NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Quantifying Capital Bikeshare's Supposed "Success"

October 5, 2011

Two weeks ago, Washington, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare program celebrated its millionth trip and one-year anniversary.  U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood celebrated the milestone with a blog post, calling the government-subsidized bicycle system "remarkable."  However, when the figures of this policy are broken down and analyzed, the remarkableness of this initiative becomes thoroughly less compelling, hinting more toward government waste than a transportation revolution, says Marc Scribner, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

  • According to the most recent National Household Travel Survey (2009), Washington, D.C., residents made only 11.5 million trips annually via bicycle, accounting for only 1.6 percent of the total.
  • The data from January 2011 to July 2011 produced by Capital Bikeshare states that each bike averaged 3.35 trips per in-service bike per day in the city, or 1 million trips annually.
  • Allowing for several other fair assumptions over the time period from 2009 to present, this data aggregately means that Capital Bikeshare claims a mere 0.14 percent of all trips made in the city.

In addition to low participation, the program does not address the public problems for which it was created.  As much of the initial funding came from the Federal Highway Administration's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, it can be assumed that emission reduction and lessened traffic congestion were the primary goals of the program.  However, the results of a similar initiative in Montreal suggest strongly that Bikeshares will achieve neither of these objectives.

  • In that program, which resulted in 17,000 daily bicycle trips, only about 340 and 1,360 replaced auto and taxi trips, respectively.
  • Assuming that these proportions hold roughly for Washington, D.C., it means that 90 percent of commuter trips replaced by Bikeshares were already "green" and non-contributors to traffic congestion.
  • Therefore, not only is there a lack of participation in this program, but it also accomplishes little by way of addressing auto emissions or traffic in the city.

The fact that each of Bikeshare's bikes necessitates $2,000 in annual operating costs pushes this program over the edge of government waste, says Scribner.

Source: Marc Scribner, "Quantifying Capital Bikeshare's Supposed 'Success,'", September 27, 2011.

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