Citi Bike’s massive electric bike expansion increases fleet by 4,000

After a succesful pilot program, Citi Bike announced Thursday plans to add 4,000 pedal-assist e-bikes to its fleet citywide.
After a succesful pilot program, Citi Bike announced Thursday plans to add 4,000 pedal-assist e-bikes to its fleet citywide. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

Citi Bike riders are about to get a big boost.

The bike-share outfit announced Thursday that it will add 4,000 pedal-assist electric bikes to its fleet — a massive increase from the roughly 200 currently in rotation.

Lyft, the bike share’s operators, made the decision after compiling promising data: Citi Bikers rode the e-bike models more often than the traditional pedal bikes and for greater distances since they were first introduced in August of last year. The bikes feature a pedal-powered motor that makes riding less physically demanding.

“We really think there’s huge potential here for electric bikes to completely change the way people think about bike share,” said Citi Bike spokeswoman Julie Wood. “We’ve talked about it for a long time as a first-mile/last-mile solution; as something that’s great for a short trip; as something that’s great for replacing a long walk. But I think what we’ve seen is that the pedal-assist bikes make long trips — trips that you might take in a Lyft, or in a taxi or on the subway — totally doable and easy and fun on a bike.”

Citi Bike will begin rolling out the additional e-bikes Thursday and expects to hit its 4,000 target around June. But the new wheels come with a new price: Beginning April 27, e-bikes will cost riders with memberships an extra $2 per trip to help cover the operational cost that comes with managing the battery packs. The additional $2 charge kicks in for nonmembers this week. The fee will be dropped to 50 cents for reduced-fare Citi Bike members, including SNAP recipients and NYCHA residents.

The e-bikes have proved wildly popular since they were first rolled out, with riders scrambling to find the few in service. An amNewYork reporter witnessed a vocal argument last weekend between two Citi Bike riders fighting over the lone e-bike parked at a Williamsburg dock.

The e-bikes have averaged 15 trips per day, compared to traditional Citi Bikes’ average of five, according to Lyft. The e-bikes were used to complete many more trips between two and four miles; about six percent of trips completed on e-bikes were three miles long, compared to just about three percent on regular Citi Bikes. E-bike riders also were twice as likely to traverse East River bridges — the motor makes steep inclines far less daunting.

Lyft originally planned to add 1,000 e-bikes for the now-canceled full L train shutdown, but the company quickly realized that even more bikes would be needed to meet the demand, according to Wood. Now that there will still be significant disruptions along the L during nights and weekends to rehabilitate the line’s Canarsie tunnel, the company plans to waive the $2 fee at certain docks along the L line during the reduced service hours.

Citi Bike currently has a fleet of 12,000 bikes, and plans to grow to 13,000 by June as it adds the new e-bikes and swaps out some pedal bikes. 

The news that e-bikes would come with a new fee rankles some riders and elected officials. The bike share service is provided through public-private partnership with the city, without taxpayer subsidies.

"This is concerning," tweeted Brooklyn Councilman Antonio Reynoso. "While we want to expand bike access citywide, we want to do it equitably and affordably."

Citi Bike said it was developing new membership options that include e-bike pricing.

Thursday’s announcement comes about a month after Lyft and Juno launched an unrelated lawsuit against the city to fight new minimum wage requirements for e-hail drivers. It also comes amid ongoing tensions in the bike community regarding policy and policing around e-bikes.

While the city legalized pedal-assist bikes for bike share companies operating in the city, it has cracked down on a different type of e-bike, powered by a throttle, commonly used among delivery cyclists. Those workers have complained of police confiscating their bikes and issuing steep fines for their rides. City Councilman Rafael Espinal has sponsored a bill to legalize the bikes.

“We cannot continue to fine these hardworking New Yorkers who every day, when they interact with law enforcement, are more at risk of being deported and ending up in jail,” Espinal said in January.