By Nick Olivier
I rode the San Antonio B-Cycle system a few months ago. This past weekend I tried out Capital Bikeshare in Washington D.C. Here are my thoughts from my D.C. experience and how it compared with S.A.
First off, D.C. is experiencing a historic heat wave at the moment, which made sight-seeing almost unbearable at times. Nevertheless, I was determined to see the monuments. Traveling by bike made the trips between monuments quicker and slightly cooler. But there are only a few stations located in close proximity to the Mall and monuments, which was frustrating. Perhaps this was a conscious decision by the organizers of Capital Bikeshare because stations were much more plentiful in the non-touristy areas.
Comparison: San Antonio’s tourist attractions were more easily accessible by bikeshare. Stations were located very close to the Alamo, Riverwalk, and major downtown hotspots for dining and nightlife. It might be that San Antonio decided to design its system more for tourists whereas D.C. was hoping to cater to its many young professionals. That said, I was joined by hundreds of other people braving the heat to use the public bikes in D.C.
The Capital Bikeshare bikes themselves were a joy to ride. The docking stations were not as much fun to interact with. If I had to nitpick the bikes, I would point out the chintzy bell and the lack of an enclosed basket to hold souvenirs and water bottles. The stations kiosks required a cumbersome series of questions on a small screen that was hard to read in the sunlight. Printing out a new code to check out each new bike was annoying.
Comparison: The San Antonio B-Cycle bikes are slightly heavier and more difficult to maneuver, but they do have a nice size basket in front. The kiosks are easier to use because no codes are required, which makes for a simple, quick, paperless process.
I ended up spending $14 for one day of riding in D.C. In my opinion, it was money well spent and far cheaper than any other bike rental/tour offered in the Capital. It cost $7 for the 24-hour pass. The first 30 minutes of riding are free, the next 30 minutes cost $1.50 and each 30 minutes after that cost more and more. I accrued $7 in usage fees, which was attributed to not being able to find stations near the monuments. I used the handy mobile application to locate stations and I still had issues. Tourists less familiar with the bikeshare concept could end up spending lots more money and time looking for stations. Also, checking out a bike required a $101 hold on my credit card, which could scare other potential users.
Comparison: I spent $10 up front to rent the bike in San Antonio, but stations were easy to find and I never ended up paying for usage fees. All my trips were under 30 minutes in length. I don’t remember any hold on my credit card.
In the end, I highly recommend using both systems. They each have their strengths and weaknesses. It’s tougher for a city the size of D.C. to place a station at every corner. San Antonio’s compact downtown is far easier to traverse by bike. Both cities are lacking in the bike lane department. But they also benefit from wide sidewalks and slow downtown car traffic, making both road and sidewalks appealing options for bikes.
Have you tried bike sharing in either of these cities? What’d you think?
Click HERE to view more photos from my DC adventure, as well as a June Tour de Fort Worth bike ride.