It’s been almost a year since the launch of the nation’s largest bike-share system, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Big Apple is in the midst of a bicycling renaissance — nearly 100,000 New Yorkers already have added the blue, annual Citi Bike membership fob to their key chains. But contrary to forecasts, daily and weekly subscriptions — which Citi Bike hoped would appeal to tourists — are dismal.
Turns out Big Apple visitors are eschewing the royal blue bikes and the 30-minute time limits in favor of more traditional bike rental options like Bike and Roll.
Nevertheless, the system has exceeded expectations. Citi Bike is economical and environmentally friendly. It’s a practical form of exercise, and it’s way more fun than the subway during rush hour. It’s out there in the hustle and bustle, and now it’s a part of the city’s urban landscape.
In other words, it’s public. That’s why the city needs to step up and support this new public transportation system.
Citi Bike relies on sponsorships and membership fees, from which the city takes a cut. It’s an unsustainable model.
To expand Citi Bike to all five boroughs, an additional source of funding is desperately needed. Increasing the price of an annual membership from $95 to $112 (the price of a monthly MetroCard) would help, but it’s not enough. A subsidy of less than 0.0025 percentof the city’s $73.8-billion operating budget would infuse nearly $18.5 million into Citi Bike — that’s more than enough to start rolling out bike-sharing into neighborhoods underserved by mass transportation.
Like existing public transit options, Citi Bike brings people together and bridges gaps; it has the added benefit of making the public healthier, happier and more connected to communities. That’s something we should all get behind.
If subways, buses and ferries were private entities with no public assistance, as Citi Bike is, those systems would either be forced to charge more money than most New Yorkers could afford, or they would cease to exist.
It’s time to put the “City” in Citi Bike.
Ken Podziba is president and chief executive of Bike New York, a nonprofit organization that provides free bike education programs throughout New York City and produces the world’s biggest charitable bike ride, the TD Five Boro Bike Tour.