Friday, August 16, 2013

Docking blues: Doing the 'checking-all-of-the-Citi Bike-stations dance'

During the past week, we've heard some grumbling from Citi Bike users who say that they continue to have problems finding an open space to dock their bikes at night in the East Village. The people we talked to say that they are fans of the program, but are growing frustrated by the distribution problems.

The Times reported yesterday on the program's "tricky juggling act" to "remove bikes from fully occupied stations, and to refill stations before the supply runs dry."

Meanwhile, there are stories of riders on the phone with Citi Bike reps, trekking from Astor Place to Avenue C and back to Astor Place in search of empty docking stations.

We walked around Wednesday night and found six full docking stations... and watched people ride by looking for a place to park. (Maybe this leads to some abandonment issues?)

We asked a few East Village residents to share their experiences... the following quotes are from residents who are fully supportive of the bike-share program. (For now, anyway...)

From a resident who lives on Avenue A and East Sixth Street:

"The availability just follows the rhythms of the day — in the mornings during the rush to go to work there are no bikes, and after work there are no [parking spots] because everyone has brought them back.

When I first decided to use the bikes to ride to the train, I was late to work a few days because I searched a few stations around me, and couldn't find any bikes. Evenings have the exact opposite problem; on Monday evening, I checked 6th and B, 7th and A, then finally caught someone pulling out at St. Mark's and 1st and rushed to get into the spot.

I wasn't the only one slowly riding around in circles waiting for a free spot; I noticed at least 2 other riders that I kept intersecting. Somehow, weekends aren't that much better. On Saturday, I was late to meet a friend because I spent time again doing the checking-all-of-the-Citi Bike-stations dance. On a Saturday afternoon!

So, unfortunately, I think I might need to shift my thinking around the bikes as something that I can use when the opportunity arises, versus a reliable, regular transportation method.

I think our neighborhood really needs additional stations. I originally imagined a huge boost to the quality of life in the area, but it's not quite there yet."

And this is from Matt:

"There have been a few signs of improvement recently, but not being able to find/dock a bike is still a frustrating issue. It used to be that if I left for work after 8:35 a.m., I knew not to expect to get a bike at my usual rack at 13th and A. Now it's less predictable — some days there might be a half-full rack, others all the bikes might have the red light on, and other's it'll be completely empty even if I'm early.

Same thing happens at night – if I leave work after a certain hour, I prepare myself for a trip around the East Village looking for a spot. Monday was a new record, when it took me 7 docks to find an open slot (13th and A, 10th and A, 14th and B, 12th and D, 9th and C, 5th and C, and 6th and B, until finally catching someone leaving at 7th and A). I think the most frustrating thing about those joyrides is that the app consistently says that openings are available at those docks.

I love the idea of Citi Bikes and still think they're the most exciting thing to happen to the city in a long time, but I hope they can pull this together."


Anonymous said...

You know why Matt (and others like me) can't get a bike at 8.30am anymore? Because people like "resident of 6th and A" take bikes to RIDE TO FREAKING ASTOR PLACE! Nothing wrong with this in principle, but with the shortage we have, I wish people who actually ride all the way to work were able to get the bikes over people who want to ride for 5 minutes instead of walking 10 minutes to Astor Place.

shmnyc said...

I passed by the station on 2nd Street and Avenue B the other evening as two guys were loading bikes onto a truck. I asked them why there were doing this and they said they were taking them to an empty station elsewhere. He also said that they are seriously understaffed.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone really think these bikes would be a viable mode of transportation to and from work? They're heavy, it takes major work to lock them in the docks, and the availability is too unreliable. They make the L train look good!.

Anonymous said...

The problem isn't just in the East Village. My friends who ride to work further downtown can't find stations to dock their bikes in the morning, and a few have gone back to the subway.

ahoy polloi said...

citibike needs to install 1.5 to 2 docks per bike in the system. i realise that this wouldn't guarantee that in the most popular areas bikes (or docks) would always be available, but it would alleviate some of the problems described above (and yes, it is fairly ridiculous to ride a bike from 6th & A to Astor Place).

on monday night (11pm), i picked up a bike near PCV at 23rd and 1st and i couldn't find a single dock in the EV, as i snaked from 2nd Ave to D and back again, all the way to 14th. i eventually just figured "where do people work at night and might be freeing up some docks? -- hospitals! -- so i returned the goddamn bike all the way back to 23rd and 1st. ugh.

still a proponent of the programme but good lord do they need to start data-crunching and solving some of these problems. no excuses.

pro-tip: forget the "Citibike" app, get the one from the non-profit that actually runs the programme, it's called "Bikeshare" and it seems much more up to date.

Anonymous said...


hear you! But the system needs to work for however you want to use the bikes, from a 7-minute jaunt to a trip to Brooklyn.

Giovanni said...

10 Things To Do While Riding Around In Circles Looking For A CitiBike Docking Station:

1. Finish Reading War and Peace.

2. Call Mayor Bloomberg and give him yet another reason why his regrettable 3rd term was a big mistake.

3. Write the next great American novel, in your head.

4. Call your therapist and catch up on that much needed anger management counseling.

5. Pull over at a full docking station and take a nice long nap.

6. Enlist in the army.

7. Launch a Kickstarter campaign to help you pay off the late bike return fees.

8. Dream about all the other amazing things that might have happened in your relatively short and suddenly pathetic life if you weren't stuck pedaling that rolling Citibank billboard around the city for hours.

9. Sell your Citibike and use the funds to pay off the $1,000 lost bike fine.

10. Stop at the first bike shop and buy a much nicer set of wheels, so that you will never, ever, have to do this to yourself again.

Andrew Tyndall said...

What about a rewards system?

Any rider who takes a bicycle from an overfilled rack or returns one to an underfilled rack earns rewards points. Accumulate a certain number of points and your annual subscription is extended by a week. The number of points on offer would vary in proportion to the need to even out supply and demand at any given rack at any given time. The varying number of Points on Offer would be displayed at each rack, and would also be available on the app, to aid in route planning.

Think of it as a combination of Citi’s own rewards system for credit card usage and the variable parking meter charge concept, designed to make city streets constantly partly used and partly empty.

creature said...

Same problems here. Love the bike share and, if I time things right, I can get a bike and park a bike (but it does take planning). The whole experience has me wanting to get my own bike and risk the street parking aspect.

Anonymous said...

But, but.....the eprogram's a smashing success!

They knew there would be a short supply of docks at night, I mean, didn't they?

Who rents a Citibike at 2 AM?

Anonymous said...

Major work? I'd love to see what your job is then if you consider plugging a bike in "major work"

Gojira said...

"I think our neighborhood really needs additional stations" - uhhh, no, it does not. We have already been saturated with these hideous blue and grey monstrosities, far too much space was given over to them in the EV/LES, and the last thing we need is more of 'em taking up yet more sidewalk or street space. Not everyone rides bikes or thinks this program is a boon - those who do have gotten their wish, those of us who don't are stuck with it, but DON'T cram any more of this crap into our already overcrowded nabes.

Anonymous said...

That's what happens when you keep jamming more and more people into an already over-crowded city. Even the "conveniences" become inconvenient. Every day I'm a little more happy that I recently got out.

Anonymous said...

ahoy polloi,
The company that runs the bike share program, Alta Bicycle Share, is not a non-profit, for the record.

Hey19 said...

@Ahoy Polloi
What is the ratio of docks to bikes currently? I would think its about 1.5?
It sounds like we need more docks and bikes in the right areas. I know its not easy to park a car in NYC, and it shouldnt necessarily be easier to park a citi bike, but it sounds like some tweaking is in order.

ahoy polloi said...

@Giovanni I think any regular citibike owner would gladly own their own bike if their office/apt building allowed for safe, off-street parking. Sadly, neither my work nor my landlord has been responsive to repeated requests, so for now, citibike is the best we can do.

@Gojira which blue and grey monstrosities are you referring to? the Chase banks? The bus station shelters with corporate ads that inhabit every other block? The Duane Reades? So many monstrosities to keep track of from the constantly-offended crowd. The bike programme is clearly very popular so you should probably quit fighting yesterday's battles

@Hey19 yes more bikes and docks are needed, but if there ratio is 1:1, then it's a zero sum game that leads to no docks and no bikes. The bike share programme needs better peak demand management, as we say in the energy sector: being prepared for when system use is at or near maximum.

I have no idea what the current ratio of bikes to docks is, but I never saw and empty dock installed and there is currently no info on that ratio that I've been able to track down.

Anonymous said...

Gojira: seems to me that fewer people drive cars than ride bikes in our community, so I certainly don't want more car parking "crammed" in. Where do I protest hideous, massive cars parked in the streets, since "not everybody drives"? If you want to plant trees in these spots, go for it, but more parking? F*** that. If you need so badly to have a car, move to the burbs.

ahoy polloi said...

@Hey19 "The station network will provide twice as many docking points as bicycles, assuring that an available dock to return your bike is always nearby."

I believe the operative word is "will" because it's clearly not at that current ratio right now.

Anonymous said...

When Citibike first hit the streets I was prepared to be a naysayer-largely because of the program's corporate sponsor-but I wanted to give it a fair shake. I rented bikes a few times and then took the plunge and purchased a 1-year subscription. That's when the problems started: no space at docking stations, docking stations out of order, late fees for bikes returned within the alloted time, etc. The shortsightedness and level of incompetence with which this program was rolled out is truly astounding. Now my Citibike key is off my key chain and collecting dust on my bureau, and I've returned to my two most favored modes of transportation: NYC transit and my own two feet.

dwg said...

Don't think they'll have a problem installing more stations and bikes once they know where they're needed.

On the surface the idea is a good one, but in reality I'm concerned about how increasingly I find Citibike users ignoring the rules of the road as much as anyone- other bikers, delivery people, etc. They ride on sidewalks to and from docking areas, ride the wrong way down the street and wrong way in the bike lanes. They are not alone, but have quickly added to this ongoing and expanding problem.

Makeout said...

@ Giovanni- Fuck #6- Go Navy!

Anonymous said...

Love it. A few months ago the comments sections of every local blog were awash in apocalyptic "CITIBIKE WILL BE A MASSIVE FAILURE AND HAS ALREADY DESTROYED THE CITY BLARGH" insanity. Now we're all angry that we can't find a bike when we want one.

It's a real problem, just not the kind of problem we were promised. C'mon, haters, where's your Citibike apocalypse now?

aveaisessex said...

Demand has way outstripped supply, which is a good problem to have in terms of long term viability, but a frustrating experience in the here-and-now.

The ultimate answer is more bikes and more racks. But the immediate solution should be more racks in residential areas: not finding a bike is much less of a problem than not being able to park one. My personal wish is that they add 50% more rack capacity in the East Village. We'll see.

Glenn Belverio said...

It would take more than a bike problem to get me to ride the L train on a weekday morning. I would rather commute to work by being dragged by my bound ankles through the streets by wild horses.

Glenn Belverio said...

But yeah, I have to agree that it's completely ridiculous to use Citibikes to commute from 6th and A to Astor Place! Seriously? I walk to work and back home every day. I live at 3rd st and ave C and work at 23rd street and 5th ave.

Spike said...

Overall satisfied with things. I have a special location i've never failed finding a spot with so far. My little secret.

Anonymous said...

Waaaaah, Waaahhhh, waaahhh. I want a biek and docking station and I want it now. Expemplifies the me generation supporting this shitty "alternative" trasnportation.
Blog should be caled CitiGrieve.

ahoy polloi said...

Anonymous @ 1:45

yeah it's incredibly selfish and immature to expect a service to perform as advertised! the nerve of some people who have paid their money to use a system billed from the start as a alternative mode of commuting to be able to, you know, commute! and daily!

i guess the fact that the system is so popluar it's clearly oversubscribed means NYers of all ages somehow fit into the "Me Generation" - like the 60-something i helped to re-dock his bike yesterday.

but anything that would get me off of a crowded subway car with someone as awful as you is worth it, citibike included.

a good rule of thumb i've come to understand: if you meet someone and they're virulently opposed to citibike, they're generally pretty awful people.

Andrew Tyndall said...

This is from an official progress report at CitiBike's own Website (h/t Felix Salmon):

"Stations empty out early in the East Village but demand remains high till late in the morning; then at night the stations are jammed full."

Hey19 said...

I have a feeling the ratio is already appx 1.5, but unfortunately all the empty spaces are in midtown in the evening.
Anyway, the program is young, and these are good problems to have, since they are created by high demand.
There could be improvments, but that is true of any NYC transit solution, to expect citibike to be perfect when none of the other options are near perfect seems crazy.

Anyway, I have a fob, I have used it a few times, still getting my bearings, but I havent had any problems yet.

ahoy polloi said...

@Hey19 that's a fair point. i think what makes citibike problems so annoying is that, unlike other transit options like buses or subways, there isn't another one coming right down the street/track. the EV is a veritable citibike wasteland as of 9am, and it seems like trying to re-dock in the EV after 7pm on weekdays is futile.

that said, citibike could alleviate some of the frustration but actually crunching the wealth of data they have compiled. NYMag had a great infographic that used the data, but all citibike seems to do is "re-balance" the bikes, which will never be as effective as installing more stations & bikes.

Anonymous said...

Oh no! I am "the resident of 6th and A" and I come to check out the blog post for which I contributed at the end of my work day, and everyone is fuming!

Note - it doesn't say anywhere that I'm riding Citibike to Astor Place. My normal commute involves walking down to the 2nd ave F train stop, then taking that to West 4th, and then transferring to the A uptown. My thought with Citibikes was that in the time that I walk down to the F, wait for it, and travel to West 4th, I can bike directly to West 4th and just go straight onto the A. I've actually never successfully done this because I can't find a bike in the morning. Now I'm self-conscious about my Citibike usage! Is biking to the West 4th stop from 6th and A too short of a trip? I don't think it is :( The only reason I don't bike to work is because I work further uptown than Citibike's limits. I've biked back in the evenings when I stop after work to hang out in Soho, Chelsea, or West Village, and I think the stations in those neighborhoods are comparatively more balanced. This is why the system needs tweaking, so there shouldn't have to be a conversation about whether short-trip riders should forgo their morning trips.

Anonymous said...

Clearly the East Village (and I imagine other nabes) need more transportation options. I'm far from the subways. I take the crazy crowded M14 or seldom-seen M8 or M9 or M21 when I have the time. LES Car Service when I can expense it. But usually walk. A few years ago I used to ride my own bike but it was stolen too many times (not in the EV but near work in Chelsea). We need more safe parking for owned bikes not just bike sharing.

Anonymous said...

CitiBike is providing their own apocalypse!

Father Mancini's Corner said...

The citibike apocalypse will come after Bloomberg has left office, and the program is announced to be deeply in the red, requiring a taxpayer funded bailout. Just be patient, it's coming.

Kurt said...

CitiBike is providing their own apocalypse!

Citibike is too popular no one uses Citibike anymore.

Anonymous said...

Bike programs like this are not a reliable mode of transportation. Supporters of the Blue Demons can stomp their feet, cross their arms and make all the negative comments they want about cars, buses and trains but you know what, the rest of us will be on time for work.

Giovanni said...

The Citibike racks along St Marks place and outside Venieros among others were completely full late this afternoon. I talked to a few renters who were looking all over the place for an empty kiosk with no luck.

The dynamic on a nice Friday evening seems to be that the normally full racks due to the regular daily commuters get hit with even more people who are coming downtown from midtown and other areas for dinner and drinks. The result is a perfect storm of return traffic, and now they have nowhere to park, so the riders either sit and wait hoping someone, anyone, will take a bike out, or they are forced dash madly around looking for any available space, no matter how far away it is from thier original destination.

And there is not a sign of the magical rebalancing crews that were promised from the very beginning who were supposed to fix the problem. And for good reason, they don't exist, at least not at any level that can handle the millions of trips being generated and thousands of bikes that would need to be moved every day. The problem as it exists now cannot be solved without an entire UPS sized fleet of trucks and workers, and because that would be both very expensive and a logistical nightmare, that just isn't going to ever happen.

Meanwhile, back at the bar, everyone else is already on their second round of drinks, planning the next stop of the night, wondering whatever happened to so and so on the CitiBike, guessing they probably should've taken a cab downtown like everyone else.,.

Anonymous said...

This problem may correct when the nice weather ends.

Mark Hand The Catchman said...

And thats why you know find ShitiBikes left next to full docks or outside a McDOnalds...
Eventually the "Men of Steal" will now know where to get free bikes and wont have to even bother boosting one up a street sign pole.

Sinestra said...

There should always be more slots than bikes- Citi clearly didn't think about this. Lets say there are 500 bikes total- there should be 550 or 600 slots to account for people who cross into different neighborhoods. Whatever your total # of bikes in circulation is, there should be a certain percentage of slots beyond that number.

Anonymous said...

I find it amusing that the citibikers are now enjoying the same frustration as cars drivers, who have to go around their destination in "ever-widening concentric circles" (to quote George Costanza). meanwhile, i switched to a Fiat for my commute, and can pretty much park on my block when i get home. sorry, kids!

Anonymous said...

Why not put all the docking station sin the parks instead of on the streets. You supporters are all for the exercise aspect, so it should be your burden to shlep to and fro the docking stations.