Monday, October 21, 2013 – 11:31 AM
By ANDREA BERNSTEIN
I had about as bad an experience as I’ve ever had docking a Citi Bike this morning — it took nearly an hour to find a docking station in Lower Manhattan. The supervisor in the Citi Bike call center said it was an unusually busy morning, brought on, no doubt, by the picture-perfect crisp autumn weather.
I picked up a bike around 9 am at 59th and York. Despite the traffic, I was feeling pretty euphoric about my ride — clear skies, weather in the 50’s, just about perfect for biking. Hope against hope, I brought it over to MacDougal & Prince, near our studios. That one’s pretty much always full after 9, so no surprise. (You can see the usage pattern of that one, and all the docks, in this cool graphic.)
Then over to Broome & Sixth. No dice. On to West Broadway & Spring. Full. At that point I looked up docking stations on the app, and pretty much everything within a mile radius was showing fewer than five docks — likely meaning there were no bikes, since several docks at each station were broken.
So I called Citi Bike’s customer service to ask what I was supposed to do. While I was standing there, at least half a dozen others fruitlessly tried to dock bikes. “This is worse than parking in Queens,” a onlooker observed. “Woise,” he added for emphasis.
I was directed to Grand & Greene. Nada. The same scene with multiple users showing up and cursing Citi Bike repeated itself.
I called again. I was directed down to the City Hall area. Not wanting to go that far, I tried all the docks near my office again. I was finally directed to a West Village station, a good 20-minute walk from my office. Total time spent looking for a free docking space: 55 minutes.
There’s a theory of (car) traffic management that says if you make parking difficult enough, people will seek alternative modes of transportation. There are only so many docking failures I can risk before I give up the idea entirely of using Citi Bike in the morning on the way to work.
Last week, Transportation Alternatives released a survey showing two-thirds of Citi Bike users are frustrated with encountering either full or empty docks. TA’s Caroline Sampanaro says rebalancing bike share is difficult everywhere.
“With the subway and the bus, it’s public transit, but its not on-demand,” she said. “Bike share presents an opportunity for us to have more transit but on our own schedule. And that is, in terms of a planning problem, a very difficult one.”
I’ve reached out to both the NYC DOT and NYC Bike Share, but so far I haven’t gotten any answers on whether there are efforts underway to step up the pace of rebalancing in the morning.
Last week, officials said they were still working to add more bikes, which they say would alleviate some of the congestion. But no word on a timeline for that.
In the meantime: is anyone else having this experience?
Either the software in charge of load balancing the docking stations is ineffectual or the gasoline powered vans used to do the actually work are stuck in the same traffic as everyone else. This of course begs the question of why a BikeShare enterprise is relying on internal combustion engines?
Isn’t that like having a vegan restauranteur dress his wait staff in leather aprons?