Citi Bike is undertaking a major expansion of its electric pedal-assist bikes — but at a cost.
Streetsblog NYC reports that by the end of spring, the Lyft-owned company will have enlarged its electric fleet from 200 to 4,000 bikes, about a third of Citi Bike’s overall fleet.
But riders will also pay a surcharge for an e-bike: $2 per ride, whether they are single-trip riders or annual members, who pay $169 for unlimited rides. Residents of New York public housing and those receiving SNAP benefits, who pay $60 per year for a discounted membership, will pay 50 cents per e-bike ride.
The fee won’t apply if the only available bike in a given dock is electric; it will also be waived for riders who park at stations near the L train, during that line’s reduced service hours, Streetsblog said.
NYC Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who represents Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsburg, argues that the fee will “act as a barrier to [adoption of e-bike riding] and the myriad benefits that they provide to individuals and communities,” he wrote in an open letter to Citi Bike, Streetsblog reported.
Citi Bike officials have defended the fee, Streetsblog says, because it doesn’t know how much it will cost to maintain that many e-bikes. The company says it will hire dozens of new, unionized workers to handle swapping out batteries and other bike maintenance, spokeswoman Julie Wood said. At the rate Citi Bike’s existing e-bikes are being used, the batteries need to be replaced with fresh ones every 45 minutes, Curbed NY said. Streetsblog reports that the average electric Citi Bike is ridden 15 times per day, compared to the “classic” Citi Bike, which gets five rides. Roughly 18 percent of e-bike trips are three miles or more, whereas most classic bike riders take much shorter trips.
Citi Bike also told Streetsblog that it’s thinking of asking members if they’d be interested in a yearly membership that was priced higher than $169 a year, if it included unlimited e-bike rides. The cost of that potential membership isn’t yet available. Citi Bike is also contemplating charging less, but capping the number of e-bike rides per month.
New York spends no public money on Citi Bike, and Citi Bike didn’t ask for a subsidy for the e-bike expansion, Streetsblog wrote. But Reynoso, in his letter, asked Lyft to provide the city with an accounting of how much money Citi Bike would lose without the $2 surcharge, and said he “would like to raise the possibility that New York City considers funding this shortfall.” (Streetsblog points out, rightly, that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ferry system is currently subsidized at $6.60 per ride, and serves far fewer people.)
JUMP Bikes, an Uber-owned, would-be Citi Bike competitor that’s currently piloting a small-scale test in Staten Island, issued a statement Thursday saying it’s asking the Department of Transportation to allow more JUMPs. A JUMP bike costs $2 to unlock and 7 cents a minute after the first 30 minutes.
Rachel Kaufman is a journalist covering transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and more.