Citi Bike Ridership Begins to Climb Out of Its Slump

Summer sales and ridership numbers show Citi Bike, at last, is on the rebound.

Let the good times roll: DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, left, and Motivate CEO Jay Walder, right. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, left, and Motivate CEO Jay Walder, right. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

The bike-share program grew by leaps and bounds as New Yorkers embraced it immediately after the May 2013 launch, but before long, subscribers grew frustrated with unreliable service caused by buggy software and other operational problems. Sales and ridership slumped.

In fiscal year 2015, which ended June 30, Citi Bike annual memberships fell to 73,369, down 21 percent from the year before, according to the Mayor’s Management Report. The total number of trips also fell to 8.8 million, down from 9.4 million. City Hall attributed the declines to “harsh winter weather” and a jump in annual membership fees, from $95 to $149 last October.

Now, upgrades under new ownership — including back-end software fixes, a redesigned bike, a new docking mechanism, and app upgrades — appear to be paying dividends. Since July, ridership and subscriptions have been turning around. The size of the system has also been growing, but the positive trends predate the addition of stations.

In July, before stations were added, ridership hit a daily average of 35,960 trips, a 5 percent increase over July 2014. Citi Bike also sold more day and week passes this July than last July — a healthy sign.

In August, Citi Bike began adding new stations, a process that’s still underway. The growth has helped boost ridership to record highs. In the peak months of July, August and September, Citi Bike’s highest daily ridership in 2013 was 44,284. That number fell to 41,996 in 2014. Now, that number has reached a new benchmark: Citi Bike reports hitting more than 50,000 trips per day in mid-September.

It’s too early to say how the system expansion above 59th Street is faring, however. On the Upper West Side and Upper East Side, the stations aren’t as close together as the rest of the system, which threatens to degrade the user experience and curtail ridership. There are still about a dozen stations in those neighborhoods that are supposed to be added this year but haven’t gone in yet, making it impossible to assess how the thinner station network is performing so far.

  • Michael

    Still a member, but the density of stations makes it less than useful for day to day riding.

  • nanter

    Perfect that that’s a picture on the greenway. How about trying to ride on all the wonderful “bike facilities” like sharrows that she claims make up part of a cohesive bike network but really comprise routes where you thank your lucky stars every time you get home alive.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    had a exceedingly well dressed 30 something fellow ride next to me on first avenue around 62nd ask me a torrent of questions. He was commuting to 79th for the first time from his office at 50th & Park He looked like he was having a great time.

    as we passed a massive bike station on 66th ? & First, I noticed nearly every bike was out being used.

    It’s going to be a success on UES despite all the challenges.

  • Alan

    I had a CitiBike membership for the first two years, which I have let lapse.

    This was because:
    -they never get their shit together enough to bring stations to my neighborhood of Crown Heights
    -the once-compelling economic case became less compelling when they raised prices (and because my current job gives me free Metrocards)

    That said, the system is useful enough that once they bring bikes to Crown Heights, I will very likely subscribe again.

  • Joe Enoch

    How many current annual members? I kind of feel like that’s one of the best benchmarks of success.

  • JK

    I’d really like to see Citibike offer a per ride fare like MetroCard. Annual memberships are a bad deal for people with monthly Metrocards, or everyday bike commuters with their own bikes, who might want to do 15-20 bike share rides a year — for example, me and everyone I know.

  • They sold a couple thousand more annual memberships in July/August 2015 than they did in July/August 2014, so I would guess they’re now around 75-76K. But that could be because of expansion not the operating improvements.

  • com63

    That’s the key. Bikes need to be both where people live and where they work for memberships to be compelling.

  • Alan

    Even if you don’t live in the zone, the value proposition’s there if you don’t have an unlimited Metrocard and sub out 5 subway rides a month, or one short taxi ride.

  • Jared R

    Citibike replaces walking and is a subway connector. I’ve had an annual membership since inception because it simply speeds up my connections. I use it everyday. I’m not sure many people understand what Citibike is useful for.

  • com63

    They should have more membership options. Even a monthly option at $25 a month would probably attract a lot of people who just want it for the warm months. It is easier to rationalize $25 if it saves you 2-3 cab rides than it is to think about $149 spread over the whole year.

    I don’t know how the finances are set up, but a daily pass for the Paris bike share is pegged to a single ride of the metro at 1.70euro.

  • AE

    Been a member since the beginning and they’ve come a long way since. Empty stations or being dockblocked were the norm. I did let the membership lapse in June because of the price increase but when they came to my neighborhood two months later, I signed up again.

  • How many people stopped using Citibike because they bought a bike?

  • mrtuffguy

    Not really. I have a membership despite living far from the zone. I can turn a two train commute into a train/bike commute and I can quickly run lunchtime errands. I can’t wait for it to come to the neighborhood but I would never try to use Citi Bike to make the 45 minute commute from home to work.

  • Jonathan R

    I’m not sure many people understand what Citibike is useful for, at
    least not until they have an annual membership and have used the system
    for a year+.

    Hello, bike share marketing department! Are you reading this?

  • Mathew Smithburger

    Between my wife and me we’ve booked nearly 700 Citibike trips since my maiden solo voyage on 6/21/2013. Shortly after we went out and purchased our own bicycles. Today we use both Citibike (as members since 2013) and our own bikes about equally.

    Citibike is efficient, low cost (compared with the MTA or Uber or cabs, or pedicabs, or owning a car) and relieves the user of worrying about a bike tied up outside.

    I regularly lugg a week’s worth of groceries from Battery Park City to 50th Street each week on a Citibike. I have seen New Yorkers carry small appliances, big screen televisions, rolls or carpeting, large musical instruments, car parts, other New Yorkers, pets of all sizes, trays of food and computer equipment on Citibikes. I ridden one wearing a tuxedo, business attire and once in my bathrobe and pajamas. The design is ideal for handling in heavy city traffic and the old model Citibikes were balanced enough that they could be ridden without hands (do not try that on the new bikes). And now that the service area is expanding I know that I and many other New Yorkers will be taking more trips.

    But in analysing ridership and miles traveled and new subscriptions care must be taken in how we determine the program’s successes and failures. Rider ship is positively correlated with favorable weather and certain days of the week. In addition, the price hike combined with a difficult winter adversely affect not only ridership numbers but also subscription renewals. These factors however can be and should be corrected for in any year to year comparisons. Once those adjustments have been made you will find the system is doing much better than the simple gross numbers imply.

  • Patrick94GSR .

    A personal bike wouldn’t make sense in a lot of situations, like going somewhere where you wouldn’t want to leave a bike locked up outside, or using a bike as a quick one-way connection to a subway or anywhere else that might be faster than walking, and/or cheaper and possibly even faster than a cab.

  • HamTech87

    Agreed. I took one of those time-saving Citibike rides from Port Authority to Grand Central. Riding on 8th Ave amidst taxi drivers who agressively used their cars as a weapon was really scary. Sharrows ain’t protection.

  • Matthias

    You can only use your bike if you have it with you. You can use a Citibike anytime there’s one around.

  • Jonathan R

    Conversely, you can only use bike share when you happen to be in the coverage area. Too bad for me.

  • Greg

    Interestingly enough, it’s had the exact opposite effect on me. I already have my own bike, but I use it *far* less frequently than I did before Citibike.

    This is for a number of reasons, but ultimately it’s that the “ride-and-forget” convenience of Citibike is far nicer than having to worry about what to do with my own bike. I now only use my own bike for long-distance recreational rides on weekends.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    a insane gap in the protected bike lane. I usually walk the 2 blocks in front of Port Authority and tell tourists to do the same

  • NYCer

    If you talk to Charlie McCorkell over at Bicycle Habitat he’ll tell you the opposite story. As much as he was and is still a booster of Citibike, he believes bike-share may have contributed to the erosion of bicycle sales at his shop. Not sure if he is correct about that, but that’s his sense.

  • Anon resident

    Still amazed how the former GM, Justin Ginsberg who help tank Citibike ends up working at Motivate.

  • linstur

    It’s about time to install real bike lanes across the city. We give away free parking when what we need are safe bike lanes (and fewer cars). How much do we subsidize cars with free parking and free roads? We should tally that up and subsidize biking just as much.

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