CITI BIKE RACKS CONTINUE TO GO EMPTY JUST WHEN UPPER WEST SIDERS NEED THEM


Red dots showing empty stations on the UWS around 8:30 on a recent weekday, via Glenn Mcanamana.

By Matthew Friedman

Citi Bike is again encountering issues refilling its docking stations on the Upper West Side after — and sometimes during — the initial morning rush hour. The bike stations, which first came to the neighborhood in 2015, are often empty by 8 or 9 in the morning, when residents need them to commute to work, and are remaining empty for long portions of the day.

The issue has come up in the past, but Motivate, the company that operates Citi Bike, is still having trouble combating the empty docks. According to screenshots of the Citi Bike availability map and witness accounts, the lack of bikes on the Upper West Side has commonly extended into the rest of the day, forcing eager Citi Bike members to find other ways of getting around.

While commuters say they find it easy enough to find a bike before 8 or 8:30 in the morning, once the bikes are initially ridden downtown the neighborhood becomes a Citi Bike desert. “When my wife was looking for a bike to ride downtown to her office this morning just before 9 it wasn’t just our station that was out,” Glenn Mcanamana, who joined Citi Bike earlier this month to ride to work on Christopher Street. “The Upper West Side has enough Citi Bike station density that it would not be a big deal to walk to the next station if one is out of bikes. But when there’s an entire outage that’s basically the equivalent of having the whole subway system out,” he said.

He’s not the only one who’s noticed.

“Sometimes when you expect there to be bikes you find nothing, but other times when you expect nothing the bikes will all be there,” said Josu Gallastegui, a Citi Bike member, as he docked a bike at the station at West 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Despite the lack of consistency in availability of bikes, Gallastegui said, his experience with Citi Bike has been satisfactory.

Riders on the Upper West Side are used to walking some distance to find bikes, but mass outages the likes of which Mcanamana described are rare. Though Richard Brockman observed that “it seems as if the Upper West Side always has a lot of empty docks,” he recalled that he had never been forced to walk more than three stations, or about ten blocks, to find an available bicycle. Brockman, docking a Citi Bike at 89th Street and Columbus Avenue, said that the walk to find a bike has not deterred him from renewing his membership.

Neighborhood cyclists suggested that warm summer weather and recent increases in subway delays are likely to blame for the lack of available bikes this week. August has historically been one of Citi Bike’s busiest months of the year. In 2016, Citi Bike averaged 50,239 trips per day in August, nearly three times the number of trips from February, the lowest month, during which Citi Bike averaged only 17,569 trips per day.


A Citi Bike station at 100th and Broadway at 5:30 p.m. on a recent weekday. Photo by Matthew Friedman.

The company is aware of issues with bicycle availability, and says it has taken many steps towards addressing the problems. Citi Bike has a crew of 150 staffers in charge of returning bicycles to empty stations, in a process known as “rebalancing.” Through the use of trucks, bicycle trailers, and valets, Citi Bike rebalanced an average of 4,046 bikes per day in June, the most recent month for which a monthly report is available. In May 2016, as part of its rebalancing effort, Citi Bike launched a program called Bike Angels, which rewards individuals for riding bikes from crowded areas to those in need of bikes.

A spokesperson for Citi Bike said that one hurdle is that, unlike people elsewhere in the city, many Upper West Siders ride the bikes downtown in the morning but do not bring them back to the neighborhood at the end of the day. Close to 300 bikes do not return to the neighborhood each day, the spokesperson said, giving the Upper West Side one of the most lopsided ratios in the city.

“Rebalancing is one of the biggest challenges of any bike share system, especially in a city like New York where residents don’t all work a traditional 9-5 schedule, and though there is a Central Business District, it’s a huge one and people work in a variety of other neighborhoods as well. We continue to use a broad array of tools and expand our efforts to ensure there are bikes where and when they’re needed,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

New York’s Citi Bike system is currently the only bike rental system in the country that is not at least partially publicly funded. This setup could change though, since a majority of city council members support the devotion of city funds to the program. City Council member Helen Rosenthal, who represents most of the Upper West Side, expressed opposition to city funding for the program last November, but Communications Director Sarah Crean said last week that the councilmember will go into Citi Bike’s contract negotiations at the end of the year “with an open mind — she is interested in looking at all possibilities for bike share programs across the city.”

Citi Bike currently serves 610 stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Jersey City with a fleet of 10,000 bikes that they aim to expand to 12,000 by the end of the year — these numbers make it the largest system in the country. Despite the issues rebalancing bikes, 71 percent of 900 likely voters polled last November reported that they either “strongly support” or “somewhat support” Citi Bike expansion into more neighborhoods in all five boroughs.

NEWS | 47 comments | permalink
    1. Jens says:

      What I want to know is who said it was okay that the racks become giant advertising banners in out neighborhoods? Long ago the West Side fought excess advertising in our neighborhood. Why doesn’t cB 7 push back?

      • Alta says:

        How do you think this is paid for?

        Since the city doesn’t pay anything for Citibike (no public money), they need the ads to fund the system. Fees from riders don’t come close to covering it.

      • Sean says:

        This is a non issue. The branding funds the service.

        • Jens says:

          Citi was the brand funding it. Don’t sell something into the community without full disclosure. Turning them into billboards came later, with no community input. Bait and switch.

          • Carlos says:

            So will you promise me that if they eliminate the advertising but have to double the cost of Citibike for consumers in order to cover their costs, you won’t be complaining about the high prices?

          • Kevin says:

            It’s literally called Citibike because they sold the naming rights to Citi bank before it ever rolled out in NYC. The company that actually runs the bike share is named Motivate. There was no bait and switch, the bikes & stations have looked the same since day 1, which was years before they rolled out on the UWS.

    2. Eli says:

      So interesting! I never bike back in afternoon because there is not a complete protected lane northbound. So I take the subway instead.

      I would make a lot more trips by bike if the network we’re more finished out. Anyone know if there are and to continue the Amsterdam bike lane southbound?

    3. Drew says:

      I have contacted Citibike several times in the past couple of weeks with screenshots of the lack of bikes for the Upper West Side. Bikes are rarely available after 10AM. Sometimes, the lack of bikes will go as far as a 20 block radius. Citibike always gives the response, “the favorable biking conditions have increased demand”. Their rebalancing tactics have not worked.

      Citbike should be offering Upper West Side residents a reduced rate or give a credit for the lack of bikes available this summer!

    4. Cat says:

      If bike riders have to walk 10 blocks or more to get a bike then why not just get on the subway?

    5. DMac says:

      Anyone know when the new stations planned for Morningside and Harlem will be built out?

    6. RedRaleigh says:

      OK, who’s going to be the first to blame deBlasio?

    7. UWS Craig says:

      What they should do is have one of those permanently stocked “valet” stations on the UWS, preferably near where I live.

    8. Kippervasser says:

      Thanks for a well-reported piece. Way too many mornings, at 10 or 11 a.m., I’ve planned on grabbing a Citibike to pedal off on an errand or to an appointment only to find, after consulting the app, that there are no bikes to be had within 10 blocks of my UWS apartment. It’s the definition of frustrating. Please keep tracking this issue. When Citibike does work the way it’s supposed to, it’s a joy.

    9. Chris says:

      The city should not be wasting money on this bike program and put this resources in the mass transit program. All this for 1 percent of the population wanting to bike. (1percent sound familiar)

      • Sean says:

        Oh please give it a rest.

      • Stephen says:

        There is no city money on citibike. Only Citi and other sponsor money

        • Chris says:

          So you are telling me citibike has paid for all the bike lane construction? And also to the other response since we are a city of wannabe socialist, programs that don’t serve the greater good need to go the way of the General Lee Monuments . Just using the 1 percent as an analogy but there is only a fraction of 1 percent riding bikes in the city.

          • Woody says:

            It’s difficult to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person. Unless you live in a cave and never come out, you would notice that bike lanes are used by far more cyclists than just those riding Citibikes. That’s why a city pays for improvements to cycling infrastructure.

          • Kevin says:

            Chris,

            The studies have generally shown that bikes are far more likely to be used by the lower income tiers rather than the highest. It makes sense, real estate is more expensive as you get closer to the subway stations, so the lower income residents generally have less convenient access to mass transit. And of course owning a car is a pure luxury in our neighborhood.

      • Woody says:

        Your desperate attempt to shoehorn in a comment about the 1% doesn’t make you look like a critical thinker; it makes you look goofy. It’s absurd to equate the 1% typically referred to with the 1% of the population that rides Citibikes.

        I could present numerous examples about PUBLICLY-funded services that NYC provides to even narrower groups of individuals. But you wouldn’t care because they don’t fit your bias against cyclists who are probably enjoying an activity that you wish you could participate in.

    10. Sandra H Gleich says:

      “many Upper West Siders ride the bikes downtown in the morning but do not bring them back to the neighborhood at the end of the day. Close to 300 bikes do not return to the neighborhood each day, the spokesperson said, giving the Upper West Side one of the most lopsided ratios in the city.”

    11. Stephen says:

      The do seem to be working on this. The truck has been restocking at 9am. I’ve caught this second wave on a couple of mornings last week.
      Also tourists are using the parks (both central and Riverside) docks Further increasing demand.

    12. Rick says:

      Thanks for highlighting this recurring issue. Many mornings I’m unable to find a bike within 7-10 blocks of my apt by 8:30 am. I signed up for the Bike Angels program in July but even that doesn’t seem to help much. What does seem to help is emailing customer service about consistently underserved stations.

    13. MarkM says:

      Great informative article. I’ve noticed (and lamented) that our very local station has been empty after 9:30 but did not know how widespread the problem is. The operator knows when the racks are empty. On the Citibike app, maybe they should add functionality that allows us to communicate to the the operator/Motivate/Citibike when we visited a station and wanted a bike and there was none there. Maybe just slipping our key in to an empty station. The information should be public and would alert them as to how many rides went “unfulfilled”. Without that, it is only guesswork. Kind of like the function that allows you to alert them when a bike needs repairs. Would that help? Probably pretty easy to develop and ad to the app.

    14. Carlos says:

      As one who does not use Citibike (I think it is great, it just doesn’t work for my commute), I am curious as to whether the opposite problem happens where the racks in more commercial areas get too filled up during the morning rush so that it is hard to find a place to park?

      • Aaron says:

        This problem does happen in reverse. Often at around 6pm many of the commercial areas of midtown are all empty. By way of NYC work hours, 6pm isn’t that late.

        • Carlos says:

          Thank you – that is helpful. But I was referring to whether there is a place to park the bikes in midtown at rush hour once all of the people from the more residential areas descend? I could see those filling up very quickly.

    15. Remy says:

      I’m so glad you posted this article. I love Citibike but hate never being able to know if I will find a bike anywhere on the Upper West Side in the mornings. I often open to the app at 9am and don’t see a single bike available anywhere north of 59th Street. It seems to be particularly bad north of 86th Streets. I’ve contacted Citibike about this a number of times and haven’t received a response.

    16. Keith says:

      I’ve sent them many screen shots of mid-day UWS no-bike zones and asked for a credit but no response.

    17. Jim says:

      I have sent screenshots to Citibike numerous times since last February about the lack of bikes anywhere near the 100th St. racks at 8:30am (and throughout the day) and received a canned response.

      When I emailed Helen Rosenthal asking for her help, her office said to contact Citibike.

      I didn’t see the point in renewing my annual membership.

    18. Kay says:

      Recently I walked from West 72nd to West 45th without seeing a single available bike. 9:15 in the am. I’m a regular Citi Bike rider and faithful supporter, but finding a bike on the UWS or along Broadway is becoming increasingly difficult. Would like to be able to depend on the service. Very frustrating.
      Re riding northbound, if you’re coming up 8th Ave and approaching Columbus Circle, there should be a sign saying “Good luck cyclists”. Could we have a little help transitioning to CPW please…

    19. Mark Moore says:

      There’s a dock almost a full block long directly across the street from my building and it’s empty about half the time, and has fewer than five bikes most of the rest of the time. That alone would prevent me from signing up, knowing that I can usually not get a bike nearby.

    20. joe says:

      From my 1.5 years of experience with Citibike, in decent weather (generally May through September) most bikes are gone by 8:30. They do send a truck up to the UWS most mornings to reflll the docks, but they don’t intersperse the bike among many docks, but will put like 15 all in one spot. I spoke with a Citibike employee who said basically that Citibike does not provide a right to everyone to have a bike when and where they need one; that the service is not intended as a replacement for public transportation for everyone, and a customer can always decide not to renew if they find the service does not meet their expectations.

      • Carlos says:

        I am OK with them initially fully reloading a few locations rather then putting 3 here, 4 there, etc., as long as they properly space out the locations they fill. This allows them to operate more efficiently and theoretically get more bikes back uptown and into circulation. Walking to a rack one or two away from your nearest one is a small price to pay for having more overall bikes around.

    21. Richard says:

      The problem is simple. It’s station density. It is well documented that the station density Citibike has chosen for the UWS is way below the standard recommended by the National Association of Transportation Officials. It has been proven time and time again in bike share programs around the world that a certain density is required to make the system work well and that as density reaches that level, ridership grows exponentially allowing the increased revenue to fund more bikes. The problem here, is that for political reasons, we have chosen to put bikes all over the five boroughs so the Mayor and others can grandstand about how they are bringing bikes to the masses rather than letting pure economics work in our favor. Proper density = more riders = more money to fund the next stage of expansion.

    22. David Hill says:

      Thanks for this.
      I love CItiBike but hate that the Upper West Side is a CitiBike wasteland.

      I think the need more bikes. When they are not empty, the station are rarely more than half full. I’ve never seen a full station on the UWS.

      Adding ten to twenty bikes to each station would solve the problem.

    23. Carol says:

      Besides the fact that the racks are always empty how did they get permission to install so many racks in one location? 12000 bikes for 610 locations is an average of 19.67 or 20 bikes per location. On my corner (89th and Col) they installed 47 racks. Except for one snowy day last December there have never been more than 9 bikes. Maybe they should only be allowed space for 24 bikes and give us back our parking spaces.

      • Jay says:

        They’re not your parking spaces. They belong to everyone and your car is getting free rent at all of our expense. If anything, this shows that there need to be more citibike stands.

      • joe says:

        Same for the corner of 104th and Amsterdam. There are like 50 docks, but I have rarely ever seen more than 10. I chalk it up to overestimation.

      • Kevin says:

        Parking should not be free on the street anywhere. Given the number of “Southhampton beach parking” stickers on the cars I see parked on my block, we’re just subsidizing people’s weekends. If you had to pay there would be plenty of open spots, we just have a whole system of storing private vehicles in public space for free.

    24. mamaebbes says:

      On the flipside, if I am able to get a bike around 8:35 (rarely), then often there are no docking stations available near work when I get to midtown around 9!

    25. naro says:

      I must say that most Citibike users never wear helmets which is a sign of stupidity. Citibike could be liable for offering bikes without helmets..just wait.