The other week I was up in D.C. for a thing at the Department of Transportation, and wanted, so badly, to use the city’s bike share system. I saw about a dozen stations as I walked from my car to the DOT—which was quite a walk because I’m a country mouse that rarely ventures into the big city and never really thinks about things like “Northern Virginia Traffic” or “Parking.”
I needed exactly two rides out of their bike share system: to my meeting and back to my car. The cost of a daily membership was $8, and while it would have allowed me infinity rides, all I needed was just the two. Lacking a single-ride fare, the bike share equivalent of a bus pass, I ended up walking. And it was fine. Annoying, but fine.
“Annoying, but fine.” is not how I’d want to describe Richmond’s bike share system to someone hoping to use it.
After my hours-long car ride home, I sent Jake Helmboldt—Richmond’s Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Trails Coordinator—an email asking if our (still-pending) bike share system would offer single-ride fares. And, it turns out, I should have already know that it totally will! City Council has already approved the fee structure which includes a $1.75 single-ride fare (PDF). Hurrah!
Having a single-ride fare unlocks the bike share for spontaneous trips—and this is what you want out of all your transit systems. Transit genius Jarrett Walker puts it this way in his book Human Transit:
In transit, the real test of freedom is spontaneity. Can I change my plans suddenly? Can I get home if I need to, or to my child’s school if something comes up? Can I simply move freely around my city, following whatever impulse I may feel at the moment? Some transit systems approach that level of convenience, at least in dense cities. In some of those same cities, you’ll find that your car is an encumbrance. If you’ve ever been stuck in traffic on a busy downtown street while pedestrians and cyclists flow past you and subway trains zoom beneath you, you know that sometimes your car can become your prison.
Folks aren’t going to plunk down $8 to avoid walking the mile from their office to the burrito place or walking from the bus stop to their destination. Such a high relative cost removes bike share from the transit toolbox of a lot of regular Richmonders who don’t use the system enough to buy a monthly or yearly membership. Gone are spontaneous trips and gone is that freedom. But with a fare close to cost of a bus pass, it’s totally doable. In fact, $1.75 is exactly the cost of a single-ride-plus-a-transfer bus pass. I imagine that’s intentional!
So, yeah, I’m thrilled about this.
While I had Jake on the digital line, I asked him about bike share launch dates, something that seems to keep slipping further into the future. At the moment, the city is now looking at a spring launch—a bummer for sure, but a bummer that makes sense. The middle of college football season, as temperatures drop, is a terrible time to launch a thing that’s success requires people to be outside.
Remember, too, that a second phase of bike share is coming (like, in a has-been-funded way), and this phase will have electric pedal-assist bikes. No longer will you need to arrive sweaty and gross to your top-of-a-hill meetings! Let the bicycle do the work for you! So this is the silver-lining situation that I will cling to over the next couple of months: When our bike share does launch, it will be a smoother, more linear rollout of the entire system rather than a distinct Phase I and Phase II separated by a cold and dreary winter. It’s something!
I know I keep zzzzing on about buses and bikes, but it’s exciting! All of these pieces are suddenly coming together at exactly the same time, and they’ll completely change how we get around the city. A lot of trips that were once only practical or possible by car will now be unlocked for folks who don’t own car, don’t want to deal with a car, or just happen to find themselves without a car. Transit freedom is on the horizon, y’all!
A note about D.C.’s bike share system and legibility
If you look at D.C. bike share page, you’ll see that there actually is a single-ride fare. It’s new and exists only because of the recent problems with their metro. Since it’s an impromptu thing, there’s no signage at any of the bike share stations I saw, so I had no idea that it was an option. This is a failure of what aforementioned transit genius Jarrett Walker describes as “legibility” of a transit system. Without legibility I can’t understand the system, and if I can’t understand the system I won’t use the system.