The Economics of the Bike Valet

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Bikes parked at the 2009 Presidential Inauguration

We announced on Facebook earlier today that we will not be able to provide a bike valet for the Stewart/Colbert Rally this weekend, and have since been inundated with calls and emails asking why. The short answer is: parking isn’t free. Not even for bikes.

We can run valets of all sizes, and our determination of whether we can do the valet comes down to a combination of the following factors:
(1) Is the valet needed & will it encourage folks to bike?
(2) Can we find a way to ensure we will cover our costs?
(3) Will we be able to make a little money to put toward our advocacy and outreach efforts?

Bike valets are a balancing act. Sometimes we’ll accept the loss of a little money if it means we can encourage a ton of people to bike. Sometimes we’ll do a valet where we don’t think it will be heavily used if it allows us fund further bike advocacy efforts or WABA programming.

But as the scale gets larger, the risks go up for us.

We have enough racks stored at strategic locations around the city that we can handle the valet for neighborhood events on the scale of the H Street Festival or Adams Morgan Day. But when the numbers start reaching into the thousands, we have to find auxiliary bike racks. And while we can use our few hundred feet of snow fencing to ensure the security of a small rack, we have to use real event barriers for the larger valets.

And with all that equipment comes rental fees. And rental fees for the vehicles to carry them, as we can no longer carry them by bike. And extra time to pickup, set up, take down, and return the equipment.

Then there’s the staff time to do all this prep work. And printing of valet tickets and supplies. (Not to mention permits to operate at the event in the first place, outreach to let folks know where the valets are located, and the million phone calls to coordinate all the logistics.)

Phew.

But all that said, we LOVE to do it. We think valets are a huge inducement to event attendees to choose to go by bike, and that’s what we’re all about. WABA is extremely proud of its valets. We do them the most professionally and reliably. And we’re especially proud to have done the largest single-day bike valet in the nation for the President’s 2009 Inauguration.

But it takes time. It takes coordination. And it takes money.

Just like event organizers have to pay for the toilets or go without, they have to pay for the bike valet or go without. The only difference is that I don’t think the toilet guys really care if Jon Stewart’s rally has a toilet. We tried REALLY hard (as our Facebook fans know) to do this valet because we REALLY want people to be able to arrive by bike. But it didn’t work out this time.

If you want bike valets in the future, let event organizers know that you expect it. And let NPS know that you’d like to see bike parking considered when they’re granting permits for giant rallies and events in our backyard.

(And while on the topic, we would be remiss not to thank the DC Department of Transportation for its longstanding support of bike valets. They are the reason that DC has historically been so well-served by bike valets at events on the National Mall, and have helped us get to the point that the bike valet is expected at major area events. They have frequently stepped in to cover WABA’s costs for these services when the organizations hosting the events and the federal agencies overseeing the events have balked at providing a much-demanded service.)

But it’s time for event organizers to realize that for these large-scale events, bike parking soon won’t be just another optional amenity, but will be a logistical necessity. Like toilets.