New York City's newest public-transit option, which allows commuters to rent bicycles to get to work, got its first real road test today as businesses reopened after the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Private companies, not taxpayers, are behind its funding: Citigroup, the New York-based bank, is contributing $41 million to be the chief sponsor and namesake, and MasterCard Inc. is behind the program's $6.5 million payment system. Profits are to be split with the city.
Tim McGlinn, a 44-year-old equities analyst at U.S. Steel & Carnegie Pension Fund, stuck his blue plastic key in the docking station outside of Pennsylvania Station this morning to release one of 25 gleaming new two-wheelers for the first time. He takes the train from Maplewood, New Jersey, each day and had longed for the opportunity to swap his subway trip for a bike ride on the two-mile trek uptown to his office.
"I expect to use it most days when it's not raining," McGlinn said after his journey, during which passersby flashed him thumbs-ups. "I expect to save money, although that's not the primary reason why I'm doing it -- it's just nicer."
Bikeshares have cropped up in recent years in cities across the U.S. and the world, including Washington D.C. and Paris, as an environmentally friendly alternative to cars and other mass transit that gives users the bonus of a workout.
New York's version opened yesterday for the first 5,000 people who purchased annual memberships, as most businesses were closed for the Memorial Day holiday. The first of 6,000 Citi-sponsored bicycles available from 330 solar-powered docking depots in parts of Manhattan south of 59th Street and in sections of Brooklyn will open to the riding public next week.
Annual passes cost $95 -- $17 less than the cost of a unlimited monthly subway pass -- and grant users access to an unlimited number of rides lasting 45 minutes. More casual users can purchase 24-hour access for $9.95 and seven-day access for $25, for an unlimited number of 30-minute rides. Timers reset once the bikes are returned to any station. Longer trips are discouraged and cost extra.
Some people have criticized the program, saying that the docking stations take away parking spots and complicate truck deliveries for businesses, cyclists don't follow traffic rules, the city is too car-centric and the addition of more bikes on the road will cause accidents.
The program had also been plagued by delays because of faulty software and physical destruction of some units caused by Hurricane Sandy's floodwaters last year.
The launch hasn't been without problems. Yesterday, users attempting to redock at the South Ferry/Whitehall station had trouble locking bikes back into place. At least 20 stood unlocked. It appeared today as if some remained unsecured. Some users had trouble releasing the bikes from their docking stations before learning that the trick is to lift it by the seat.
The New York Post reported that a "pedal pilferer" stole a bike yesterday, before workers delivering a set to a rack in Manhattan had secured them.
Nicole Garcia, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, which helps run the program, didn't respond to an e-mail seeking confirmation of the theft.
As of 11 a.m. local time today, users had logged more than 29,000 miles on 12,000 trips, according to the department. More than 18,000 people have signed up for annual memberships.
A docking station today near downtown Brooklyn, at the intersection of Bond and Schermerhorn streets, became an object of curiosity for passersby who ogled it and snapped photos with smartphones. One woman used a bikeless unit as a place to rest her purse.
Eric Rice stopped to inspect, happily deciding that the bikes looked sturdy. The 45-year-old building maintenance worker said he plans to purchase an annual membership soon.
"I don't think they'll rust after weeks of being out in the rain," he said. "Especially in the summer, I'd rather ride one of these across the Brooklyn Bridge than be stuck in the hot subway."