After years of public anticipation, software setbacks and launch date delays, New York City’s public bicycle sharing problem Citi Bike finally opened to the public on Memorial Day. Streams of sturdy blue bicycles flooded the streets of Manhattan as residents opted for a more scenic, active, and refreshing commute to work. Well, residents that live below 59th Street, that is.
The initial rollout included 6,000 bikes across 330 docking stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, reaching as low as Nostrand Avenue and as high as Central Park South. As an Upper East Side resident, I find it extremely irritating that I have to join the flocks of tourists that crowd midtown if I want to use the program. And to make matters worse, resistance from the stuffy, uptown community board members is ensuring that I won’t be seeing blue bikes cruising through my neighborhood anytime soon.
On a Sunday afternoon this summer, I walked down to the bottom of Central Park to give the Citi Bike program a try. I purchased my unlimited daily pass for about $10 with tax—along with a $101 security hold on my credit card—and set out for one of my favorite places in the city: the 10-kilometer loop around Central Park. I assumed I could make it back to the docking station within the 30-minute time limit, but then I noticed the bike’s bulky build and limited speed settings. Needless to say, the first leg of my ride included the $4 overcharge fee.
Avoiding overcharge fees throughout the rest of the afternoon turned into a sort of game as I mapped out my next station stops and rerouted when traffic delayed my projected arrival times. After a walking break along the High Line, I rushed to a nearby docking station to grab one of its three available bikes shown on the Citi Bike iPhone app. Unfortunately, all of them were disabled with flat tires or missing pedals, forcing me to walk on to the next station six blocks away. After docking my last bike at 11th Avenue and 59th Street, walking up to 79th Street and catching a crosstown bus home, I was exhausted.
The program may work for residents living, working, or running errands south of the park, but the 30-minute time limit is frustratingly impractical. Daily and weekly riders with commutes extending past a half hour—and let’s face it, that’s a lot of people during rush hour—have to find a nearby station, dock their bikes, wait in the kiosk line for new access codes, and then claim new bikes every single time they use the program. Rule breakers face the $4 overcharge fee after 30 minutes and $13 after 60 minutes, which adds up quickly. Annual pass holders pay a $95 membership fee to skip this mid-commute nightmare with a reusable key card and a 45-minute time limit. Increasing the daily and weekly pass ride time limit to 45 minutes and allowing annual pass holders a full hour would make the program far more accessible to residents with longer commutes. If the goal behind the current time limits is to deter tourists, I seriously doubt a 15-minute increase will send them running to the bright blue kiosks.
Phase II of the program is reported to include expansion further into Brooklyn, Astoria and Sunnyside in Queens, and the Upper East Side and Upper West Side in Manhattan with 3,000 more bikes. However, these plans will idle until Phase I is completed with the addition of 1,000 bikes at existing stations. Hopefully the uptown districts’ community board members decide to cooperate by that time and let us join in the fun, too. Until then, we will continue packing into subway sardine cans and stumbling in bus standing room rather than enjoying the fresh air—well, as fresh as it gets—of New York City.
Originally written for my graduate commentary class