought may be I had incorrectly docked the bike at the empty station and so I sprinted back to that station, but found that the bike was correctly docked. I concluded that you basically aren't allowed to take consecutive bikes out of the same station unless you wait a certain period of time.
    I have executed this same exact maneuver on multiple occasions and have never had a problem. After you have moved a few bikes to partially rebalance the system, the angel points do get reduced for subsequent laps, but this has never resulted in a service denial.

    However, I have experienced temporary service denials with CaBi that are unrelated to Bike Angels. Occasionally a station goes offline and fails to report a docked bike to the system while incommunicado. If so, you will get blocked from taking another bike. When this has occurred, I have always been able to call CaBi customer service, explain the situation, and they immediately unfreeze my account to allow another bike checkout on the spot. Perhaps this situation is what happened to you?

    Rebalancing laps can be a fun way to earn a few angel points when you happen to have some extra time and want to get some multimodal exercise. I've found Courthouse to be a great spot for it because bikes will often accumulate at some stations just a few blocks from other empty stations. Unsurprisingly, the full stations are always at lower elevations than the empty ones, so you will be jogging downhill and riding uphill. Typical example: empty docks at the county courthouse building, with full docks at 15th and Scott.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yule View Post
    Thanks for the replies, though I am somewhat reminded why I don't post here more often by the tone and the down-talk.
    It's too bad you feel that way. It has been my experience that this forum may be the most courteous of any on-line experience I have ever had. That's not to say there are not rare exceptions, but they are rare. I am pleased about the constant level of thoughtful discourse I find here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yule View Post
    The main problems limiting growth in ridership IMO are (1) a lack of system expansion so that more individuals are covered in door-of-home-to-destination way by the bikeshare network (expansion has gotten sluggish).
    But some of us will never be covered in door-of-home-to destination way by docks. If you're going from one place in downtown DC to another, there is probably a dock somewhere close to your home and to your destination, because of high home/office density in that area. But in my suburban neighborhood in Bethesda, we're not going to have enough density to justify a dock.

    Right now, if I want to bikeshare home, my choices are:
    • Take Jump to Friendship Heights, then either Uber/Lyft home or take the subway to Bethesda and a bus home from there.
    • Take Helbiz to Friendship Heights, then either Uber/Lyft home or take the subway to Bethesda and a bus home from there.
    • Take CaBi to a station approximately a mile from my house, then walk, Uber/Lyft, or bus home from there.

    (And I will be extremely grateful when they get CaBi e-bikes back, because I can't pedal a standard CaBi up Massachusetts Avenue to the Cathedral.)

    All of these are cumbersome, expensive, and time-consuming. CaBis that could just be ridden all the way home would make it practical to bike home on those days that I hadn't been able to bike to work. Indeed, with a combination of dockless and ebikes, I would likely get a CaBi membership for the first time.
    Last edited by cvcalhoun; 03-03-2020 at 05:28 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cvcalhoun View Post
    But some of us will never be covered in door-of-home-to destination way by docks. If you're going from one place in downtown DC to another, there is probably a dock somewhere close to your home and to your destination, because of high home/office density in that area. But in my suburban neighborhood in Bethesda, we're not going to have enough density to justify a dock.
    The dockless cars (Car2Go - no longer in DC; Free2Move) seem to work without designated spaces like Zipcar. I can see challenges with both dockless and docked bicycle business models, but they can serve different markets and can both succeed, IMO. Insomuch as they increase mobility with decreased environmental impact, I am in favor of continuing to support innovation. A certain level of failure is to be expected when innovations are being tested in the real world.

    So I don't think of this as docked v. dockless, but rather docked + dockless, let's keep 'em going.

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