Capital Bikeshare Nearly Operationally Profitable

A recent US News and World Report article explored the economics of bike sharing — noting that cities weren’t profiting from their new systems.

Since its launch, Washington D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare has recovered 97 percent of its operating costs through user fees. Photo: ##http://www.bikearlington.com/pages/bikesharing/## Bike Arlington##

That is hardly news. Few cities expected the popular form of public transportation infrastructure to be a cash cow.

More remarkable is the news that Washington, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare, the country’s premier system, is nearly operationally profitable, according to the U.S. News story:

Since its start in September 2010, Capital Bikeshare has taken in $2.47 million and spent $2.54 million on operating expenses. And that doesn’t even include the expensive things, like docking stations—which can cost well over $50,000 each—plus the bikes themselves. Those capital costs, at $7 million thus far, are covered by federal funds.

Roads, transit, sidewalks — no one is going around asking why they aren’t profitable in their first year and a half. No one expects that.

From a purely financial standpoint, bike-sharing in Washington is a much better value, as Streetsblog Network blog Systemic Failure points out:

That is an astounding 97% “farebox” recovery. To put in perspective, the average rail system in the US is lucky to earn back more than 50%. The typical bus service gets back less than 20%.

And then there is the capital cost — a whopping $7 million. By comparison, a single 70-seat BART railcar will cost over $5 million.

There are dozens of reasons why bike-sharing is sweeping the country. The fact that they are cheap to build and operate, compared with the alternatives, is just icing on the cake.

  • Not only are they cheap to build and operate – they also create an inborn group of people who advocate for better bike facilities, which means better streets, which means more walking, which means less driving, all of which mean better cities.

  • Mo

    Consider too that CB has changed the city irreversibly — now there are bikers of every sort on the streets, not just subscribers. A lot of the benefits are likely indirect — fewer cars on streets, more people exercising, friendlier and more engaging street life. Plus it is nice for once that DC is like any other major capitol in the world, rather than lightyears behind them. 

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