Wheels Turn, but Not Profits
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 27, 2012 02:04
Though Capital Bikeshare failed to turn a profit last year, the deficit is unlikely to affect the service’s ability to operate.
Since its launch in September 2010, Capital Bikeshare has lost about $7 million on operating costs.
According to an article in The Chicago Tribune, bike-sharing programs across the country are unprofitable largely because they have to foot the bill for the redistribution of bicycles from areas of high to low traffic. Docking stations and bicycles are funded by the federal government.
But David Cranor, a chief blogger on WashCycle, a self-proclaimed “cycling advocacy” blog based in D.C., argued that profitability is not the point of bike-share programs.
“Bikeshare could turn a profit by raising their prices a little or providing less service,” he said. “But that isn’t the goal. It’s run by the transportation departments and the goal is to transport people. … It’s a government-run entity and so the goal is not to raise money. No more so than libraries or police departments.”
John Lisle, a spokesman for the District Department of Transportation, agreed.
“Transit systems typically are subsidized for riders,” he said. “What people pay for on Metro, bus or train rides [does] not cover … the cost of providing that ride. We should look at Bikeshare the same way, as just another means of public transportation.”
Cranor added that bike-share programs bring other benefits in addition to being an alternative means of transportation.
“There are people using Capital Bikeshare who haven’t been on a bike in years. Studies show that people report using [public] transit more after using Capital Bikeshare than before. All of this brings less pollution, less congestion, greater mobility [and] health benefits,” Cranor said. “In addition, it positions D.C. as a city on the cutting edge.”
Lisle said that while he considers Bikeshare’s revenues to be sound, he hopes the operation will someday break even.
“If you look at our operating expenses, we’re actually doing really well in terms of the revenue. The system is very successful and we’re very satisfied with the revenue it’s bringing,” he said. “Obviously, we’d like the system to pay for itself, and we’re hopeful that that will happen.”