The Bicycle Dairies Episode 10
It has been a while since I have written anything under this heading. We just returned from a trip to New York. Given all the press attention it has received, we could hardly ignore the new bike sharing system known there as citibikes after its sponsor. (In London people refer to them as “Boris Bikes” rather than “Barclays Bikes”). I visit New York quite a bit as my son lives there, and have got to know my way about Manhattan. I have also now visited Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island too: the Bronx I am saving for later. As with Paris, my first instinct was to try and get everywhere by subway, but I soon learned its limitations. “The only way to get across town is to be born there.” Like most visitors, there’s a lot of walking – and “flaneuring” – too.
A lot of people got very upset when these stations started appearing. I think they are neat and tidy, but what they seemed to do was take away that precious commodity – on street parking spaces. In fact, very few people can actually use on street spaces, since there are so few of them and much of the curb space is needed for deliveries. All over Manhattan much space is taken by large black limousines and SUVs waiting for passengers (livery cars are an important part of the transportation system but are not taxis). The price of off street parking is of course ridiculous – and much traffic is simply circling looking for an on street spot.
I am writing about my experience and this is not intended as a detailed critique of the system. There is plenty on line about how to use the system, but as usual the PR folks have made the process look a lot easier than it is in practice. It is not just a question of sliding in your credit card. There are a number of screens that you have to go through and on line forms to fill in. One good thing is that the screen accepts CA as the country code in default of a zip code. That is not possible at other terminals, like ticket vending machines at subway stations – or self serve gas pumps. My partner found that after going through the entire process it simply failed – something we also experienced in Paris. I managed to use two different credit cards for two separate bikes: I think you can register more than one bike at a time, but this seemed easier if we wanted to use them at a docking station later.
Getting the bike is simple. Having completed the registration process, you get a five digit code to punch into a dock – the buttons are on the left hand side – and a green light comes on to tell you to take the bike. This is time limited. Returning is equally simple. Push the front wheel into the dock until the green light comes on.
As you might expect, there are times when the stations are full of bikes – which makes it easy to rent hard to return. Equally we would have used the bikes more often but either the station was empty or not co-operating. We saw one man with a citibike key fob that he could put into the dock, but it refused to give up its bke. And that would have left only one for the two of us. I did not feel like using my card in a system that was behaving like that, but maybe the bike had been reported damaged. Yes, you can do that (“notify us by pushing the white wrench button on the top of the dock”) I do not recall seeing that very useful tool in Paris.
I strongly recommend the use of a smart phone or tablet to find bikes and stations. Like car2go it is not exactly essential but makes life a lot easier. I would also, like car2go too, not rely on the system exclusively. You will still need a Metrocard, and do not neglect the ferry system either. The Staten Island ferry is free, and the East River ferry only $4, which is still great value.
Contrary to the instructions, these bikes were simply left while the people who had rented them went and looked at the carousel in Central Park. If they had been stolen while they were in there, it would have cost them plenty. Even citibike say that for protracted periods, conventional bike rentals are a better deal. Since it costs $9.95 for a 24 hour pass, it is actually cheaper to rent if you do not intend to make a large number of trips. The first thirty minutes do not incur an extra fee so you can keep swapping bikes – but then you have t be able to find them when you need them. We would have got much more use out of our membership if bikes had actually been available when and where we needed them.
While we were looking at a bike station near Central Park, we were approached by a sidewalk salesman for one of the bike rental companies, offering a very attractive deal. And, this being New York, you could always try haggling.
We also saw bike share in Denver. Interestingly this one is sponsored by Kaiser Pemanente one the larger HMOs
We did not use this. Partly because it was so hot, but also because there is a free bus shuttle through downtown, which we used a lot, and everything we wanted to see in the two days we were there was within walking distance
The weakest component on the Velib bikes in Paris is the seat adjustment. Denver has adopted a much more robust approach