Citi Bike, New York City’s bike share program, has taking commuting in NYC to another level since launching at the end of May, 2013. Through word of mouth and an aggressive PR campaign (i.e. countless articles and advertisements), every New Yorker and most if not all tourists know about the service, which allows people to pick up bikes using credit cards at kiosks/stations around the city. There are 420 locations around the boroughs, in Manhattan below 59th St and in Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Bed Stuy. Citi Bike describes its bike share program as providing iconic, sturdy bikes at self-service docking stations in order to provide a new, easy way to get around New York. 54% of all trips made in NYC are reported to be less than two miles. Bike shares give New Yorker’s an efficient and fast option for these trips by providing ready access to a bike, without having to worry about storage or maintenance. Ready access if you don’t live in Uptown Manhattan, as I do, where there is currently not one station.
All in all, Citi Bike sounded like an amazing new way to explore the city and I was ready to give the experience a go. The weather has been outstanding in NYC the last week or so, and on Saturday, I decided to rent a Citi Bike with my boyfriend and partner in crime Craig and experience what the service and a gorgeous day’s bike ride had to offer. We hopped a quick cab down to the nearest CB station at 58th Street, purchased our two 24-hour passes for $9.95 + tax each, and the kiosk computer printed out a page containing two access codes to unlock two bikes. Sounds easy enough. Well, luckily there were only 5 bikes at the station because we had to try the codes at every single bike to unlock them. Dumb strategy. And made even more dumb by the fact that one of the codes didn’t unlock any of the bikes! We had one ready to go and another bike locked away.
As we were trying the second code on all the bikes for the 2nd (or 3rd?) time, an older lady came back from a bike ride and said “Hey, did you know that you have to find a Citi Bike station to dock your bike every half hour?” Couldn’t be. “Yeah, you have to find a station while out riding, lock it up, and unlock it all over again.” We walked back to the machine and reread the wording. For any rental, including the 24-hour pass, it states: “Avoid incurring overtime fees by returning your bike to any Citi Bike station within 30 minutes.” Well, that was just about the stupidest thing we’d ever read. Since we had the customer service agent on the phone because of one of the codes not working, we asked her if this was true. Surely it couldn’t be. It was, she declared. Totally difficult and annoying to manage even if the system worked perfectly, but becomes even more unreasonable since the codes for unlocking the bikes don’t always work (Craig actually said that he had heard about the codes not working before we experienced it for ourselves). Can you imagine if we fixed the issue with the customer service rep, only to have it occur again in 30/60/90 minutes?
Craig and I looked at each other and knew that Citi Bike would not be the way to experience a joyful bike ride on a beautiful NYC afternoon and asked the agent to please cancel our purchase. “I can’t,” she explained, “You have to email.” Considering Craig works in computing related to customer service at Gilt, I took his word for it when he said that that was the second dumbest thing he ever heard. “There’s no ‘cancel transaction’ you can process?” he asked her. Nope.
We ended up purchasing a Living Social deal from Central Park Bikes that gave us 3 hours of undisturbed bike riding for $12 each. Thank you Central Park Bikes for the amazing experience and helpful service. Cruising around Central Park’s 6+ mile loop, along the West Side Highway down to the Frying Pan, and around Central Park South/5th Ave area of NYC was an incredible experience we won’t soon forget. It was very thrilling riding around the city and a great rush. We compared it to our sky-diving in that it was another experience we would tell our parents about after we finished safe and sound. If you haven’t gotten a chance to bike Central Park, add that to your Things You Must Do list, as it is super enjoyable, great exercise, and perfect for an afternoon date or activity with friends. And dare to tour the city streets if you like to live some-what dangerously once in a while.
I understand that, if you have lots of mini trips to make, renting a Citi Bike for 24-hour would be a really cool way to get around. But the fact that you have to find stations (yes there are a lot, but still, this would be a huge pain) completely undermines the experience and is something you didn’t read about in all the publicity. Save yourselves the hassle of having to “email” for your refund and try another alternative if you are looking for a nice sight-seeing bike excursion. If you’re quickly heading over the Brooklyn Bridge to get to work or going a few miles away to meet friends? Feel free to Citi Bike your brains out.