Bikes on bikes on bikes. (Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

A new survey suggests that an increasing number of Washington area residents are dumping their cars  and Metro and hopping on bikes to get to and from work.

The survey solidifies assertions that Capital Bikeshare is turning into an important piece of the region’s transit network.  Now on it’s fifth year, the system has more than 3,000 bicycles at 351 stations across the region, including the District and Alexandria, and Arlington and Montgomery counties.  In the last year alone, its membership has risen from 24,800 to 31,500.

But, in spite of the positive highlights in the 2014 Capital Bikeshare Member Survey, the poll reveals at least one disappointing trend:  Users of the popular program do not reflect the region’s racial and socio-economic diversity.

Bikeshare users tend to be are young, professional, and the vast majority of them are white. What’s more troubling in this latest set of data is that the percentage of white users has widened since the system started in 2010, an indication that the service has a long way to go in its efforts to attract minority riders.

About 85 percent of users are white; 5 percent of survey respondents identified themselves as Hispanic and 3 percent African American. In 2012, 80 percent of users were white.

84 percent of Capital Bikeshare members are white, according to new survey. Source: Capital Bikeshare (Luz Lazo/The Washington Post)
Source: Capital Bikeshare (Luz Lazo/The Washington Post)

The new survey also suggests that the gap between male and female users has widened, with more men  using the system than women.

Last year, 59 percent of members were male and 41 female. In the 2011 and 2012 surveys, 45 percent of respondents were female.

And users are more affluent. The percentage of Bikeshare riders who make more than $100,000 a year has increased up since the program launched. About half the members are in households that make $100,000 or more annually. In the 2011 survey, 39 percent of respondents were in that bracket and in 2012, that number was up to 45 percent.

Last year, 16 percent of members surveyed said they had annual incomes of less than $50,000 and 34 percent said they earned between $50,000 to $99,999. Bikeshare members had lower household incomes than the average in the Washington region which dominates the list of the most affluent places in the United States.


Source: Capital Bikeshare    Fifty percent of Capital Bikeshare users have household incomes of $100,000 or more.  (Luz Lazo/The Washington Post)

Other interesting facts from the survey:

  • Bikeshare members use the system more on weekdays than weekends, which explains why more also use it to commute to work, to school, or for personal errands and socializing.
  • A vast majority of users say they choose Bikeshare because it’s a faster or easier way to get to their destination.
  • Capital Bikeshare claims that on average each member saves $13.65 per week on transportation costs, collectively saving $19.6 million a year on personal travel costs and help reduce 4.4 million miles of driving annually from the region’s roads.

Nearly 75 percent of the respondents said they use Bikeshare to commute to or from work at least occasionally. About 36 percent of those members said they rode the bikes to or from work six or more times per month.

And data also suggests the program is helping take vehicles off the region’s roads. According to the survey, four in 10 Capital Bikeshare members didn’t have access to a car or other personal vehicle in 2014, and nearly one in 10 members said they had sold a vehicle since joining the program.  About a quarter of the members said they are driving less.

Those numbers mirror Census statistics that indicate that the D.C. area is experiencing a rise in the number of residents choosing to commute by bike. In the District, for example, 4.5 percent of D.C. working residents — about 15,000 people — commuted by bicycle in 2013. The number more than doubled in five years.

The racial composition of Capital Bikeshare’s membership, however, worries transportation officials and bike advocates.

Access and cost have been identified as possible deterrents to minority and low-income users. The bicycle stations, for example, tend to be in the densest parts of the region, close to Metro and city centers. This makes it challenging to attract low-income people who tend to live farther away from where they work and from the city’s core because housing is more affordable. Membership and rental fees also are out of reach of some potential members.