While Citi Bike is publicly bleeding money and senior staff, the program continues to be extremely popular on the streets of New York. The blue bikes have woven themselves into the city’s urban fabric like yellow cabs, or halal carts, or rats eating shwarma that fell off a halal cart. New data released by Citi Bike shows that the bikes aren’t just being used by tourists pedaling from MoMA to the High Line—they are a viable transportation option for the city’s commuters.
Sarah Kaufman of NYU’s Rudin School of Transportation, Juan Francisco Saldarriaga from Columbia’s Spatial Information Design Lab, and designer Jeff Ferzoco took some of Citi Bike’s data and translated it into a video to show general patterns of the program. The map represents about 75,000 rides taken over a two-day period in September. Their work, which shows purple dots zipping around Brooklyn and Manhattan, isn’t too surprising: ridership is up dramatically around rush hour and is most concentrated in the financial district and Midtown.
Researchers at NYU also discovered that Citi Bike has become a viable transit alternative—especially when the MTA is experiencing delays. So, Citi Bike has become a valuable transit alternative. “For the month of September, there is evidence of ‘reactionary biking,’ in which subway riders encountering delays likely switched modes to bike share for that trip,” they explain.
And as the map shows, most people using the system are yearly members. That’s great for New Yorkers—a one year membership sets them back less than a month on the MTA—but it is killing Citi Bike’s bottom line. The program needs to up the yearly membership fee or boost sales on daily passes if it wants to stay solvent and continue to expand. That’s because, unlike other bike share programs, Citi Bike receives no public money; and New York City Mayor de Blasio says that’s not going to change.
If only there was a bank—perhaps one whose name is plastered all over the bikes—that could just write another check. If only.