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Gear Prudence: I live in Columbia Heights, a part of town where there’s a lot of competition for a limited number of Bikeshare bikes. A few mornings ago, I arrived yet again to a station that was empty, but I figured I would give it a few minutes before giving up and moving on. A little later another rider arrived and docked his bike, but before I could get there, a guy who clearly arrived after me grabbed the bike. I said I was there first, but he insisted that since the rider docked closer to him rather than me, it was rightfully his bike. In my state of dumbfoundedness, he rode away, and I fumed about it the rest of my long, hot walk to work. This can’t possibly be right. What’s the proper etiquette here? And how should two potential riders resolve this kind of thing? —Rider Obviously Borrowed Bike Erroneously, Dirtbag
Dear ROBBED: For a system that emphasizes sharing (and which anagramizes to “a charitable spike”), contention abounds in a moment of scarcity. Whether it’s riders racing to snag the last open dock or would-be riders racing to abscond with the last available bike, imbalances in the system create scenarios of desperation and fierce competition. Sometimes these contests are won by physical prowess, but other times, as in your case, they’re won by guile. Suffice it to say, you got hosed.
There’s no such thing as “closer wins.” Bikeshare etiquette dictates a first-come, first-served system. Have your fob ready so there’s no doubt as to why you’re milling around the station. Ask any standers-by if they are also waiting for a bike to forestall any potential confusion. Really get your point across by performing some Bikeshare-appropriate calisthenics as you chant “I’m No. 1. I’m No. 1.” If you see a potential lurker, calmly indicate to him or her that you’ve been waiting. In nearly all cases, Washingtonians, the polite sheeple that we are, will queue, and having obviated any confusion about your desire to snag the next bike, it’s highly unlikely that there will be dissension.
But what to do when there is a conflict? Standard dispute resolution techniques can be applied—rock-paper-scissors, coin toss, fisticuffs, licking the bike [note: please don’t lick the bike]—or you could consider applying quaint notions of deference and decency and accepting the karmic benefits down the road. Or try this: You both take out your Bikeshare keys and ask a random stranger to pick a number between zero and nine. Whichever key’s last digit is closer to the random stranger’s choice wins the bike. In the case of a tie, maybe just start taking your own bike to work and opt out of this silliness. —GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who tweets @sharrowsDC. Got a question about bicycling? Email email@example.com.