Since its launch, Citi Bike has, aside from some software glitches, been an incredible addition to urban transit in NYC, with rising ridership throughout the initial months (in October, the bike-share company reported a record high of 42,000 trips per day). But lately, the interwebs have been abuzz with headlines like: “Blue Bikes Red Ink,” seemingly out of nowhere. Even Brian Lehrer was like “Wait, What?”.
Now I know what you’re thinking, bike haters. Bikers are the reason EVERYTHING in the world is horrible, including making traffic worse, gentrifying neighborhoods, and basically ruining all of New York. The city would be better off without more bike riders anyway, blah blah blah.
But, here at Greenpointers, we’re pro-bike, as long as it’s done safely (for both riders and pedestrians). And when you think about it, it’s pretty impressive that Citi Bike has actually succeeded tremendously on this front. The idea of letting tourists ride rampant around Times Square on clonky blue bikes sounds like a nightmare waiting to happen, but since the bikes were installed last year, there have been no fatal accidents. That’s quite an accomplishment in itself, and more than we can say for other traffic deaths which are rising. Remember when the Huffington Post said the system would bring TOTAL CARNAGE? How wrong they were.
But there’s one serious problem. Citi Bike is broke. And the company that supplied the bicycles and technology for the program, Bixi, filed for bankruptcy protection in January. Oh AND they’re General Manager just quit. Let’s just say they’re having a bad few months.
The leaders of the bike-share program now need to raise more than $10 million to keep the program afloat. Apparently since January of 2013, the number of 24-hour passes purchased weekly have decreased rapidly, while annual memberships have plateaud at about 100 thousand users. However, those annual pass buyers aren’t generating enough revenue to keep the system alive. Tourists in particular aren’t buying the daily $9.99 or weekly $25 passes nearly as much as expected, which is where the system was desgined to generate the most profit. The bike program doesn’t have sites in some huge tourist locations, like Central Park and the Upper West Side. This confirms the age-old truth that tourists are to blame for just about everything….except all of the other problems that were apparently plaguing the bike-share program from the start.
According to the Wall St Journal, Citi Bike faced costly damages during Sandy, some major software glitches, and a tumultous winter that didn’t provide the most enticing biking weather (as we know too well). The company, called Alta, has already had to layoff employees, but they’re not releasing info on how many millions in debt they are. But is it their own fault for mismanaging the system? Brooklyn Magazine talked to Paul Steely White, the Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, who said that the software is not very intuitive for first time users, which is why tourists aren’t biting. Although a proven software alternative was offered, Alta “tried to cut corners” in developing a cheaper system, he explained.
Other cities like Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago use public funds to support the programs, but Bloomberg was not into that idea at the start, so Alta had to turn to corporations like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs for start-up costs. And now revenue just isn’t high enough.
De Blasio said that the city would work with the bike share company to find ways to make it more profitable and efficient, but he’s not offering public funds from the budget anytime soon, meaning the company is on its own for now, with only private investors to turn to. But with all of the recent news, will those investors still be interested?
But fear not! Citi Bike won’t likely be disappearing completely any time soon.
“I don’t think the de Blasio administration would let it fail said Kate Hinds, WNYC transportation reporter, “I actually think it’s too big to fail at this point, but Alta needs a cash infusion. That’s pretty clear. The question is, what can they do right now?”
BUT this could mean that Citi Bike never even makes it to Greenpoint, where we could really use it.
We recommend listening to Brian Lehrer’s insightful broadcast for more details.
Have you ever used Citi Bike and do you think it’s a good transportation alternative for NYC? Would you be sad to see it go? Weigh in below.