Despite popularity among users, recent reports from NYC reveal several serious problems with the Citi Bike program.

Here is a list of common explanations for Citi Bike’s bumpy ride:

Other reports site Alta Bicycle Share’s poor performance as the system’s operator, which may be related to money, the departure of key employees, or the program’s decision to stay open during one of the most insufferable winters instead of prioritizing the maintenance and sustainability of the system. The latest suggested fix, “Alta is seeking investors.”

This is interesting, given another proposal submitted to NYC during the City’s 2010 bike share RFP process, which included a local team, stable supplier, a privately funded system, and most importantly, 15,000 bikes.  The local operator had strong customer service and bicycle maintenance experience, a proven track record with the NYC Parks, and finally the team included a local planning firm headed by the former NYDOT Director.

Specifics of this proposal:

Bike and Roll, a local bicycle rental company operating 10 park locations in NYC since 2007 put together this bid team:

  • B-cycle, a bike share company owned by Trek, an established bicycle company with a billion dollars in annual sales
  • Social Bicycles, a Brooklyn-based smart bike company
  • Sam Schwartz Engineering, an accomplished planning firm with headquarters in Manhattan
  • An investment bank that was ready to invest $75 million to facilitate the launch of a 15,000 bike system to cover most of NYC

Despite this dream team, NYDOT was more impressed with Alta Bicycle Share, as they successfully implemented the Capital Bikeshare program, and their planning partner, Alta Planning and Design is considered one the best bicycle planning firms in the country.

So what went wrong? Obviously a number of things. While the city may be scrambling to come up with a plan to save Citi Bike’s bright blue dream, another possibility could include re-bidding the contract to attract a more viable system with more bikes, a capable operator, and a stronger financial plan. Maybe it’s time to consider a plan “B”.

  • WestLooper

    This seems to be a real contrast to Chicago, which by some accounts is covering its operating expenses with only 10,000 members and strong day-tripper use. Given that the Chicago system is using the same operator (ALTA) and bike system (Bixi), there must be something else going on. I thought the WSJ article was a little premature, as the spring/summer season should show a big uptick in usage.

  • Michael Andersen

    I’d find this case a little more persuasive if there were some indication of whether the folks behind have a financial interest in any of these companies. I respect the site’s coverage, but this unsigned post comes off as pretty promotional.