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D.C. to offer free Capital Bikeshare rides as reduced Metro service continues

Capital Bikeshare racks at 12th Street and Independence Avenue NW in Washington. (James A. Parcell/for The Washington Post)
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The news that the Metrorail system in the nation’s capital will continue to operate at reduced levels this week prompted the District to offer a transit perk to city residents: free bike rides.

Starting Monday, all D.C. residents can get a free 30-day Capital Bikeshare membership, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced. Bowser said the offer should give residents another option to get around as the region navigates the ongoing Metro crisis.

The transit agency said last week that it expects to continue operating with reduced service levels at least until Oct. 31, creating crowded conditions, and for a second week in a row, leaving many commuters in search of other ways to travel. Trains will be operating every 15 to 20 minutes on the Red Line and every 30 to 40 minutes on other lines.

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The service reductions come after the transit agency pulled 60 percent of its rail cars from service because of problems with wheel assemblies implicated in a Blue Line derailment this month.

The reduced rail service has caused disruption and anxiety in the region. Metro riders and elected officials, including Bowser, have expressed frustration over what the investigation could mean for the transit agency’s future and a lack of information about when service levels might be back to normal.

“We encourage [Metro] leadership to clearly articulate their steps and timeline to fully restore Metrorail service,” Bowser said in a statement Friday, calling the service disruptions “deeply troubling” for the city and the region. She said the city needs a fully functioning transit system for workers, children and visitors.

The mayor said D.C. residents should take advantage of the free one-month membership. To participate, users can go to the Capital Bikeshare or Lyft apps and select a 30-day membership for $0 on the “Ride Plans” section.

Five hours after the free membership became available, more than 900 people had signed up, Bowser said at a news conference.

“People who want to use the bikes should use the bikes and they will have a few extra dollars in their pocket," she said. "Some people haven’t tried the bikes and maybe they will try the bikes because they are free.”

Capital Bikeshare is available in the District, Alexandria and Falls Church, as well as in 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.

Bike use is on the rise in the Washington region, initially spurred by workers staying home during the pandemic. With employees looking to alternate methods of travel as they return to offices, officials have been touting Capital Bikeshare, the region’s public bike-share system, as an option.

Bicycles have been widely used as an alternative during other Metro meltdowns. In 2016 when the rail system had a one-day emergency shutdown, many commuters took to bicycling. More than twice as many bicyclists and pedestrians as normal crossed the Key Bridge between Rosslyn and Georgetown that day.

For some residents it may be a good option to avoid delays and other changes, city leaders say. The service cuts have created some of the most crowded Metro conditions since the start of the pandemic.

With the membership, users can take 45-minute rides free on the distinctive red bicycles. Additional minutes cost 5 cents per minute. Members can also use the electric bikes at a discounted price of 10 cents per minute, which applies to the entire trip.

Bowser said free bike rides aren’t a solution to having more than half of Metro’s railcars out of service, but she said the city is trying to do even “the little things” to ease the burden and inconvenience riders are experiencing. She said she expected to talk to Metro leaders Monday to get an update on how their rail car inspections are proceeding.

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No one was injured in the Oct. 12 derailment, which prompted the evacuation of 187 passengers outside the Arlington Cemetery station. Metro pulled all 748 7000-series cars out of commission Oct. 17.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation of the derailment, said last week that wheels on a car that came off the tracks had shifted outward on their axle. The board is continuing to investigate.