SmartBike DC was a bicycle sharing system implemented in August 2008 with 120 bicycles and 10 automated rental locations in the central business district of Washington, D.C. The network was the first of its kind in North America, but was replaced by the much larger, publicly funded Capital Bikeshare system in the fall of 2010. SmartBike DC officially ceased operations in January 2011.
The program was a public-private partnership between the District of Columbia Department of Transportation and the advertising firm Clear Channel Outdoor, which operates similar automated bike rental systems in France, Norway, Sweden and Spain. The "computerized bicycle rental program" was included, at the insistence of then DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) Director Dan Tangherlini, in the city's September 2005 bus shelter contract with Clear Channel Adshel. However, it took nearly three years for the program to launch near the end of Mayor Anthony Williams term. Annual operating costs of the system were funded by a combination of advertising revenues and user subscription and/or rental fees, and DC received quarterly payments based on membership dues.
New DDOT Director Gabe Klein came into office four months after the program launched eager to expand it, but found the private partner had a "lackluster commitment." The agreement specifically prohibited DDOT from paying for anything related to SmartBike, so an expansion required DDOT to renegotiate the contract. In his first meeting with Clear Channel he found that Clear Channel believed they had gotten a bad deal on the original bus shelter contract, that following their purchase by Bain Capital they were no longer interested in “municipal street furniture” and that they had neither desire nor obligation to expand the program. As a result, Klein chose to fold the program and instead partner with Arlington County, VA to build the regional bikesharing program Capital Bikeshare. A few months after Capital Bikeshare started in late 2010, Smart Bike DC ceased operations.
Afterwards, the bikes were donated by ClearChannel to a Baltimore charity, the stations were removed at ClearChannel's expense and the contract was modified to remove all references to SmartBike.
Once closure was guaranteed, the program was criticized by The Washington City Paper for its low usage and limited number of bike stations. Despite this, the program is considered a success by others as it provided proof of concept for its improved and vastly expanded replacement, Capital Bikeshare, as well as other bikeshare systems across the nation. It also allowed DDOT to develop in-house knowledge of bikesharing.
- Silverman, Elissa (April 19, 2008). "Bicycle-Sharing Program to Debut". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
- Rosiak, Luke (December 17, 2010). "Sun sets on SmartBikeDC". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- Rice, Bill (September 27, 2005). "Mayor Williams Signs New Bus Shelter Contract" (Press release). Retrieved March 31, 2016.
- Klein, Gabe; Vega-Barachowitz, David (October 15, 2015). Start-Up City: Inspiring Private and Public Entrepreneurship, Getting Projects Done, and Having Fun. Washington, DC: Island Press. p. 149. ISBN 9781610916905.
- Cranor, David. "Whatever happened to SmartBike?". TheWashcycle.com. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
- DePillis, Lydia, R.I.P. SmartBike, Good Riddance, Washington City Paper, September 16, 2010: Daily SmartBike use rarely exceeded one ride per bicycle per day, with a total of only 1,696 SmartBike subscribers - 220 of whom had never activated their subscription cards, and 242 of whom had never rented a SmartBike.
- Alpert, David. "Many unsung heroes made Capital Bikeshare a reality". Retrieved March 31, 2016.
- Cranor, David. "Why Smartbike didn't fail". TheWashCycle. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
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