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The Citi Bike App

Today, six days prior to its launch, Citi Bike announced that its program app is available for download. The app features each station–active and non-active–and the number of bikes and available docks. It also allows users to keep track of the time spent on during their ride with an alarm, learn quick tips on how to bike safely, and effectively map and plan rides.

As of now, the official Citi Bike app is the best app that has been released for the program. And, as noted by Transportation Nation, there are already quite a few.

But when it comes to bike share apps, one has established a benchmark to which all others should be judged. That app is SpotCycle.

Hailed by Laura Evans from Gothamist as “[freaking] great,” and earning an “A+”, SpotCycle truly makes life easier. I used it while in D.C. and found it to be an essential tool to my trip. Download the app, find your bike share program–the app lists several–and locate your starting and ending points. The app clearly shows how many docks and bikes are available at any given station, and it too has a rental timer so that you can better keep track of time and keep overages to a minimum. And SpotCycle will integrate the Citi Bike system into its app soon according to the company.

But if SpotCycle already does it so well and has plans to add Citi Bike to its network, why would Citi Bike spend thousands of extra dollars to launch the app? Well, the answer is at least three-fold.

First, with an app, Citi Bank can now have its branding on every facet of the Citi Bike experience. Second, NYC Bike Share, the program’s operator, likely doesn’t want to rely on an unaffiliated third party to provide this very necessary service to its users. And, third, with second mover advantage, the Citi Bike app does seem to improve on the SpotCycle’s functionality; the easy access to the timer, the option to get turn-by-turn directions, and the “Bike Tips” will undoubtedly help users feel more comfortable utilizing the system.

What is most important to define the success of the app, though, is accuracy. The map needs to accurately display the user’s location and where stations are with the correct number of bikes and available docks. And, while the app accurately places a blue dot representing my location in Los Angeles, the true test won’t be until the program launches on Monday when bikes are moving all over Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan.

Check out some screen shots below displaying my experience with the app thus far. You can download the Citi Bike or SpotCycle apps for free on any smart phone.

Opening screen. Is it me or is staying off the sidewalk and riding with traffic the same thing?

The app’s opening screen. Is it me or is staying off the sidewalk and riding with traffic the same thing?

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Graphic clearly displaying how to read the app–bikes are represented in dark blue and open docks are shown in light blue.

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And if there’s no station nearby, the app gives you walking directions to your destination. These are my directions to the Franklin & Myrtle station from my office in Los Angeles. (It also gives me a turn-by-turn option.)