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Capital Bikeshare Moves Forward Toward Corporate Sponsorship

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The Capital Bikeshare system launched in September 2010.
The Capital Bikeshare system launched in September 2010.

WASHINGTON -- Capital Bikeshare is now moving forward with making the corporate sponsorship plan that was being considered in the fall a reality.

The Huffington Post caught up with two of the program's District Department of Transportation project managers, Chris Holben and Josh Moskowitz, who said that Capital Bikeshare has begun to map out who will advertise and how after receiving approval in May from the D.C. Council during city budget discussions.

Moskowitz explained that the program is in the process of writing what will likely be an Invitation for Bid, which will solicit prospective partners to submit proposals for potential advertising plans. Although details regarding the nature of the IFB are still being sketched out, Moskowitz said that it will likely be broken up into several components, including sign advertising and title sponsorship.

Where would the advertisements go? One plan is to change the two-sided map panels currently on display at each station, which feature a local map of nearby stations on one side and a larger regional map of the entire Capital Bikeshare network on the other. Moskowitz said that the regional maps would likely be nixed in favor of an advertising component.

As HuffPost reported in September, title sponsorship -- the naming rights to the program and visual branding -- are now being considered as major components.

"We envision being able to place your logo on the bike itself," Moskowitz said. "And then naming rights may also be something that we'll look at as well, depending on the offers. ... Price will be a significant metric that we look at in evaluating our proposals."

Moskowitz said the bikeshare system is open to any number of advertising schemes, which could include a plan to integrate promotions with the partner company into the program's daily operations.

There isn't a definitive timeline for when this will all happen, but advertising solicitation will likely be put out before any such thing for title sponsorship, and Moskowitz and his team are hoping to get things moving "as soon as possible." When finalized, sign advertising will only apply to bikes and stations in the District of Columbia because, Moskowitz said, "Arlington right now doesn't have the ability to do that legally," noting restrictions on billboard-type advertising in the Virginia county, which is also part of the system.

The push for advertisers comes as Capital Bikeshare continues attempts to become financially sustainable.

Last winter, the program reduced the number of bikes available city-wide. "When we first started out the system last fall, it was two-thirds full of bikes," said Holben. "We realized for operational reasons that was too much." It lowered the dock-to-bike ratio from 66 percent to 50 percent, leaving the total number of bikes in the system at 1,144.

In November of last year, the program took a step further by upping up the price of a pass from $5 to $7.

Despite these measures, ridership has declined in recent months. Washington City Paper's Lydia DePillis recently took note:

I've got to say, it's not the weather. We've had an uncommonly mild fall and winter, with only a few unbikeably frigid days--on balance, no worse than the heat of the summer. ... It's true that tourism in D.C. is a highly seasonal business, and it looks like visitors might be a bigger part of the Bikeshare constituency than I, at least, had expected.

Holben downplayed the suggestion that enthusiasm for the program, which launched in September 2010, is beginning to taper off. "We're just starting our second year of service, so it's still pretty new of what is standard and what is the first year," he said. "We knew that usage would drop as the weather got colder and as the number of tourists in town decreases, which happens in fall and winter. This happened last year, too."

Unlike other cities with bikeshare programs -- including Boston, Minneapolis, Denver and Montreal -- D.C.'s remains open in winter, a decision influenced partly by the city's milder weather and its effective methods of snow removal. Although closing the program in colder months might save money, it was never something DDOT considered. "Usually, people are clamoring for the system to be open," Holben said.

Moskowitz is assured that ridership numbers will bounce back to what they were pre-chill.

"Certainly, I think as we approach the spring and summer months ... we're going to be able to meet and exceed the ridership numbers that we've seen." The financial bump from advertisers, he said, will help the program continue to thrive. "It will also give us the resources to continue to expand."

Last month, Montgomery County officials applied for a $1 million grant from the Maryland Department of Transportation that would bring 29 stations and 204 bikes to areas between the Capital Beltway and the Maryland-D.C. border, with stations in Bethesda, Friendship Heights/Chevy Chase, the Medical Center area, Silver Spring and Takoma Park.

In June, the county received a $1.3 million grant for stations outside the Beltway, in places like Rockville and the Shady Grove Metrorail station.

In September, Capital Bikeshare announced plans to install 32 additional docking stations in the District and another 30 in Arlington County, and a month later, it announced the system would expand to Alexandria.

RELATED VIDEO: Capital Bikeshare Launches In 2010

CORRECTION: This piece has been updated to reflect that Arlington County has restrictions on billboard-type advertising displays and not on how bikeshare funding is used.

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