Several people seem to have picked up the story line that SmartBike was a failure and that is why DC had to restart with Capital Bikeshare. Though I've only posted the one link here, I know that I've seen and heard that mentioned elsewhere - and certainly that's the gist of this post. And I just want to push back on that a bit.
Chirs Holben was interviewed about CaBi and said:
CaBi is the expansion of the Smartbike DC program. Started 2 years ago, Smartbike was very successful except for its limited size.
And I have to say that I agree. SmartBike was a success.
What those who claim it failed never seem to state is what goals it failed to achieve. I couldn't find any statement about the goals when the contract was signed (it was barely covered by the media), but I do know it was pitched as a pilot program or a demonstration project.
The idea was that ClearChannel would opearte a small, privately-funded bike sharing system that was to serve as a free test-bed for bike sharing, and thus a jumping off point for an expanded government-assisted program. In this sense it was an absolute success, since that is what it did (as well as providing something like 70,000 total trips). All without costing DC anything.
I doubt we'd have CaBi right now if it weren't for SmartBike. I have to wonder if Arlington would have so actively pursued bike sharing had they not seen it in action across the river. So SmartBike led, I think I can argue, to the creation of CaBi. All the hand-wringing (and I may have been a part of that) about how "if the system is too small, no one will use it and it will discredit bike sharing" turned out to be not true. In fact, I don't know if there is an example of that anywhere in the world, and DC's bike sharing system was not uniquely small.
Because of SmartBike, DDOT has the most experienced bike-sharing staff of any DOT in the US. CaBi hired the manager of SmartBike - who is the most experience bike share system manager in the US. When CaBi started, it didn't have to explain what bike sharing was, because people in DC already knew, and many had used it before. When Arlington went shopping for a bike sharing system, they could look at SmartBike, and all of its flaws, and learn what they were looking for. And when DDOT went looking for a replacement to SmartBike they could do the same, which is why they knew that joining with Arlington was a smart play.
When DDOT signed the contract for SmartBike over five years ago, Bixi didn't even exist. Then Arlington went shopping and decided they wanted something better. It was like they went phone shopping after the iPhone came out and so, decided not to buy a Motorola Razor. DDOT could have chosen to expand SmartBike, which had some serious flaws and would not be compatible with Arlington's program; but I think everyone agrees that that would have been stupid. That does not make SmartBike, the program, a failure. It does mean that ClearChannel failed to create a technology that was robust enough to update easily and so they lost a customer.
But SmartBike acheived it's goals, and that makes it a success. It's just that CaBi is more of a success.
“It’s really proven useful, especially since there is a station right outside of campus,” says Anderson, who lives in McLean Gardens. “Now, instead of waiting for the bus in the morning, I just grab a bike on Wisconsin Ave. and just roll down to the main campus. It’s a win-win – I’m being green, getting a little exercise and lowering the stress of my morning commute.”