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When buying new wasn’t an option, Capital Bikeshare got used bikes

Bikes on bikes on bikes. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)
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Happy early birthday, Capital Bikeshare!

And sorry that 2014 hasn’t been the easiest of years.

But there is some good news as the region’s bike sharing program prepares to turn 4 on Sept. 20. Although growth hasn’t come without problems, Capital Bikeshare has had a record-breaking summer and just this month marked its 8 millionth trip.

D.C. transportation officials also announced this week that Capital Bikeshare managed to buy more than two dozen docking stations this summer. That might not seem like a lot for a program that has grown exponentially, but this summer’s purchase was the first in nearly a year. New purchases have been on hold since Capital Bikeshare’s main bike manufacturer filed for bankruptcy protection in January.

To get more bikes into the system this year Capital Bikeshare had to get creative: It purchased 25 used stations (and 250 bikes) from the city of Ottawa, which uses the same equipment.

Some of those stations are now in the process of being installed in neighborhoods across the region, D.C. transportation planner Jim Sebastian said. The equipment will allow Capital Bikeshare to do a small expansion this year while Alta Bicycle Share, the company that operates the program, settles on a new manufacturer, he said.

The bankruptcy filing of the Montreal-based Public Bike System Co. early in the year put a stop to orders of new equipment, and also put on hold plans for expansion into Prince George’s County. Earlier this summer when new riders tried to join the program, they found that Capital Bikeshare had run out of membership keys, and they had to wait until new keys arrived about a month later.

There is still some uncertainty about the supply of new equipment moving forward, officials said. Besides the PBSC bankruptcy, the two companies that worked together on the hardware and software of the system have ended their partnership. Now, Alta is working to select a new vendor. But officials said they continue to plan for a larger expansion of the program and expect the issues with the vendor will be resolved by the beginning of the next bike season.

“We like to view these setbacks as small bumps in bringing forth a mode of transportation that is just coming into its own,” the D.C. Department of Transportation said in a blog post this week.

The 25 stations from Ottawa are likely to be the only expansion to the network at least through next spring, Sebastian said. And the number is much lower than what the region was planning for 2014.

The District, for example, had ordered 40 new stations and 400 new bicycles back in February, but that order was put on hold. Alexandria waited months to get eight stations it had ordered a year ago. The city got them installed last month, but plans to order up to 16 more stations this summer are on hold.

Capital Bikeshare is expected to test a new, enhanced bikeshare station in the near future, and the District hopes to have more stations (at least 40) by spring 2015, and continue to expand outside the downtown core into more neighborhoods.

For now, the District said the purchase from Ottawa will enable it to put 10 more stations downtown and in neighborhoods across the city before the end of 2014. The city also recently installed three new stations and added docks to several downtown stations to increase supply in areas with high demand. Arlington, Montgomery and Alexandria also added new stations this summer.

Sebastian said the high demand for more equipment is why the region couldn’t pass on the opportunity to get the used equipment from Canada.

More than 1 million rides have been taken since June, making this “a record-breaking year of ridership,” according to DDOT.

So as Capital Bikeshare turns 4 next week, there will be a reason to celebrate.

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