The army behind Capital Bikeshare’s rebalancing

August 2, 2013
Erik Wright ,25, loads bikes onto his van from the 1st & K Street SE station.
Erik Wright loads bikes onto his van from the First and K Street SE station. (Nicole Chavez/The Washington Post)

Erik Wright’s new job is making him a popular man in the District. The 25-year-old from Northeast Washington is one of Capital Bikeshare’s growing army of rebalancers.

In his job moving bikes among the 200 stations, Wright is often met with “thank yous,” friendly smiles and sometimes hugs.

“People are really thankful when they see me coming with the bikes,” he said. “They say, ‘Thank you,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘thank you.’ ”

Rebalancers drive vans that can fit 20 to 25 bikes, loading and unloading them into the racks.

Rebalancing also spurs stiff competition among the 27 employees hired for the job, up from four at the program’s onset. The average rebalancer moves 70 to 80 bikes a day, but the most competitive ones move as many as 150 bikes — a difficult feat, according to Wright.

In addition to the stress of competition, dealing with frustrated bikers and D.C.’s sometimes extreme weather conditions, rebalancing is also a fight against the clock. Once a station is full or empty, the rebalancers have 120 minutes to restore harmony.

Even with the growing number of rebalancers, who constitute one of the program’s most expensive operating costs, Capital Bikeshare is still experiencing growing pains as stations and bike trips have both doubled.

All the frustration from full or empty racks led Capital Bikeshare to advocate a less conventional option for the program — buying a bike instead of paying to use theirs.

“As much as we hate to suggest it, for some people who use Capital Bikeshare frequently and for regular round trips, such as commuting from popular origin stations to popular destination stations, it might make sense at a certain point to just get your own bike,” the program wrote in a recent blog post. “Done. Problem solved.”

More on Capital Bikeshare’s growing pains in this story and the graphic below:

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Lori Aratani | August 2, 2013