NEW YORK—It has already been one year since the city of New York welcomed with open arms the bike share rental program known as Citi Bike. At the press conference for its launch last year, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg remarked to a semi-skeptical press corps that they’d probably be able to find something negative to say, even on such a happy occasion.
In hindsight, it’s clear that any cynicism at the outset has borne out to be somewhat valid.
In fact, Citi Bike is besotted by so many fundamental management problems that I’m willing to set aside the safety threat created by letting inexperienced riders fly up and down city streets. They often blow through crowded crosswalks on red lights and nearly knock over pedestrians and cut off cars.
One of the most obvious management problems is that some of the company’s workers want to unionize for job security. Workers stepping out to unionize after one year is quite an accomplishment for a company, and not in a good way.
The employees are citing serious problems with company management, and are deeply worried about job security as summer arrives and seasonal and part-time employees begin to be hired. Many worry as to whether they will have enough hours. The only thing worse than working for a bad employer or being unemployed is being underemployed.
Then there’s the issue of profitability, which hasn’t happened yet despite the bike share’s popularity.
According to Citi Bike data, riders in New York City have logged about 8.7 million trips and 14.7 million miles. City Council is talking about expanding Citi Bike, but until the program starts profiting, it can’t.
There are also rumors that the company is considering raising its annual membership fee from $95 to somewhere around $130, but it hasn’t taken that step yet.
If Citi Bike really wants to become popular, more widely used, and more profitable, it should find a way to expand deeper into the outer boroughs. I can think of a few places in the city I’d rather have a bike to ride, such as on Staten Island or in East New York, where the best options currently are usually a bus, a car, or your feet.
Regardless of whether the program expands, the company becomes profitable, or the workers get their union, Citi Bike is likely here to stay.
It’s become one of the city’s transportation options, like it or not.
Personally, I’m lucky I survived last summer without getting hit head on by numerous Citi Bike riders who had no concept they had to obey the same rules as cars.
Maybe this summer the safest bet will be to just get up on a bike, buy a membership, and go along for the ride.