Late last week, a nice piece of Capital Bikeshare news dribbled out on DCist, stating in part:
..the program mailed 35,000 residents in wards 7 and 8 a $25 discount to the program. Josh Moskowitz, Bikeshare Program Manager with the D.C. Department of Transportation, explained: “For people to be able to see community leaders biking for work, biking for recreation, it’s great…it’s also great to have the infrastructure, and the infrastructure are those Capital Bikeshare stations and because we are a government transit program, we really want to make sure as many residents of the city can use the service as possible,” he said.
Now, I won’t declare that the folks at Capital Bikeshare got their inspiration from a group of knuckleheaded grad students, but (#humblebrag) I was part of a group that delivered to Capital Bikeshare a 2-part report on an intercept survey of casual users (the part that made the news), and a compilation of best practices and recommendations for operations (I think WashCycle was the only one to read this section). Anyway, I have posted an exec summary and a link to the full report. The relevant bit, from p. 28 of the report:
CaBi should concentrate and incentivize membership sales and marketing to under-served and counter-peak station areas. For-profit systems, and those that have an integrated marketing and operations organization, have the organizational incentive to pursue customers in areas where the system is operating short of peak capacity. CaBi, with its separate marketing and operations organizations, can embrace a program priority on directing sales attention on low-ridership regions. Continuing with general system promotion and awareness marketing only exacerbates operational problems in peak areas/times, while not developing low-ridership areas.
Emboldened by the correlation (if not causation) between advice and action, I figured that I would highlight another fun (possibly even good) idea from that report. The primary purpose, just like targeting residents of underused areas of the system, is to find a way to boost ridership with the existing bikeshare asset base, without worsening the existing strain on service at peak times.
Weekend-only fobs – One suggestion was to offer a membership that restricted ridership to off-peak times, such as weekends. Our surveys were collected on weekends, and 34% of our respondents were “local.” We felt that a membership fob option that allowed unlimited weekend rides, with perhaps a fixed checkout fee ($1?) to use the fob for weekday trips, could provide another option for local users to maximize non-peak ridership.
To be sure, there would be a tradeoff in lost revenue from the lucrative 1-day passes for the additional ridership encouraged by all-you-can-ride weekend memberships. With approximately 100,000 24 hour memberships sold in the past year at $7 each, over $230K in annual revenue would be put in doubt by the offering of a weekend-only membership, assuming approximately 1/3rd of all 24 hour members are local. This doesn’t even consider the higher-than-average trip lengths, resulting in usage fees, taken by 24-hour members (looks like CaBi can afford it, though).
But there would also be customer service benefits from diverting many casual users from having to interact with the kiosk. One observation by survey collectors from the intercept survey that is at odds with survey responses was their experience with the kiosks. While people reported an OK experience figuring out the kiosk (77% “easy” or “somewhat easy”), we observed a fair bit of confusion, slow processing, some queueing, and a lot of time consumed with having to navigate the screen processes.
And total ridership does dip on the weekends. Incentivizing locals to maximize weekend use of the bikes could grow ridership in a way that does not stress the system at peak times, and with a fee-for-peak ride, at worst yields some additional revenue for taking rides at the most disruptive times. If service outages (full/empty docks) continue in peak commuting hours, perhaps a variant of this pricing model should be considered for all memberships going forward?
Back to issues of system marketing. In general (and this is my own personal opinion, not necessarily reflective of the Virginia Tech group), there are a lot of challenges to a program structure like CaBi’s (two main overseers, separate contractors for operations and marketing, a subcontractor to the operator for customer service and IT). The mantra of integrated marketing strategy is, “Marketing isn’t a department, it’s a requirement.” It must be challenging for the two jurisdictions (with more on the way) to coordinate a multi-party enterprise to push together on an integrated marketing strategy. There are so many separate parties primarily responsible for discrete areas of the program, and incentivized to do those discrete jobs as well as they are able. It is good to see some of the sales tactics beginning to shift in a way that not only optimizes operations, but has returns to equity. I have MUCH more to say on the latter subject in the near future (it’s my thesis topic!).