Staff Editorial: Dockless bike-sharing could ease use of crowded city program

The Capital Bikeshare system relies on docks where cyclists begin and end their rentals. (Brian Kapur/The Current/December 2015)

Every day, thousands of D.C. residents and visitors hop on a distinctive red Capital Bikeshare bicycle. They travel to one of the 440 bike docks that are scattered around the District and many of its suburbs, rent a bicycle and then return it at any other bike-share station.

The system has proved effective and, especially in central areas of the city, highly popular. So popular, in fact, that once you’ve pedaled your bicycle downtown, you may have trouble finding an available docking space to return it.

Furthermore, Capital Bikeshare stations are hard to come by in outer areas such as upper Northwest. That paucity limits both the number of residents with a station near their home and also the list of local destinations served by the bike-sharing system.

That’s why we’re intrigued by the D.C. Department of Transportation’s plan to pilot “dockless” bike sharing. This system — widely used in China and also recently launched in Seattle — lets a cyclist end a rental anywhere, simply by locking the bike. It then waits in place for the next renter to come along.

The Transportation Department intends to involve different vendors of this technology in a pilot program, which will begin Sept. 20 and run through April 2018. The trial period should help iron out essential issues with this type of service. We’re particularly concerned that some riders might leave their bikes blocking sidewalks, alleys, streets or doorways. And given the number of tourists using Capital Bikeshare, rules must be clear and concise for first-time users.

We look forward to the results of the pilot program and hope the issues can be resolved satisfactorily, allowing the District to reap the many potential benefits of dockless bike-sharing.