If all goes according to plan, the buggy and cash-poor Citi Bike system could have a new owner by week’s end. The de Blasio administration and bike-share operator Alta “are nearing a final agreement,” the New York Times reported yesterday, to sell an ownership stake to REQX, an investment venture by the real-estate firm Related and those sexy Equinox gyms, with hopes of expanding the program and fixing the bugs that marred its first year of existence. Improvements are on the way. But so is a huge price hike — fixes cost money and Citi Bike has none, while the city has no plans to chip in — which could bring a yearly membership up to $155 from the current rate of $95. This offer, as they say, won’t last long.
Citi Bike may be at its lowest point since launching. Months of bad press about its financial situation and software glitches have every little complaint, like a faulty app or broken dock, feeling like a major loss. And as we enter year two, there are membership woes, too: Annual subscribers hit a peak on the program’s birthday in May at 105,355 members, according to the company. But by June, when the 25,276 people who signed up at launch saw their annual passes expire, the number plummeted to 96,318 — “appearing to indicate that at least 9,037, or 36 percent, of its initial subscribers had chosen not to renew,” reports a Daily News editorial today. “Repeat that pattern this month and next month and so on and bike sharing has entered a death spiral.”
What better time to buy in?
Mayor de Blasio has said in a statement that Citi Bike “has become part of our public transportation system, and there is a lot riding on its success.” Nitpicks and management issues aside, the system is popular. It’s not going anywhere. And REQX’s plans sound promising: First, as the Times reported, “to improve the system’s software and to address other customer service issues,” but also expansion, nearly doubling the 6,200 bikes available now, and bringing stations to Queens, upper Manhattan, and deeper into Brooklyn. These things will take time, sure — 2017 is the end goal — but will start as soon as next year.
If you’ve been waffling on signing up, talk of a sale (mostly that price hike) and impending upgrades should be the final push to quit being so damn lazy. Not only will you be able to avoid the sweaty August subway and lock yourself into the old rate, saving $60 bucks, plus whatever you’d spend on cabs, but you’ll be getting in on the ground floor of something about to get better. Just think of it as an investment.