This week is my one year anniversary of riding Citibike. Last year, I took my first ride with my annual membership on June 15th. I’ve taken 203 trips so far.
Citibike has changed how I get around the city. I used to walk or take the subway. Now I ride whenever I can. I live in the East Village, so the bikes are great for getting to the West Village and to Chelsea art galleries. I also go to the theater a lot in midtown and I now ride both ways. I also ride to the furthest north bike stations at 59th Street and walk from there to Lincoln Center. And it turns out that biking is the fastest and easiest way to get to Dumbo–I’m down bike-laned 2nd avenue and over the Manhattan Bridge in about 10 or 15 minutes.
I carry a helmet whenever I might be riding.
HOW IT WORKS
An annual membership costs $95. If you use certain credit cards, you can get a $15 credit and one month free.
I have a plastic widget that I keep on my keyring. I put that in the slot of any bike at any station, the bike is released and I have up to 45 minutes to return the bike. I can take as many 45 minutes trips as I would like during the year. And I can even return a bike within the 45 minutes and take out another bike immediately.
I love riding around the city.
I love the convenience (when things go smoothly, but, see THE BAD).
I love not waiting for buses or subways.
I love turning a 30 minute walk into a 10 minute trip.
I love the sensation of speeding through the streets.
I love the thrill of watching for the obstacles:
*cars turning into my path,
*car doors opening,
* bikers coming in the opposite direction.
*large grates along the curb
The BAD is that finding a bike or finding a slot to return a bike is not that easy. I am lucky to have four stations within a couple of blocks from where I live. However, they empty out in the morning and fill up early in the evening. Often, I get to the station and find there is no bike. I walk to the next station and the next station, calculating if I have enough time to take the subway.
When I return home at 10 or 11 pm at night from dinner or the theater, a lot of the time all four stations are full. I then have to decide what to do. Do I circle? Do I stand and wait at a station for someone to take a bike out? Do I start riding farther afield to find an empty station and then walk home from there?
One afternoon, I arrived at the bike station in front of my dentist’s building on time for my appointment. The station was full. I was 30 minutes late for my appointment. I stood there for more than 20 minutes waiting for someone to take a bike out before I gave up and road off to a station a few blocks away.
Unfortunately, this is not an unusual occurrence–it happens all the time and so, I have to factor in extra time whenever I leave the house in case there are no bikes and I often arrive home more frustrated and tired than I should.
Ok, so it is one thing to get to a station to find it empty or full. But what often happens is, as I walk to the station, I am happy to see a couple of bikes from the distance. I get ready, I put my helmet on in anticipation, I take my plastic key out. And then I see the little red lights, which means a bike can’t be removed. That is frustrating. But what is really frustrating is when there are bikes in the slots, there is no horrific red light, but the bikes still won’t come out.
Two nights ago, I was returning from dinner. I went to the station near Madison Square Park. There were several bikes, but none of them would release. I continued walking down Broadway to the next station. Same thing. Someone came and returned a bike. Before I could do anything, another person came along and nabbed it. I had to wait for another person to return a bike–for some reason, the recently returned bikes would release, but not the rest of the bikes in the station.
The other ugly thing is that the station map on the app or online doesn’t help with finding bikes or slots. It never seems to have accurate information and it doesn’t take into account bikes that won’t release or slots that are broken. If the information were accurate, it would eliminate some of the frustration.
On June 15, 2013, there were around 40,000 annual members. Now there are about 110,000 annual members. But as far as I know, bikes and stations aren’t being added to the system. This means the problems are growing.
Interestingly, it seems that the number of daily rides have not increased in proportion to the number of members. In July/August 2013, there were around 25,000 rides taken on a slow day and about 40,000 rides taken on a busy day. June 2014, the number of daily rides range from around 20,000 to about 35,000. Maybe this is because other people are also getting too frustrated.
I have renewed my membership. I love bicycling as my transportation alternative. But I am starting to consider taking my own bike out of storage–and leaving it locked up on the street.
Here’s a video someone made from his apartment window of people trying to return bikes to a broken slot:
Smiling because I found one bike left in the station: