Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bad News for DC SmartBikers

Image courtesy of SmartBikeDC.

As a subscriber to DC's first-in-the-nation bike sharing program, SmartBike, I was delighted by the news that came out recently regarding a planned expansion for the system. The phrases coming out of DDOT--"hundreds of more bikes" "90 more kiosks" "expansion into Virginia and Maryland"--gave reassurance that the District was committed to not only preserving but expanding the system, which is in wide use in European cities such as Paris, but was launched here only on a trial basis.

Sure, the bikes are fugly, and no they don't ride very well...but for my morning commute from Logan to Penn Quarter, a bike has proven to be the fastest way from Point A to Point B. So the anticipated expansion by the end of the summer was certainly welcome news.

Courtesy of Georgetown Metropolitan, we learn that the expansion appears to be on indefinite hiatus following SmartBike operator ClearChannel's balking at operating an additional 90 kiosks. As part of their agreement to operate the program, ClearChannel received a monopoly on advertising at all District bus shelters. Since they've already gotten that, there really isn't much of a carrot left for the District to dangle in front of them in order to get them to bite on a 900% expansion of the program.

In addition, as is pointed out on Metropolitan, part of DDOT's planned expansion of the program involves opening kiosks in northern Virginia--and since bus shelter advertisements are banned in VA, ClearChannel has a less-than-zero interest in pursuing that.

The alternative at this point would be to remove ClearChannel as operator of the program and bring in someone else committed to its growth in the region. From the perspective of someone who thinks that SmartBike is a fabulous program, this is the most palatable solution. But it won't happen tomorrow, and in fact would likely take quite some time to work out such an arrangement.

So the end result is that SmartBike probably isn't going to be expanding anytime soon. Which is too bad. With the District's clogged roads, Metro's recent troubles, and a ridiculously low annual fee, SmartBike seemed poised to become an increasingly viable transportation option for those in and around the District. Guess we'll just have to wait awhile before we become a velo-clogged metropolis a la Paris.


myper said...

Im getting mixed news on this one. I spoke to the driver of one of the Smartbike vans after I dropped off my smartbike the other day. The driver said that Clear Channel is all on board for the expansion, but it's DDOT that is the hold-up; apparently they want Federal money to subsidize the expansion. I recommend contacting either Clear Channel or Smartbikes or DDOT to get the real scoop. That Georgetown blog only references a "grapevine" as his source. Let's get some facts!

Mr. Other Upper NW said...

Fair enough. A fact-huntin' we shall go...

Anonymous said...

I've also heard myper's comment from an employee within DDOT. This would not surprise me one bit. The DC government holding something up for no reason. sheesh.

gwadzilla said...


glad to hear it is part of your day to day!

the bikes are certainly no race machine
but they are sturdy and fun to ride!