New York City's sometimes controversial bike share program made its long awaited debut Monday, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg dubbing the effort as the city's first new public-transit option in 75 years. The launch came after myriad delays due to technology issues and damage to the system's headquarters in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.
But finally the new fleet of 6,000 Citi Bikes was dispersed throughout the city in 330 docking stations. Annual members (who paid $95) will have one week of exclusive access before daily ($9.95) and weekly ($25) memberships become available on June 2. Already more than 9,000 people have signed up as annual members, according to the City's Department of Transportation.
Those annual memberships provide access to any bike for free for rides up to 45 minutes. (Weekly and daily members can ride for 30 minutes.) After that incremental user fees kick in. But the idea is that these new bikes are for short trips around the city, and not all day rides. According to the system's FAQ page, the majority of all trips (54 percent) made in the city are less than two miles. Thus the new bikes will provide New Yorker's a cheap, easy, efficient and fast option for these trips without having to worry about storage or maintenance.
"We have the A train, and we have yellow cabs, and we have the Staten Island Ferry," said the City's transportation commission Janette Sadik-Khan at a news conference. "And today, Citi Bike joins the ranks of the transportation icon family in New York City."
Bike sharing, added Mayor Bloomberg, will leverage the city's existing mass transit system. In comparable cities, such as Paris, Boston, Washington D.C., and Minneapolis, up to 50 percent of bike share trips are made to get to or from a public transit station. In New York, which just became the largest bike share system in the country, the new Citi Bikes will extend the reach of existing transit options into newly developing areas that don't have great subway coverage.
As for the bikes themselves, it's certainly not the fleetest fleet. The aluminum-framed cruiser-style rigs weigh a hefty 42 pounds, have puncture resistant tires that are filled with nitrogen, a chain protector, and a three-speed drivetrain. Integrated front and rear lights are powered by a Dynamo hub, so you don't have to worry about carrying your own lights for night rides.
New York's Department of Transportation also created 350 miles of new bike lanes in preparation for the bike-share program's debut. And the city plans to eventually install many more docking stations in upper Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.
More importantly, at least right now, Mayor Bloomberg is quick to point out that the new travel option was created with no cost to the City or its taxpayers. Instead the system is fully funded by sponsorship agreements (that's Citi as in Citi Bank) and user revenue. In fact, the City expects that the system will actually make money. Those profits will be split between the City and NYC Bike Share, the organization that is running the system.
Despite all this, like any big initiative in the Big Apple, the program has its critics. Residents have spoken out against the loss of parking spots, street vendors say they fear the program will cut into their territory, and of course, some drivers and pedestrians feel it will make the streets and sidewalks of New York a more dangerous and crowded place.
But if the track record of bike sharing in other cities is any indication, those fears will eventually abate. Currently there are bike share systems in over 200 cities worldwide, including Denver, London, Barcelona, Nice, Madison, San Antonio and Brussels. In London, the 6,000-bike Barclays Cycle Hire program recorded 4.5 million trips in its first year of operation and expanded to 8,000 bikes this spring. Washington D.C.'s 1,100-bike program was so successful that it had to expand to keep up with demand.
On a personal note, I've used bike share systems all over the world (Paris, Boston, Boulder, Nice, Antwerp, Washington D.C., Denver, Brussels) and am an unabashed fan. Yes, the bikes are heavy and don't climb very well. But on the flats they are stable and very easy to ride.
These systems are also a great way to complete the last leg of a journey into the heart of a big city, and for tourists it's a fantastic way to see the sights. Finding docking stations is as easy as opening up a GPS-enabled app in your smartphone. And instead of being trapped inside a taxi or underground in a subway, you can roll around the city, soaking up fresh air. What's better than that. Congrats, New York.