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NYC Citi Bike Program Closes Out First Summer With Fans And Barbs

AOL Original Content Posted: Sep 5th 2013 at 5:00PM by David Kiley
NYC Bike Share Citi Bike System
When New York City launched its Citi Bike bike share program last May, the complaints started flying. What else would we expect? New Yorkers are famous for their kvetching--this time about everything from bikes that don't go easily enough into their racks, to docking stations taking up too much space, and even the color of the bikes.

But after a few months, and the summer almost gone, it's hard not to see the program as a success.

Citi Bike is already the biggest bike-share program in the country. It has more than 64,000 registered members who are making use of thousands of nikes and hundreds of docking stations. Riders have traveled more than four million miles and made more than two million trips on these bikes. To put that in perspective: on busy days that's more than 40,000 trips taken.

Are there still glitches being worked out? Sure. The goal was to have 7,000 bikes in use by now, and the program is a bit shy of that as it works out software problems with the system. Some riders complain that the racks can be stubborn about receiving the bike when a rider is done. Others say those who are complaining just need to pay attention, suck it up and put some muscle into it.

The bike sharing system is not always convenient, even for the most ardent cycling fan. Consider that you are going to a Midtown meeting that starts at 1:30 p.m. You ride up from Greenwich Village and arrive near the location by 1:15, but can't find a docking station to check your bike in. It's tantamount to pulling up to your destination in a car and not being able to find a parking spot.

The way the system works is that you check a bike out at one docking station and then check it into another of the hundreds of stations sprinkled around the city--Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can't just lock the bike up anywhere without incurring extra charges.

Annual members can take the bikes for a 45 minute ride before overtime charges begin. Short-term members have 30 minutes before overtime charges kick in. The system is not meant for an afternoon of joyriding, but rather an alternative to a cab or subway.

During two trips to New York City over the summer, we availed ourselves of the Citibikes, and had no complaints. We did not run into full docks, but imagine a regular rider would encounter that issue sooner or later.

Bloggers in New York City have certainly chronicled frustrated people whose weekend cycling plans have been spoiled: kiosks that would not take credit cards; malfunctioning codes; missing pedals, and so on.

We admit to romanticizing cycling a bit. Traveling to Berlin, Munich, Paris, Minneapolis, Portland, Washington D.C.--all cities with bike sharing programs--we remain steadfast in our belief that cycling is absolutely the best way to digest and experience a city. It's faster than walking, but you see pretty much all the little things that would escape notice in a cab or, worse, a tour bus. And the exercise is a bonus. We have seldom felt better, or more at peace, than when riding a bicycle.

The Citibike system has advantages over European sharing programs, which, annoyingly, require credit cards issued in that country. In Berlin and France, for example, you can only use the system at the public kiosks with a German or French issued credit card. Without it, there is a bunch of rigmarole to navigate on non-English websites.

In New York, as in Paris, the biggest issue is traffic. Only a fool would ride a bike without a helmet, especially in NYC. But even helmeted, cycling in a busy city is not for the faint of constitution. Cars, lights on every corner, jaywalkers, clogged intersections, and kamikaze bike messengers with fixed-gear brakeless bikes.

It's an adventure, but one we recommend for people in good enough physical shape and with sufficient reflexes to come out unbroken.

David Kiley is Editor-in-Chief at AOL Autos.

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AOL Autos accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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Amateur Transport

NYC's Citibike is also better than other European systems. Stockholm requires a visit to the Central Station, an annoying detour for a potential spontaneous user. Copenhagen's system is super easy, requiring a coin to push out the lock. Unfortunately, the lack of a tracking system means there are no bicycles around -- anywhere. I think Copenhagen is upgrading to a more modern system.

And as A3TDI says, its true that lots of suburbanites are using Citibike. I just wish the key could be integrated with the MetroCard.

September 23 2013 at 10:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
A3TDI

Count the growing number of Wall St types carrying helmets on the commuter rail systems. They're doing it because all the other transportation modes fail - they're slower, smellier (platforms in Penn Sta) or more expensive. They're not trying to save the planet, but just trying to get to work.

September 08 2013 at 8:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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