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I wholeheartedly agree with your premise, but will be "that guy" and nitpick a couple of details...

You characterize Smartbike as "free", stood up "without costing DC anything". Clear Channel operated on a concession arrangement, where they got prime ad space at bus shelters. While there was no cash outlay (that I know of), the government did provide something that had real value, that in an open sale could have resulted in revenue to DC, in return for the system. 'Concession' does not mean 'free', it just means 'cashflow friendly', and we need to be cautious of the distinction as we hear about things like private HOT lanes and NPS tourbusses and VA liquor store sell-offs.

Also, you state that "ClearChannel would operate 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." This reads to me like from the start, DDOT intended by design to keep Smartbike limited. While DDOT adjusted mid-course to this strategy, my impression was that at the outset, DDOT intended to pursue expansion of Smartbike into a fuller system like CaBi, using both expanded concession agreements and public/private funding. For a variety of valid reasons, they adjusted their strategy, great that they did, and it shouldn't take away from the formative role played by Smartbike.

Darren, I thought about your first point. But I just don't know how much DC could have gotten had they asked for some other concession. As I understood it, the bike sharing was a last minute tack on because Dan Tangherlini found out they were eager to introduce the system to America. But that is just a rumor. So, DC might have been able to get something else, but I'm not sure they were planning to ask.

On the second point, I did not mean to say that DDOT planned to keep SmartBike limited. Only that, they planned it introduce a limited system. I think they always planned to expand it if it seemed to work.

The system also had effects in promoting bicycle culture. I purchased my first bicycle in DC as a direct result of the introduction of smartbike- I concluded it would be better financially (for me anyway) to buy my own bike rather than rent.

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