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Reasons to Love New York 2014

41. Because Citi Bike Is Too Big (of an Idea) to Fail

Meet Jay Walder, the former head of the MTA and the new chief of Citi Bike, which has plans to double in size by 2017.

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Illustration by Jean Jullien  

Citi Bike’s popularity has been a bit of a double-edged sword: People loved it too much, too quickly. How are you going about working out the kinks? When I said I was coming to do this, my in-box was filled with notes, all of which started with “I love Citi Bike.” Often there was a comma, followed by “but,” and then something else that the person wanted to say. There are some growing pains. That is very, very real.

Have Citi Bike’s new owners, who are affiliated with Related Companies, promised to give you the runway you need to improve and expand? In trying to decide whether I wanted to do this, one of the things that I personally tested was whether people were really committed. I got the most unequivocal answer about that from our investors. They said, “Go to it, you have our full support, invest money.” They know that we need to continue to build up our human resources, our skills, our knowledge base in different areas. Clearly—clearly—they are looking to make sure that we are delivering on the things that we need to do. And there are 8 million people in the City of New York who will be watching that, too.

How about the software issues? Well, technology is at the heart of the system, and we have to have a strong and stable technology platform, and it hasn’t been.

What’s it like moving from running huge public-transit systems to running something much more grassroots? At the MTA, you are working within the constraints of a system that started in 1904 and was largely developed by the time we entered World War II. And by virtue of the nature of the system, it is not fluid and flexible. Our city, on the other hand, changes much more rapidly.

Adding bike share is a lot easier than building the Second Avenue subway. It fits wherever anyone wants! Bike share, on the best days, is carrying in the upper 40 thousands, so there’s nothing that says it’s a replacement for the MTA. But bike share is in fact the most individualized form of transit. It can be delivered quickly. We will have bike share in Queens next year. It will be there.


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