Bike-Sharing Gets a Thumbs Up, Sort of

Citi Bikes are parked at a bike station in 51st Street and Broadway. (Younjoo Sang/NYCitylens)

Citi Bikes are parked at a bike station in 51st Street and Broadway. (Younjoo Sang/NYCitylens)


New York’s bike-sharing program celebrates its first year anniversary in May. It’s been smooth riding, for the most part.

With the first year-anniversary of Citi Bike a few months away, New Yorkers, for the most part, seem to have embraced the public bike sharing program with enthusiasm.  But it hasn’t been entirely a bump-free ride—Citi Bike is dealing with its first personal injury lawsuit and numerous complaints that empty bike racks take too long to fill up.

In its nine months of running, Citi Bike, which launched in May 2013, has done well in terms of membership – according to its system data, the total number of members have grown since its launch, and as of February 2014, the number of annual members have exceeded 97,000 and are still increasing, even though the growth rate is reaching a plateau.

“At 100,000 annual members, the system has already proven it is as much a part of the NYC transit system as the taxi or the bus,” said Ed Rademaekers, who runs the blog Bike Share NYC. “At times, the very act of biking can make the commute a pleasurable experience. When could you say that about the subway?”

Although the number of trips Citi Bike riders take per day have decreased over the winter months – exacerbated due to this year’s polar vortex – the data shows that despite the cold, bike trips tend to rise back up after a drop, suggesting that the lack of demand is more weather-related.

However, it is not without problems –Citi Bike now has its first lawsuit against them; in the end of February, a 73-year-old man from Connecticut has sued Citi Bike for $15 million, claiming that his crashing into a barrier at one of the docking stations has left him without a sense of taste and smell.

There was also a dismissed lawsuit last October, when 175 W. 13th St. residents said the location of a bike stand violated city regulations. The case was dismissed in court as the installation of the station kept within city guidelines.

The length of time it takes for empty bike stations to get refilled has also been noted; since January, blogger Rademaekers has been displaying data on his blog on locations of empty bike stations, and  how long it takes for empty bike racks in each Citi Bike station to be refilled. For instance, he noted in a blog post that Fort Greene’s Carlton & Park station had the worst record of the week, with the bike station being empty for 29.5 hours starting from February 24.

Rademaekers said that the bike racks are emptied not because of theft, but rather due to the slow response time on refilling stations after all the bikes have been rented. Because of this, Citi Bike users who wished to ride a bike from specific stations have to wait until someone comes to park a bike, or until Citi Bike employees come and refill the empty racks with extra bikes.

“In some case it takes six to ten hours [to refill] after a station goes out,” he said, adding that wasn’t necessarily demanding answers from Citi Bike.  “I’m just looking at data and posting results on that.”

However, Rademaekers still found the overall Citi Bike rider’s experience positive, pointing out that the bikes are good, the docks clean, and one did not need to carry around equipment to enjoy a bike ride.

Last weekend, , many Citi Bike expressed a positive view towards the new transportation system.

“[It’s] easy to get around the city, it’s the quickest way,” said Eddie Brouchier, 25, who works in HR consulting and has been riding since last September. He added  that unlike the subway, there is generally no wait time to ride the bike.

However, Brouchier found the lack of Citi Bike racks past Midtown disappointing.

“There are none past 60th, 70th Streets,” he said.

Adam Aston, 45, has been a Citi Bike member since its launch, and said he was “definitely a fan” because it got him to where he needed to go at a much lower cost than taking a cab.

“It’s more useful than I expected,” said the Brooklynite. “I get there faster, cheaper, it’s easier.”

Aston said it is especially useful when travelling across Brooklyn, as it is difficult to move between north and south Brooklyn using public transit.

Even the cold didn’t seem to deter Aston, who said he didn’t mind riding bike in the cold because the bikes have good tires, and he prefers staying above ground when there is slush on the streets.  “It’s easier because you’re above it,” he said.

Construction manager Alex Metzler, 29, loves the bikes, but wishes there were more bike stations.

“They’re usually within a 2-block radius,” he said, adding that the distance means one has to plan ahead where to stop. “I wanted there to be one on every avenue.”

Metzler, who has been a member since last June, said that the best part about riding Citi Bike was that he did not have to worry about anyone stealing his bike.

For some New Yorkers who live in neighborhoods that are far away from the subways, Citi Bike has been a godsend.  Stephanie Higgs, 42, a freelance writer who joined Citi Bike last June, said it changed her life because it has made her commute much easier.

“I live in Alphabet City, which is a real dead zone for subways. It’s like a 20 minute walk to the nearest subway station,” she said. “Now I can bike the whole way, or if I’m feeling lazy, I can do a park-and-ride, where I bike to the subway and take the subway the rest of the way.”

Stephanie Higgs, a Citi Bike rider from Alphabet City, said riding the bike has been life-changing because her home is far away from subway stations. (Younjoo Sang/NYCitylens)

Stephanie Higgs, a Citi Bike rider from Alphabet City, said riding the bike has been life-changing because her home is far away from subway stations. (Younjoo Sang/NYCitylens)