04 June 2013

New York's Bike-Share Program: Who And What Is It For?

From Velojoy

The bike-share program here in New York has just passed its first week. Of course, it's too early to render verdicts on it, although that hasn't stopped anyone--whether a proponent or opponent of the program--from doing so.  The other day, I wrote about Dorothy Rabinowitz's hysterical editorial; yesterday, the Daily News harped on the fact that a couple of bicycles lost their pedals and a few kiosks (out of hundreds) didn't accept would-be riders' credit cards. 

On the other hand, even though I'm glad that the program is finally up and running (two years after its planned launch), I still think it's too early to pronounce the program is a success.  For one thing, as a Time article points out, it's more expensive than its counterparts in Paris and London. In those cities, a day pass costs about what a single ride on the Metro or Underground costs; one day on a Citibike in the Big Apple will cost you about what five subway or bus trips would cost.  And, if you don't check into one of the kiosks within 30 minutes (or 45 minutes if you buy the lifetime pass), it's even more expensive.

The rules I've just described, as well as the cost, limit the usefulness of the program for commuters as well as its desirability for tourists and recreational riders.  Even if you're a very fast rider, it's difficult to "explore" on the bike, let alone reach the more far-flung corners of the city, within those time limits. As all of the kiosks are in Manhattan south of 59th Street and in the Brooklyn neighborhoods closest to Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island are out of reach. (The ferry ride alone to or from Staten Island takes about twenty minutes.)  So are Harlem and Coney Island. 

Perhaps these limitations on tourists and recreational riders wouldn't be of such concern if the bike share program were intended to be a supplement to the mass-transit system.  That might work in Paris, as no place in the City of Light is more than 500 meters (about 3/10  of a mile, or six blocks) from a Metro station and the buses are efficient.  It might even work in London: Although it's more spread out than Paris, its Underground branches through the city.  On the other hand, not only is New York bigger than those cities; it also has subway lines that are more clustered together in certain parts of the city, leaving other parts without service. (Parts of eastern Queens and southeastern Brooklyn are seven to ten kilometers, or four to six miles, from the nearest subway station.) Worse yet, the buses--especially the ones that run cross-town in Manhattan--are notoriously slow.

So, perhaps, the City's Transportation Department and Citi Bank, the program's sponsor, need to be clearer about the intended purpose(s) of the Bike Share program and structure policies and rates accordingly.  And, as I've mentioned in a previous post, it would help if New York were truly made a more bike-friendly environment. 


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