BY CLARISSA-JAN LIM | It seems not a moment goes by almost anywhere in Downtown Manhattan when a distinctive, bright blue Citi Bike isn’t whizzing past one’s peripheral vision. New York City’s bike-share program, unveiled at the end of May, is the country’s largest, and has so far been both incredibly welcomed and utterly vilified.
The glitches in the system are numerous and frequent — from its docking and releasing problems, to its kiosks malfunctioning — but the program remains popular. On June 17, the program’s official Twitter page (@CitibikeNYC) announced that New Yorkers took a “record-breaking 25,119 trips today.”
Journalist Claire Connors is a fan. As she wiped down a rain-spattered Citi Bike at the Canal St. and Sixth Ave. station on a wet Monday earlier this month, she said the new bike-share made traveling around town more convenient.
“I signed up for it the first week,” she said, “but I wish I had earlier, because I missed out on some good bike-riding weather at the very beginning.”
Julian Madden, 30, has has an annual membership, and loves it.
“I used it since day one,” he said. “I enjoy going from place to place on the weekends. It’s great.”
Alex Ward, a TV producer from England who has lived in New York 13 years, is nostranger to bike-share. London has a system, too.
“I use it all the time when I get back to London, so I was very excited when it launched here,” he said. “Now I’m just on the bike all the time.”
The bugs in the system, however, remain a major issue. Anthony Ponte’s first Citi Bike had a flat tire, and later at the Canal and Sixth station, the kiosk failed to work. After about 15 minutes of trying to get a code for his second ride, Ponte gave up and walked away. Several other people also tried using the kiosk to no avail.
A seasoned bike-share user, Ward pointed out the almost fully docked station at Canal and Sixth.
“You see how this one’s full at the moment?” he noted. “I would say there’s something wrong with the machine. You can tell.”
Chilean tourists Sergio Lorca and Ivan Vasquez also encountered problems with the new pedaling program when they first tried to use it on a Sunday, and then again when they spoke to The Villager the next day.
“We paid for the bicycles but we couldn’t take them,” said Vasquez, as he looked over the map on the kiosk to find another station. Lorca said that it’s a good concept “because all people can ride a bike. They just need to fix the electronic problems,” he said.
Madden said that although he has “had tons of trouble” dealing with the glitches, it doesn’t deter him from using it.
New Yorkers might be luckier than their London counterparts. According to Ward, there were many more problems in the initial stages of London’s bike-share than currently with Citi Bike.
“It’s teething problems,” he said. “It’ll sort itself out.”
However, many New Yorkers opposed bike-share’s implementation — with some even suing the city over Citi Bike stations on their street. Now that the docks are in place, some people have even been “messing with them, trying to make it not work for people,” Connors said, “sort of like bicycle terrorists.”
A common complaint is that the cycles’ glaring blue color and Citi logo are an eyesore on the streets. The program has also sparked anti-corporate sentiment among many New Yorkers — including some bike-share fans.
“It’s horrible,” said Madden of the branding. “It’s incredible to me that Citibank has this monopoly. I mean, it’s good for them, but I’d rather not ride a Citibank commercial.”
Despite her disdain for the financial giant, Connors said it made sense to her that the bicycles would carry the company’s logo.
“I think they suck,” she said of Citibank. “But someone had to pay for it though, right? I don’t know how else they would have done it.”
But the branding doesn’t bother Ponte too much.
“I’m sure they put a lot of money in it,” he said. “Everything else you do today has a brand name on it.”
Ward noted that there was initially similar contempt among Londoners for the branding of bicycles on their streets. London’s bike-share bears the logo of its sponsor, Barclays bank.
“After a while people just get used to it, and I’m sure the same’s going to happen here,” he said. “They’re so convenient that I think people just don’t really care after a while.”
Bike-share also makes getting around the city more economical. At just around $100 a year, Connors said it’s a great deal.
“I’m saving so much money not taking the subway every day,” she said. “That’s like $5 a day.”
Ward, whose usual mode of transportation is the taxi, was equally enthusiastic.
“Oh my God, this is so much cheaper!” he said of the bike-share. “And I take it everywhere, even when it’s raining.”
He also said cycling in New York City is a “brilliant” experience.
“The cycle lanes are so much better here than London,” he said, “because they’re actually separate from the road.”
Madden deemed New York “probably the best biking city I can think of because everything’s really flat and close together.” Yet, he also conceded that cycling in traffic here can be a pain.
As New Yorkers thank (or curse) Citi Bike for an increase in cyclists every day, it seems the bike-share is firmly on the ground and may well be here to stay.