Citi Bike kicks off to fanfare and frustrations

The county’s largest public bike share system launched this weekend to both fanfare and frustration, as blue-trimmed bicycles arrived in docking stations on sidewalks and curbs throughout the city, but rider keys to unlock them were not all arriving as expected in registered members’ mailboxes, and at some point during launch day, the Citi Bike app crashed for a while, preventing riders from knowing where the closest bike docking station was located.

But first-day glitches aside, overall, the launch experience went smoothly, said Ilya Nikhamin, owner of Redbeard Bikes in DUMBO.

“Keys got lost by the postal service, so we just picked up our keys at Union Square, activated it on the spot and were good to go,” said Nikhamin, who has been waiting to become a Citi Bike member ever since the program was announced over a year ago.

“I rode bike share once when visiting Montreal and it rode well,” he explained. “Here, the bikes are heavy and smooth; it feels like a really stable cruiser that can take over anything — the perfect tank bikes for NYC. You don’t have to bring it up stairs or anything. Just leave it in the dock and you’re good.”

City officials were, of course, also thrilled that the bike share program was finally off the ground. Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted it as “another way to get around town by extending connectivity from subway and bus stops” for both residents and tourists, while city Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan called it “not just a bike network — it’s New York City’s first new public transit system in more than 75 years.”

Citi Bike launched to pre-registered members on Monday, May 27; it opens to the public on Sunday, June 2 — when 24-hour and 7-day passes become available for credit card purchase at any of the 330 docking stations that currently hold 6,000 bikes.

The program will eventually consist of 600 stations and 10,000 bikes.

Residents of some neighborhoods have managed to get bike stations moved away from their blocks, while many other residents wish they could meet with the same success, as the docking stations often take up former parking spaces.

Others have taken the opportunity to counter the new additions with their own unique artwork.

Annual memberships cost $95 plus tax; weekly passes are $25+tax and daily passes are $9.95+tax. Annual memberships include unlimited rides at 45 minutes or less each, while daily and weekly rides are unlimited at 30 minutes or less.

One thing that doesn’t come with the cost of membership or a day or week pass, though, is a helmet. Helmet-wearing is not legally required in New York, and helmets would be easily stolen (bikes, only a little less so) and would not be the most sanitary option when worn by multiple strangers, so Citi Bike memberships only come with a $10 coupon for purchase of your own helmet.

According to Nikhamin, people are already helmet-shopping, even without the coupon. “This weekend, we had one older woman who came in and bought a helmet because she wanted to ride a Citi Bike,” he said.

The first list of Citi Bike station locations was released in April and Brooklyn is well represented, with dozens of stations in Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant. A total of 330 stations throughout the city will house 6,000 bikes.

Additional stations are eventually planned for Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Park Slope, and Crown Heights, although when those will be rolled out has not yet been determined.

Described by some as a program that is like Zipcar, but for bicycles, NYC’s Citi Bike bike share program is modeled after programs in Washington, D.C., Boston and Melbourne, Australia.

According to the contract between DOT and Alta Bicycle Share, which is running the project, Alta is responsible for “all system operations, including installation, maintenance, repairs, cleaning and customer support,” and is “subject to a strict maintenance and repairs schedule on the bikes and stations.”

As for combatting theft, the specially designed gray-and-black bicycles, which come with an adjustable seat, flashing lights and a front utility rack, are said to be made of parts that have no independent resale value and cannot be disassembled without special tools.


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