Tag Archives: Bikeshare

Commuting in Washington

By no means am I a super commuter. I don’t live out in the exurbs or in West Virginia. My commute is ordinary. I live across from a metro station and bus hub relatively close to Washington, D.C. — but I’m done taking the train every day.

For starters, I’m lucky that my phone has an unlimited text plan. If not, the amount of texts would really put a crunch on my plan.

WMATA texts me more than a psychotic ex-girlfriend. While I’ve never had one of those, my friends who have inform me they received about a hundred texts or so over the course of a month or two. WMATA easily meets that.  Except that instead of “I miss you” you get soul crushing texts like “Red Line: Single tracking btwn Van Ness & Friendship Heights due to a sick customer aboard a train at“. In other words, “Say goodbye to twenty minutes of your day.

Of course, these alerts are only helpful if your phone works underground. Which, thanks to the stellar work of WMATA, hasn’t happened.

It’s the same story with email.

In the past month, WMATA has emailed me no less than 138 times. In that time, Jos. A. Bank emailed me about 25 times. When your email rate is five times that of Jos. A. Bank, you’re in trouble.

Are these alerts helpful? Sure. So is WTOP, but WTOP isn’t subsidized by my tax dollars and tells me where the traffic is for the cost of a few advertisements. These alerts are more of a mea culpa of failure.

Since I’ve had enough, I decided I am driving to work now every day. I’ve done this before, and I loved it. (A parking spot in the shadow of the Capitol helps.)

Driving may end up being slightly more expensive, but I have ways of mitigating the increase in cost. Driving enables me to stop at the grocery and bring in food for lunch conveniently, and that will save money over getting lunch at a sandwich joint every day.

It will also save me time and, as we all know, time is money. Even with Washington’s horrible traffic, on average, I beat WMATA during my normal commute time by close to 10 minutes each way. On late nights, it’s close to 30 minutes of savings.  Tonight, with a major accident on the 14th street bridge, a Nationals game, and bumper to bumper traffic on 395 N to 295 S, I tied my normal metro commute. I’m on track to save close to 20 hours of time this year. Admittedly, it helps knowing the back streets.

In addition to the time it will save me, especially given my irregular hours, it will certainly save me the frustration of having to actually ride WMATA. It’s a miserable experience if you have to ride it regularly, if you’ve never had the pleasure. It’s like the popular bar in a tourist-driven resort town. Its patrons are either regular drunks (commuters) or hawaiian shirt-wearing visitors (tourists) who just crowd the place. The bar is run by incompetents and managed by those who know the tourist and government gravy train isn’t getting shut off, so little changes.

But hey, at least it’s clean!

To avoid having to take WMATA on short trips, I registered for what I call BikeSocialism — or Capital BikeShare as it’s known around D.C. The RFID key they sent me looks like a Soviet flag.

Some of the money used to subsidize the BikeShare program was meant to “address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment.” That hasn’t worked out, according to a recent story by Reason magazine which reported that “95 percent of its regular patrons have college degrees, 53 percent have a Masters or Ph.D….”

I figure if my tax dollars are going to be used to subsidize a bike commune at below-market rates, I might as well do what I can to capture the subsidy — even if I am a college graduate.

Mind you, I have nothing wrong with bike sharing.  I just don’t think our tax dollars need to subsidize it and the lanes we dedicate take away from motor vehicles when the cyclists don’t pay the same taxes that auto drivers do to maintain the roads. Call me crazy.

I am just plain sick of riding WMATA. The fares are going up, the PIDs are never correct (if they’re working), and the experience is getting worse and worse. Going forward, my goal is to give as few dollars possible to WMATA as possible. I realize that this won’t make much of a dent in their balance sheets — not that they particularly care too much about those. I know that my tax dollars will continue to their coffers, but my discretionary/pre-tax transportation dollars? Not so much.bsig

Fairfax County Doesn’t Need Bikesharing

In today’s Washington Examiner, I noticed an article that said “bike sharing is on the horizon for Fairfax.” Oh no.

The 14th wealthiest county in the United States (which I live in) does not need a bikeshare program, and I say this as one of the poorer people in this county filled with government money.

Yet, our county government seems pretty bent on “wanting” bike sharing, I question whether we need bike sharing.

“The county definitely does want bike sharing,” said county spokeswoman Beth Francis. “We don’t have funding right now, but it’s definitely in the plans.”

I hope that, when we do have funding, there happens to be a lot of it lying around… because bikeshares lose money. Seriously, though, when the money is there, we should spend it on something marginally worthwhile, not subsidizing lunch bikes for rich people.

DCist, a very pro bikeshare blog, noted: “Regardless, even some cyclist advocates are doubtful that bike-sharing can work in such suburban outposts.”

Yeah, no shit. What, am I going to bike from Huntington to Reston? Why not put bike lanes on the FFX County Parkway? Even cyclist advocates are skeptical? Fairfax County doesn’t care! Fuck it, let’s do it anyway! It’ll be nice!

People are rightly skeptical that it would work in “the county” because bikeshare can’t even make money in Washington, D.C.! The Examiner quoted a bicycling enthusiast skeptic:

Bike Club Treasurer and Reston resident Ken Thompson member had more reservations.

“I can see it working well in a large metropolitan area, but I’m not sure how it would work here,” he said. “I think it’s too small.”

In U.S. News and World Report, this professor noted:

“I’m not aware of a bike sharing system that covers all of its costs simply from user membership dues and whatever fees you pay for a trip,” says John Pucher, professor at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

When asked for comment about why Capital Bikeshare wasn’t making money, D.C. Department of Transportation bikeshare project manager Josh Moskowitz said:

“It’s not our prerogative or priority to turn a profit. It’s to get people to ride bikes,”

Oh, great! Let’s get one of these for Fairfax ASAP. No program like it ever seems to break even, let alone make money, and those who run some of our regional programs don’t view that as a prerogative.

In short, even advocates admit it’s a money pit that just encourages people to ride bikes. Are you shitting me?

For full disclosure, I own two perfectly good bikes. Each cost me $100 or so at Walmart. I like biking, even though I hate cyclists who don’t follow the law.

A few thoughts:

1.) Is the goal to make the environment better? If so, bikeshares don’t seem to have a great record on that.

CEI’s Mark Scribner writes:

So if 90 percent of the 1 million trips made by Capital Bikeshare came from previous users of “green” transportation modes, why should we be so excited that the District Department of Transportation spent millions of dollars subsidizing bicycle use for mostly white-collar downtown office workers? Much of the initial Capital Bikeshare funding came from the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) grants. If the money was to be spent on “[auto] congestion mitigation” and “air quality improvement,” and assuming the [Montreal’s] BIXI mode-switching figures broadly hold in D.C., this was a clear misuse of federal funds. (Here’s FHWA’s CMAQ fact sheet.)

2.) Is it to help poor people get around? Bikeshares don’t fare too well in this department, either.

When DC started the program, it received $16 million in government support, including (as Reason magazine notes) $1 million to:

“address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment.”

Except that, according to Reason:

Capital Bikeshare’s latest user survey finds that 95 percent of its regular patrons have college degrees, 53 percent have a Masters or Ph.D., and 80 percent are white.

According to the American Community Survey, a full 52.3% of DC’s 25+ crowd have an associate’s degree or higher. In Fairfax County, that figure is 11% higher at 63.3%.

What reason(s) do I have to believe that Fairfax will have any lower use of this system by rich, educated people than Washington, D.C.? Great use of cash.

Hey, at least bikeshare bicycles make convenient getaway vehicles!

Bikeshares are a money pit, and Fairfax won’t see anywhere near the use that D.C. is seeing, and in D.C. it still isn’t breaking even. Plus, Fairfax lacks the interconnectivity that D.C. does, which means that a bikeshare program will likely fare even worse.

While I don’t support the following idea, it makes more sense than “investing” (read: losing money every year) in a bikeshare program.

So, I propose:

How about we get $1 million dollars and buy 10,000 bikes from Walmart and give them to the people we’d like to see biking (fat people, poor people without cars, etc.) — sure it’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars, but at least it isn’t a money pit.

Capital Bikeshare says it has about 1,500 bikes — so we’d have 6.666 times times that many bikes! For a fraction of the cost!

In conclusion, bikeshare for Fairfax County is absolutely stupid. I’d be happier if they spent a million dollars buying 10,000 bikes and giving the damn things away. Even though I don’t really support that idea, at least it would save money in the long run relative to a bikeshare program.