Citi Bike ends price caps on ebike rides between outer boroughs

Citi Bike
A row of Citi Bikes.

Last Thursday Citi Bike eliminated a perk for members taking long ebike rides between outer boroughs.

Before last week members who rode ebikes between Queens and Brooklyn would have their price capped at $3. Now members will have to pay the full costs of longer outer borough ebike rides at $0.15 per minute. Lyft, the operator of the bike share program, said that the price cap for outer borough trips is a glitch that was never supposed to exist.

“We recently discovered a glitch in our backend that was undercharging for some ebike rides. This impacted a small number of riders and has now been corrected,” said Lyft spokesperson Jordan Levine in a statement.

As a result, longer ebike rides in the Brooklyn-Queens orbit will get pricey. A 55-minute commute for Astoria to Crown Heights will now cost $8.25 for the member who has paid $185 in annual membership dues.

Lyft said that it appears the glitch was only used by around 1 percent of the total number of total Citi Bike riders, both ebike and analog, so far this year. It did not have figures available for the percentage of ebike rides alone that had made use of the price cap between outer boroughs. Ebikes make up about 20 percent of the Citi Bike fleet.

The purported small number of affected users did not eliminate the acrimony of a few hundred bikeshare enthusiasts on social media, once they found out about the new policy. 

The company also maintained that the average ebike ride taken by a member so far this year has been about 13 minutes and 30 seconds, and pointed out that Reduced Fair users will not be impacted. For annual members, the cap starts to take effect on rides over 20 minutes. 

Prior to last week, Citi Bike had listed the price cap as applying “rides that start or end outside Manhattan,” according to the Wayback Machine. When it changed the functioning of the app last week, it altered the language on its site to apply to “rides that enter or exit Manhattan.”

People who had read Citi Bike’s former wording on the price cap as applying to all outer borough ebike rides have misinterpreted it, according to Lyft. The company explained the Manhattan-based cap policy stems from an agreement it made with the city Department of Transportation when it first launched its ebike fleet. 

The policy is designed to help ebike riders who need to commute over Manhattan-linked bridges, which accounts for a high percentage of ebike use, Lyft said.

Beyond disappointed users, bike advocacy groups also weighed in against the change in pricing as a step in the wrong direction.

“At a time when we should be doing everything we can to make it possible for more people to ride, removing the e-bike price cap on Citi Bike rides for outer-borough trips makes it a less accessible option for many New Yorkers,” said Elizabeth Adams, senior director of advocacy and organizing at Transportation Alternatives. “We need public funding for Citi Bike so the system can expand and be an affordable transportation option in every neighborhood.”