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New York’s New Mayor Wants to Help Citi Bike But Isn’t Sure About Funding

Mar 23, 2014 1:00 pm

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Bikeshare programs in the U.S. are relatively new, and at under one year old, Citi Bike has a great deal of maturing to do.

— Jason Clampet

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Courtesy Citi Bike

Promotional image for New York City's Citi Bike bikeshare program. Courtesy Citi Bike


The city’s nearly year-old bike-sharing program is apparently facing a serious economic situation, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday, and he wants to help — but there are no plans for New York City to contribute funding to the program known as Citi Bike

“I know that we value, I certainly value, Citi Bike,” de Blasio said. “I think it’s proven to be very helpful to a lot of people in this city. We hope to expand it to the outer boroughs. But they do have real economic challenges that they’re facing.”

De Blasio was responding to a report in The Wall Street Journal that said the privately funded bike-sharing system needs to raise tens of millions of dollars if it is to survive.

Citing unidentified people familiar with Citi Bike’s finances, the report said the system’s managers don’t believe it can survive if it doesn’t become more appealing to tourists and expand to new neighborhoods.

A spokeswoman for the Portland, Ore.-based company Alta Bike Share, which runs Citi Bike through a subsidiary, says the program is a success and 700 people signed up for annual memberships in the last week.

The spokeswoman said Citi Bike has more than 99,000 annual members and saw an average daily ridership of more than 36,000 trips during the summer and fall, and that the company looked forward to working with the city to ensure the program continues to be successful.

Citi Bike’s bright blue bicycles have become a familiar sight in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn since the program launched in May 2013.

But technical problems like machines failing to read credit cards have persisted, frustrating some potential users.

City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said there have been “significant financial and operational issues” with Citi Bike including failed credit card transactions and redistribution of bikes to where riders are.

Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group that has long championed bicycles, said Citi Bike is “just not performing.”

“There’s a constant stream of docking stations not working, people unable to return their bicycles,” White said.

Citi Bike’s revenues come from corporate sponsorships, advertising and membership and usage fees.

The Wall Street Journal story said Alta is expected to seek new sponsors in addition to Citigroup, which paid for naming rights.

Trottenberg said in a statement, “Everything is on the table for Citi Bike, from improving operations to new sponsorships to additional financing.”

De Blasio said the city wants to “collaborate to make them more efficient and more effective.”

Because it is privately financed, City Bike’s finances are not public. City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, the chairman of the Council’s transportation committee, said he planned to introduce a bill that would require the city Department of Transportation to provide regular financial reports for City Bike’s operations.

“I believe it is time for this program to open the books,” Rodriguez said.

Citi Bike members pay $95 a year plus tax to use the bikes for 45 minutes at a time.

A 24-hour pass costs $9.95 plus tax and a seven-day pass costs $25 plus tax.

Clifton Wessels-Yen, a consultant who was adjusting the seat of a Citi Bike bicycle on Friday, said the system works for him despite occasional problems with the docking stations.

“If one doesn’t work I just move down to a different slot,” he said.

Leanne Merryman and Brandon Good, visitors from the Pittsburgh, Pa., area, said they’d like to use the Citi Bike system, but it seemed a little intimidating.

“It seems like you’d need experience to do it, but it would be fun to try,” Merryman said.

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