By the numbers, Citi Bike has been a huge success, taking weeks to build the substantial ridership that other systems took years to achieve. With the instant popularity have also come growing pains: Ensuring a balanced supply of bikes across the system remains an ever-present challenge, and plans to expand remain just over the horizon, leaving many neighborhoods clamoring for bike-share.
Last night, three of the people behind Citi Bike’s planning and operations took to the stage at Baruch College to talk about the program’s history and day-to-day reality, and answer questions about where NYC bike-share is going from here. NYC DOT Policy Director Jon Orcutt, NYC Bicycle Share General Manager Justin Ginsburgh, and Jon Sellman, vice president of consumer marketing and advertising at Citi were joined on stage by moderator Charles Komanoff.
NYCBS, the operator of the system, projected 60,000 annual members in the program’s first year. After a little more than three months, Citi Bike had already hit 80,000 members. With the system averaging 36,000 trips per day in August, it regularly sees six and sometimes even seven trips per bike per day, outpacing London and other similar systems. The overwhelming demand caught the company off guard when the system first launched. “We had more calls to our call center than we expected,” Ginsburgh said. “When you kind of flip a switch for something incredibly new with no real track record, you can get caught flat-footed.”
Today, the company has 54 employees in its Brooklyn call center, an in-house bike shop that repairs about 150 bikes each day and makes an additional 50 repairs in the field, and 11 rebalancing teams working three shifts to move about 2,500 bikes around the city daily.
“We are constantly climbing the learning curve of rebalancing,” Ginsburgh said, noting that because New York’s program is so large and densely concentrated in the core of the city, the rebalancing patterns are different than other cities, like Washington, which are both smaller and more spread out.
“Our initial rebalancing strategy was vehicle-based,” Ginsburgh said. “We’re starting to realize that fighting congestion during rush hour is a losing battle.” Instead, the company is starting to roll out bike trailers to aid redistribution, and has set up three staging areas — near Penn Station, on Delancey Street, and at Pier 40 — to shorten travel distances. Ginsburgh also said NYCBS is working with a team of Ph.D students to come up with better systems to meet rebalancing needs.
Orcutt said that DOT is set to release a survey in the coming months of approximately 1,000 users interviewed at bike-share stations about their trip mode choices, in an effort to see how bike-share has changed travel behaviors. In a separate study, the Department of Health is working with Citi Bike on a multi-year, longitudinal study of thousands of bike-share users to learn about the effects of the program on their weight and health behaviors.
That study includes demographic information about users. Ginsburgh said last night that Citi Bike users tended to be white, male, and with household incomes in the six figures, though he didn’t have the exact numbers. NYCBS referred us to the Department of Health, which said it was not ready to release this demographic information.