Capital Bikeshare, the Washington region’s bike-sharing system, quietly changed its pricing structure this month — and for the most part, it means riders are paying more.

The subsidized system raised rental prices for nonmembers on Oct. 1, dropping its 30-minute rides for $2 in exchange for a per-minute charge of 5 cents with a $1 unlocking fee. Now a 30-minute trip costs $2.50.

The price change was necessary to recoup more operational costs and to allow expansion and improvements of the 11-year-old system, officials said. A major driver of the change, however, was that the e-bike fleet added last year is more expensive to maintain.

The fee increase comes as bike use is on the rise in the Washington region, initially spurred by workers staying home during the pandemic, with employees now looking to alternate methods of travel as they return to offices. It follows Bikeshare’s plans for a major expansion — an investment of about $5 million in the next year — that will boost the e-bike fleet and add stations across the region.

Transportation and elected leaders are also promoting biking as an alternative to driving and part of a solution to address congestion and climate change.

With the change, the system brought its pricing structure more in line with those of private bike and scooter operators in the region. Those services have a $1 charge to unlock and fees between 30 and 40 cents per minute.

Some bike users and advocates say the fee increase is ill-timed, sending the wrong message to riders and possibly discouraging use, particularly as other transit agencies are eyeing lower fares.

Everett Lott, chief of the District Department of Transportation, which provides oversight of the Bikeshare contract, said the fee increase is justified and was made “to better match our operating costs.” Capital Bikeshare fares had not been changed in five years.

“The Capital Bikeshare is by far the least expensive public or private Bikeshare system serving a major city in the country,” Lott said in a statement.

Capital Bikeshare is available in the District, Alexandria and Falls Church, as well as Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. The bikes and stations are public property, and jurisdictions subsidize them, contracting with Lyft to manage and operate the system.

In addition to the cost of riding, the annual membership fee also rose this month from $85 to $95.

Under the new pricing system, users of the e-bike fleet pay more for most trips. Riding an e-bike for nonmembers costs 15 cents per minute, plus $1 to unlock, while members pay 10 cents per minute to ride with no unlocking fee. A 30-minute ride, for example, went from $3 to $5.50 for nonmembers and from $1 to $3 for members.

Users who return the e-bike outside a docking station now pay a $2 fee, up from $1.

“Costs are higher because e-bikes need to be recharged, and since they can be parked outside of stations, they require more time and effort to collect for servicing,” Aaron Goldbeck, who manages the Capital Bikeshare contract for D.C., said in a video DDOT posted to YouTube.

The new prices surprised some riders. The Bikeshare system made no public outreach, other than retweeting a link to the video that DDOT posted Aug. 27. Members received an email about the price changes on Sept. 17 with a subject line that some users said was misleading: “An update to your Bikeshare membership,” it read.

“They very much buried the lead. It does not say that it’s going to have any effect on the pricing until you actually scroll down through the email,” said Stephen Murray, an annual member of the system. Murray, who uses Bikeshare to commute, said the price increases are poorly timed, as the system has been plagued by problems amid the pandemic, such as empty stations or out-of-service bikes.

Bikeshare officials said they are planning to replace or upgrade aging infrastructure. Some older bikes are reaching their life span of nine to 12 years. In the District, where the system was introduced, a plan calls for refurbishing kiosks and docks.

Plans call for even larger investments in the coming years. The District will lead the way with a $19 million, six-year plan to add 80 stations and more than double the existing number of electric bicycles. With 330 stations, D.C. has the largest share of stations and bikes in the system.

Tung Nguyen, a Northeast D.C. resident who is a Bikeshare member, said he will avoid using an e-bike because of the price increase.

“While classic bike rides remain free for members, the future of biking in DC relies on an increase in availability and accessibility of the e-bike fleet,” he wrote in an email to DDOT. “The new fee structure will only increase the barrier to ebike for existing and potential members.”

For some riders, the new payment system could result in a cost savings. For example, a trip on a classic bike that lasts no more than 20 minutes would cost the same or less. A 30-day pass dropped from $28 to $20. Members also get 45-minute rides without incurring other fees, up from 30 minutes in the earlier pricing system.

Colin Browne, a spokesman for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said the group has concerns about the system continuing to be an affordable and viable option.

“Bikeshare should be free or extremely cheap,” he said. “It’s an important part of our transit network, and if we’re trying to encourage people to use it, that’s a great way to do it.”

In Washington, many riders who held annual memberships quit during the pandemic. Bikeshare went from 30,090 members in June 2019 to 23,551 in mid-June this year, although that number has recovered to nearly 26,000. But while membership was declining, casual trips increased, officials said.

The system had no public hearings about the fare changes, diverting from common practice to give the public a chance to comment. Officials said they opted instead for a video posted to social media because of the pandemic.

DDOT tweeted a link to the six-minute video about the changes and said, “For the first time since 2016, @bikeshare is updating its prices for membership, user fees, and e-bikes. Changes will go into effect on October 1, 2021.”

The system, which operates with a board composed of members from each jurisdiction, did not advertise the changes on social media before new fares went into effect. The Capital Bikeshare board of directors agreed to the price change this past spring, with a final approval last month, according to DDOT.

Officials said that recent costly additions and upgrades to the system have increased operating costs. The board determined “a modest increase” would help modernize the system and improve service while keeping costs below those in Chicago, New York and San Francisco.

“Capital Bikeshare’s recent fare change is its first in over six years,” according to a statement from Arlington County. “Arlington supported the change because it helps address new costs for offering e-bikes while simplifying CaBi’s fare structure and aligning it with micromobility services.”