Rebalancing Act

We get a whole lot of questions every week asking “what the heck’s up with empty/full stations?!” Frankly, this makes us very sad and a little mopey, but we feel your frustration and try to answer you as best and as promptly as we can. For those of you who send us these questions or are thinking about doing so, we’re going to try to paint the full picture of the challenges we face daily in keeping all stations adequately balanced to serve your needs and what we are doing to improve that service.

In spite of the fact we rebalanced over 300,000 bikes last year, and rebalancing teams are on the road 20 hours a day, you may still find yourself at either a full or an empty station. We aren’t happy about this and we’re sure you’re not either. But before making any suggestions about how to handle these situations, we’d like to share with you some background about the challenges we face.

  1) Peak times for usage cause stations in some areas to empty out while others fill up. This happens typically during rush hours in which outlying stations empty out as people commute to work in the downtown area. As a result, just as you are unlikely to get a seat on a Metro train going in certain direction during the morning and evening commutes, you may find it difficult to find a bike during those times. Make sense?

  2) Rebalancing the system is a delicate process replete with its own challenges. Do you find it difficult to get through traffic in a timely manner in a car during rush hour? So do our rebalancing teams, who have to navigate that same traffic as everyone, making it difficult to reach the stations that need our attention most. We’ve tried towing bikes on bike trailers; however, since we can only tow a couple at a time, it’s simply not efficient. At this time, vans are still the best way to move the bikes around town.

So now you know. What next? Well for us, we’re continually revising the way we go about rebalancing.  Over time, we’ve increased the number of vehicles servicing our stations, and expanded their hours of operation.  Using a variety of software programs, we track usage in real time and have a dispatcher that can direct rebalancing staff to the stations that need attention.  We’ve also added more station technicians to focus on technical problems in order to free rebalancers up to move bikes.  In addition, we are installing more stations each month to keep up with the always-growing demand for more, as well as adding staff members and vans as the system continues to expand. And we are still working hard to come up with more solutions to better use the data generated by the system, and to adjust how we set up stations for the morning and evening rush hours.

What can you do to avoid the pitfalls of empty/full stations, you ask? We’ve got five tips for you.

  1) Know what to do when these situations arise. When you arrive at a station and find that there are either no docks to park your bike, you’ll get an extra 15 minutes free use to return the bike to a station with an available dock. Simply go to the kiosk at the full station and enter your Capital Bikeshare member number printed on the back of your key (if you’re an annual, monthly or daily key member) or insert your credit card (for 24-hour or 3-day members) to add the free time to your usage. You may also check the real-time status of nearby stations to find an available bike dock using the touch screen on the kiosk. If you have any problems, please call to speak with a customer service representative at 1-877-430-BIKE (2453).

  2) Know before you go. Apps, like Spotcycle, showing real-time information about the number of bikes at each station are also available to show you alternative stations that do have bikes.

  3) Have a voice in the direction of Capital Bikeshare expansion. Please add your suggestions to our crowd sourcing map. We use this to make decisions about where stations are needed most, and ultimately, this is going to be the best way to make finding a bike when you need it much easier.

  4) This next idea is so crazy, it just might work! As much as we hate to suggest it, for some people who use Capital Bikeshare frequently and for regular roundtrips, such as commuting from popular origin stations to popular destination stations, it might make sense at a certain point to just get your own bike. Done. Problem solved. And of course, you can continue to use Capital Bikeshare for all your other trips!

  5) For others who opt to stick with Capital Bikeshare, we suggest two things. First, educate yourself on all of the public transit options that are near your favorite bike stations and take a multimodal approach. Know where the closest Metrorail stations are, as well as the nearest Metrobus, Circulator and ART bus routes and stops. Capital Bikeshare may be your preferred mode of transportation (and we want it to be!), but be prepared to use other options in the event that you cannot find a bike. Secondly, if your schedule allows for any flexibility, consider switching up the times you use Capital Bikeshare. Pick up a bike earlier perhaps to beat the rush hour.

Again, we understand the frustration you may feel during those times when Capital Bikeshare doesn’t work out the way you had planned. We feel it too. At a minimum, it is our sincere hope that this bit of communication with you puts your mind at ease that we are working overtime (20 hours a day! Really.) to give you the best service possible. Please continue to contact us with questions, concerns or suggestions on how we can improve. We’re all ears!