Monday, May 14, 2012

Getting It Wrong: New York City's New Bike Share Program

Joining a growing number of world cities (including Paris, Washington, DC and Portland, OR), New York will be adding stands of robin's egg blue bikes to the cityscape. Underwritten by Citibank and Mastercard, the bicycles will be available to tourists and locals alike, through a self-service system, for a sliding scale of costs (see below). Some 10,000 bikes will be available at 600 spots around the city. On the Citi Bike website,  the organizers tout the bikes as "cheap, easy, efficient and fast", noting that they'll help people get to areas of the city that aren't easily accessible by mass transportation.

So what's my beef? The costs.

Simply to access these  bikes will cost $9.95 per day, $25 per week or $95 per year. That may not sound high until you realize that the cost of a rental bike in Central Park is just $10 an hour. Keep one of these Citi Bikes out for an hour and, with the initiation fee and the time charge, you'll be spending $14. Make the mistake of keeping one of these bikes out for, say, four hours and you'll end up spending $77! That Central Park rental bike? Its $30 for a complete day.

The organizers may be making costs high because the system is envisioned to be one of short rides . If one cycles for 30 minutes or less, the ride incurs no charge above the original initiation fee.

That may work for locals who know the city well. But how many tourists will be able to get from place to place in Manhattan or Brooklyn (the two boroughs where the bikes will be available) in less than half an hour? The traffic in the city can be crazy and intimidating, and tourists often need to stop and ask for directions or consult maps. That 30 minute window will tick away quickly for them. My worry is that, instead of saving visitors money, this new system will prove to be a wallet suck.

I very much hope that the organizers will rethink the costs. With the city's new bike lanes, cycling in New York has never been more pleasant. And, of course, its a wonderfully green way to get around. But 30 minutes to get from here to there when you don't necessarily know where you're going? Come on Citibank, let's be a bit more generous.

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