Citi Bike's Contentious First Two Weeks

Bike share overcomes absurd commentary, software glitches to log 360,000 miles

It’s been nearly two weeks since rows of shiny blue bikes with the Citi Bank logo appeared on the Big Apple’s sidewalks, and five days since the service started selling daily and weekly passes.

Nothing happens in New York at this scale without ten buckets-full of commentary and a New Yorker cover, and Citi Bike is no exception.

But before we get to that, the stats are in. According to Citi Bike’s official blog, Thursday was its biggest day yet with 16,720 trips—not bad for having roughly 4,700 bikes in circulation. That means nearly all, if not all, of the bikes are being used multiple times a day—which is more than I can say for my own bike at the moment.

As of 5 p.m. yesterday, riders have put in 363,823 miles, and that number probably hasn’t gone up much today on account of rain. Some 2,000-plus people a day buy 24-hour passes and 33,616 early adopters have sprung for the annual membership.

Now on to the good stuff.

New York Magazine captured some, but not all, of the pitch of anti-Citi Bike lunacy with a Venn diagram entitled “Why Conservatives Hate Citi Bike So Much.” Now before any conservative readers here cry foul, let me just say that there are plenty of people of all political stripes who kvetch about it, but Wall Street Journal editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz took the cake when she called Citi Bike the creation of “the totalitarians running this government” and railed against the “all-powerful bike lobby.” Okaaay, then. The New York Post also seems hell-bent on burying the program, running a daily drip of stories about Citi Bike mishaps, glitches and outrages.

On the other hand, one woman held a semi-nude figure drawing class by one kiosk in protest to its placement in a SoHo park. I somehow doubt her objections land on that Venn diagram anywhere, or that her protest produced the desired effect. Either way, the New York Daily News loved it.

But there’s still room for cogent commentary. Felix Salmon at Reuters, who has used Citi Bike a number of times already, encountered a fairly high frequency of glitches—docks not locking bikes properly,  stations shutting down unexpectedly, the app giving incorrect information about docking stations—and believes they are related to a messy squabble over the software development.

Citi Bike is going to need to get these things right to survive, but it didn’t get this far in New York only to crumble under pressure. We’ll likely have many, many more weeks to see how it all turns out.