A Legitimate Complaint About Citi Bike: The Docks Don’t Work Well

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A couple get their Citi Bike bicycles from a station near Union Square as the bike sharing system is launched May 27, 2013 in New York. About 330 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn will have thousands of bicycles for rent. With AFP Story by Brigitte DUSSEAU: US-Transport-Bicycle-Share-CitiBike
A couple get their Citi Bike bicycles from a station near Union Square as the bike sharing system is launched May 27, 2013 in New York. About 330 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn will have thousands of bicycles for rent. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA        (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo: STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images2013 AFP

After much bemoaning of the danger, ugliness, inconvenience, and threat to liberty that is the city's bike-sharing program, opponents of Citi Bike finally have a legitimate complaint to seize on if they want it: The equipment just doesn't work very well. On average, ten percent of stations fail each day, a WNYC investigation found. The reasons vary, but none reflect well on the city's planning nor on Citi Bike's operator, Alta Bicycle Share. Some stations run on solar power, which the New York Post reports doesn't work very well in the rain or overnight. Others run on batteries, the New York Times notes, which means that on nice days, "the sun can help sustain a station, but ideal riding conditions beget heavy use, which can drain batteries."

The back story of Citi Bike's software suggests the problems are more than "inaugural bumps." As the Times explains, Alta runs far less-buggy programs in Washington and Boston, where a company called 8D created the software to operate them. However, Alta's tech partner, Public Bike System Company, last year severed ties with 8D, saying it would create its own software. So 8D sued Alta for $26 million, and the Times found a record of Alta suing PBSC for delivering "nonconforming goods and faulty goods" to the Citi Bike program, though Alta said it never served the suit.

WNYC adds that Sandy flooded test docks at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, delaying the program further than it already had been. "But even during the testing, sources say, there were problems."

The software drama could probably remain in the realm of wonky transit blogs, were it not for the fact that Mayor Michael Bloomberg last summer made such a big deal out of getting that right. "Its software isn’t working yet," he said on Jon Gambling's radio show. "And just rest assured we’re not going to put out any program here that doesn’t work."