Each morning, people across the District pick up red Bikeshare rentals and peddle away through their morning commute. What they might not know is that it takes a team of people working through the pre-dawn hours to make sure those bikes are exactly where they're needed.
The rush before rush hour
Well before sunrise on a brisk weekday morning Alejandro Fuentes checks in with a member of the crew he manages for Capital Bikeshare. Fuentes has been with the company since it launched last May, and he's in charge of the morning street team responsible for getting those now-ubiquitous red bicycles to the right places for morning commuters.
Officially, Capital Bikeshare calls them "rebalancers," but Fuentes also refers to the members of his team as sprinters, and things don't always go as planned as these guys are running around town.
Fuentes keeps track of where bikes are needed with a computer program similar to the one the public has access to on the Capital bikeshare website. He says things can get particularly hectic at stations near McPherson Square and Adams Morgan.
"You can put 10 bikes, 12 bikes... in 5 minutes, you turn around and they're all gone," he says.
The trick during the morning commute is to make sure the docking stations outside of downtown have a steady supply of bikes for riders headed to work, and to make sure downtown stations get cleared so people arriving have a place to dock.
"When everybody has to be at work at 9 o'clock and everybody's looking for a space to park their bikes, it's a big challenge," says Fuentes.
Smiles and gratitude at the end of a route
Fuentes drives around in the company's all-purpose vehicle, a small SUV equipped with a bike rack that can hold four bikes. Nick Hritz, another employee, drives a larger van that can hold dozens of bikes.
"I think the toughest days are when the weather's really lousy, and you're just bored because there's not much moving," says Hritz.
He says most of the time he's busy making right turns, to avoid red lights so he can make it to his next station, but he says even if he's late, Bikeshare users, so far, have been waiting with a smile.
"You come up to a station where someone's waiting to dock or someone's looking for a bike, and they say, 'Perfect timing! Thanks! And sometimes they just say... Thanks for doing your job, and that's really great. But it happens all the time.'"
Hritz says that kind of reaction may start to fade as the program expands and the honeymoon period ends, but that'll just mean more people are relying on bikes to get around, and that's just fine with him.
[Music: "A to B" by The Futureheads from The Futureheads / "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" by Benny Golson from Groovin' With Golson]
Photos: Bikeshare Timing