Teething, Crying and Big Steps in Citi Bike’s First Year

Image Courtesy Scott Beale

Citi Bike celebrated its first birthday last month by offering one dollar rides and announcing to naysayers, supporters and everyone in between that—despite a year filled with challenges—New York’s newest public transit system managed to balance its budget. And it did it with no government money, while quietly racking up 8.75 million trips that covered 14.7 million miles.

Impressive as those numbers are, they’re far from the whole story. A series of early troubles—from Hurricane Sandy-related flooding to software glitches to legal challenges to management issues to logistical hurdles—occasionally cast a shadow over the first year of the City’s newest public transit option, but there’s sunshine on the horizon.

Most notably, Citi Bike remains wildly popular. There are more than 100,000 annual members of the program. On a beautiful day, it can easily attract upwards of 35,000 customers—outpacing estimates many times over. And with the weather warming and tourist season in full swing, those numbers are sure to surge.

The big blue bikes have also become a staple of New York City’s streetscape, as iconic as yellow cabs, hot dog carts and Helvetica subway signage. Despite some early grumblings that they’d disrupt the character of historic neighborhoods, Citi Bikes are now at home wherever there’s a docking station. Not even the Plaza Hotel—which filed a lawsuit to have a dock across the street removed—could convince a judge that Citi Bikes weren’t perfectly suitable for New York City’s streets.

The program also seems set to grow. Several news outlets have reported that Related Companies, a massive New York-based real estate developer known for taking on projects that involve working closely with the City, is interested in funding the program’s expansion to new neighborhoods.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “It was unclear how much capital REQX Ventures might invest or what kind of stake in the Citi Bike program the company might get in return. It remains to be seen whether the two sides would close the deal, or whether City officials would approve it.”

Despite the ongoing negotiation, news of a new funding source has folks in the know feeling good. Caroline Samponaro, T.A.’s Senior Director of Campaigns and Organizing, said, “Citi Bike had an awesome first year, despite some serious challenges. It’s a good system with incredible ridership numbers in the greatest city in the world. It’s got opportunity written all over it.”

Mayor de Blasio agrees. On Citi Bike’s birthday, he told reporters, “The fact is, it’s been a success,” adding, “I said all along I want to see it expanded to more parts of the city.”