If you’ve been looking to celebrate Citi Bike’s 10th anniversary in Hell’s Kitchen, you may have instead encountered nothing but empty bike racks (and broken cycles with annoying red lights). Now, West Side lawmakers are calling on Citi Bike operator Lyft to change all that.
A letter to Lyft CEO David Risher from avid Citi Bike user and City Council Member Erik Bottcher, Borough President Mark Levine, State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, Assembly Member Tony Simone and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal describes a dire need for the rideshare giant — which took over Citi Bike operations in 2018 — to conduct a “comprehensive audit” of areas where, more often than not, users find inoperative bikes with dead batteries or none at all.
“Pedal-assist bikes are an increasingly popular and important part of our transportation environment and the Citi Bike fleet,” reads the letter. “For many New Yorkers, particularly those who wish to use micro-mobility to travel longer distances, these bikes have become an essential tool to get around. Unfortunately, New Yorkers who use pedal-assist bikes find them frequently out of order, presumably because of dead batteries. This shortcoming negatively impacts alternative transportation solutions in New York City.”
In addition to keeping more bikes charged in docks around town, the legislators highlighted a discernable lack of balance in Citi Bike distribution throughout Midtown. “Specifically, in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, it is not uncommon for there not to be an accessible bike between 42nd Street and Columbus Circle. In many neighborhoods, it is not uncommon for all docking stations to be full, forcing people to leave their neighborhood to dock bikes,” they added. “On Citi Bike’s website, Citi Bike states that it looks for trends and makes sure to ‘match bikes where riders are looking to ride them’ with a series of algorithms and can predict future demand with AI-driven rebalancing. If algorithms are indeed accurately predicting future demand, it is not being acted upon with rebalancing of bikes.”
West Side riders commenting on the letter posted to Twitter largely agreed. “I would say at a dock of 30 bikes that 20 are empty and 10 are completely broken or uncharged on average,” wrote one rider, as another noted, “Citi Bike is literally my main transportation but lots of docks have been down, bar codes scratched off or gone, not to mention trucks/cabs/Ubers parked in the bike lane. I hope things will improve.” Others emphasized a continued need for improved safety around bikes — both for riders and pedestrians. “While you’re at it,” wrote one commenter identified as William, “please make Citibike make its users sign an agreement to abide by the laws and not ride on the sidewalks,” referencing the increasing spate of sidewalk cyclists in Hell’s Kitchen.
Several of the elected officials referenced have called for legislation to boost bike infrastructure. Last summer, Borough President Mark Levine as well as City Council Members Erik Bottcher, Community Board 4 Chair Jeffrey LeFrancois and local transportation advocates proposed a jersey-barrier protected bike path on the busy Hudson River Greenway that would be converted from one lane of traffic on the West Side Highway, as well as calling on the DOT to install pedestrian refuge islands and split-phase intersection signals to improve crossing coordination on busy thoroughfares. W42ST has reached out to the Borough President’s office for updates on the West Side Highway bike lane project.
For now, lawmakers argued that Lyft should and can take immediate action to rebalance bikes and ensure vehicles are charged for use. “As the chief provider of bike-sharing services in New York City and an essential part of our transit system, Lyft has a responsibility to ensure that the service you offer is reliable, efficient, and of high quality,” the letter reads. “In the wake of Lyft’s layoff of 1,072 employees, roughly 26% of its corporate workforce, we hope this does not impair your company’s ability to meet these responsibilities.”
W42ST has reached out to the ride share company for comment on the call to action and Caroline Samponaro, VP of Transit, Bike and Scooter Policy at Lyft told us: “With May ridership 30% above last year, we are using all the levers at our disposal to ensure there are bikes available in our highest utilization neighborhood at the end of the morning rush hour — and the early results have been promising. Meanwhile, we continue to closely partner with the City on exploring longer-term structural improvements, including electrification of stations.”