City Hall and Motivate in Talks to Expand Citi Bike to the Bronx and Staten Island

The framework calls for adding 6,000 bicycles, a 50 percent increase, including 4,000 in neighborhoods beyond the current planned service area.

Photo: Adrian Nutter/Flickr
Photo: Adrian Nutter/Flickr

Bike-share operator Motivate is in talks with the city to increase the bicycles in its system by another 50 percent after the current round of expansion wraps up this year, including stations in the Bronx and Staten Island. City Hall would not contribute funds but would grant Motivate more favorable terms in its contract with the city.

At present, Motivate is planning to add more stations in western Queens, a handful of Brooklyn neighborhoods, and Manhattan up to 130th Street this year. There are no official expansion plans after that, which would leave much of the city without bike-share, even in neighborhoods where it would likely be heavily used.

The contours of the deal, first reported by Politico’s Dana Rubinstein, involve adding 6,000 bikes, 4,000 of which would go beyond the current planned service area, including areas in the Bronx and Staten Island. The remainder would increase capacity in areas of the existing system that are overwhelmed by demand.

In return, Motivate wants the city to eliminate a number of fees (including its obligation to cover lost revenue from stations that replace metered parking spots) and limit competition from other bike-share companies.

The talks are still “preliminary,” according to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “We all know we want to get to a five-borough system, we want to do it in a way that is going to be safe and efficient,” she told the City Council yesterday. “I think we want to minimize taxpayer investment to the extent that we can.”

Trottenberg said the city has been “very pleased with Motivate” but hasn’t ruled out working with other bike-share companies. “There are a lot of other low-cost operators out there and I think that’s a question we’re grappling with: Is it one city-wide monopoly? Do we allow competition? What does that look like?”

Transportation Alternatives and the City Council have been advocating for city funding to bring bike-share to more of the city. While the outline reported yesterday would touch all five boroughs and keep the expansion process going for another two or three years at its current rate, it would not resolve the question of how to extend bike-share network everywhere it would be well-used. A system with 18,000 bikes would still be about one-third the size of the bike-share network envisioned by the Department of City Planning in a 2009 report.

In a statement, TransAlt endorsed the parameters of the deal as reported and called on “the de Blasio administration to work with Motivate to create a high-quality five-borough bike share system in a timely fashion.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    “In return, Motivate wants the city to eliminate a number of fees (including its obligation to cover lost revenue from stations that replace metered parking spots) and limit competition from other bike-share companies.”

    What does the latter mean?

    I understand how something like this may be perceived as a “natural monopoly,” like a utility. But those have regulated prices, and must get approval for rate increases. Any rules to prevent alternatives from emerging should come along with regulation by the state Public Service Commission.

  • Kevin Love

    One of the problems with Motivate is that it uses obsolete third-generation technology. This causes problems ranging from dock-blocking to inconvenient dock locations.

    Ironically enough, New York’s own Social Bicycles is a leader in fourth-generation technology that eliminates these problems. Cities ranging from Portland, Oregon to Hamilton, Ontario use the SoBi system.

    Private Chinese companies that use fourth-generation technology are also expanding to the West. They believe that they can successfully compete with obsolete third-generation systems such as Motivate.

    I also believe that a private competitor can successfully take on Motivate in New York City. Not just by being cheaper, but by offering better service. Better service in the form of no dock blocking, being able to leave a bike right in front of wherever one is going, and being able to pick up a bike much closer than the nearest Citybike station.

    For details, see:

    https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/mar/22/bike-wars-dockless-china-millions-bicycles-hangzhou

  • simon

    The parking locations have to be regulated however. We can’t have a free for all. Un docked bikes can and will take space away from pedestrians. We have a lot of peds in NYC.

  • ohnonononono

    Utilities are also required disclose a lot more of their internal finances than CitiBike apparently is– they (and DOT) were really sketchy about what was going on when the system fell apart in 2014. They apparently felt that they needed to keep up the big PR push and pretend that everything was going fine and dandy until suddenly they couldn’t pretend anymore and they were forced to reveal that the software was buggy and they were in debt from the inability of casual users to actually rent bikes.

  • sbauman

    There are two bike share technologies: smart dock and smart bike. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. NYC uses the smart dock technology. Portland uses the smart bike model. However, Motivate operates both systems.

    A more important question is whether a dock or dockless system is appropriate. A dockless system requires the smart bike technology. Should NYC decide that a dockless system is appropriate, Motivate can supply it. It’s not a question of breaking up a monopoly by introducing a different technology.

  • Kevin Love

    Yes, I should have written, “… uses obsolete third-generation technology in New York City.”

    I fail to see any current advantages of third-generation technology. Except for “its a legacy system so there are conversion costs.” However, those conversion costs swiftly repay themselves with cheaper expansion costs (per bike costs are much lower with 4th gen) and better service.

    Where they compete head-to-head, 4th gen wins. After all, which would you prefer to take: a bike that could be dock-blocked, or one that can be left directly outside your destination?

  • Greg Costikyan

    I’ve used SoBi (in Santa Monica), and CitiBike as well. In my opinion, the two systems both have strengths.

    In a dockless system, you absolutely need to have a smartphone with you, because otherwise you can’t be sure of locating a bike. Even though the Santa Monica system does have lock-up racks at permanent locations, since the system is dockless, you can’t be sure of finding a bike at one.

    In a dock-based system, you can be frustrated when you find a dock bereft of bikes, but you learn where the docks are, and finding a bike is more reliable.

    Dockless systems are better only for smartphone users, in other words and yes, not everyone has a smartphone.

  • HamTech87

    I haven’t used a 4th Gen system yet, but I’m curious.
    What happens if I leave a 4th Gen bike in a place where nobody wants it? Does the company go get it?
    And what is to stop someone from leaving a bike in a private yard inaccessible to others? I can imagine someone leaving it in a yard with a mean dog, and having virtually exclusive use for it in the morning.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Right.

    I’m a booster. But if the city really is going to limit who is allowed to park bicycles, which is what I guess it means by keeping out competitors, you have a government-enforced monopoly. There may be reasons for this — limit excess use of street and sidewalk space. But heavy obligations come with it.

  • sbauman

    You’ve avoided the basic dock vs. dockless question.

    which would you prefer to take: a bike that could be dock-blocked, or one that can be left directly outside your destination?

    Dock blocking, due to all stations filled when returning, is a function of the number of stations and bikes. These two parameters dictate how much must be expended in balancing the system. It’s a problem that a dockless system does not inherently address.

    One counter-productive dockless solution would be for the user to park the bike at a location that’s accessible only to himself. This has happened, according to your linked article. The result is a leased bike system, rather than bike share. Optimally operated bike share should reduce the total number of bikes through a combination of multiple usage and balancing.

    As an individual, I would certainly prefer to leave and pick up a bike at my trip’s destination and origin. There are certain compromises I must make for being part of a crowded, vibrant city. I would probably complain, if 200 bikes (1 for each apartment) were left in front of my building every night.

  • Kevin Love

    As soon as the user leaves the bike and stops paying the per-hour fee, the bike shows up as available on the map. If someone else goes to take it and it is in a yard with a mean dog, this person then complains. The bike share company then sanctions the first user (see the penalty points system in the linked article).

  • Elizabeth F

    IF Motivate is granted a monopoly (and that is a big IF), then it should ONLY apply to areas where Motivate actually provides bicycles. I don’t want to see a CitiBike expansion to Hunts Point (South Bronx) be used as an excuse to shut bike share out of Bainbridge (North Bronx). If they don’t actually provide the bikes in a neighborhood, they need to step aside and let someone else do the job.

  • mfs

    agreed. the undocked model involves a lot of regulation of highly-contested, and limited, sidewalk/street space. at least docks can go in the roadbed.

  • Chris Mcnally

    as much as I hate dock blocking, and would love the freedom of Sobi, I’m afraid it would end up like Car2go, any vehicles in my neighborhood are taken immediately and all the cars cluster in destination neighborhoods like Williamsburg. I think Motivate has done well establishing locations for unlimited docking for certain docking stations at peak times and locations.

    In Hamburg the StadtRAD bike share would let you return a bike to a full station by putting it within range, like 25 feet and locking the bike to itself. This worked well for me there but Hamburg does not have Manhattan density and population, i could not imagine that working out here.

  • Jonathan R

    “Directly outside my destination” is not perhaps the most convenient place for someone to pick up a bicycle. I like how the current contractor’s docks are located near streetcorners so folks who pick up a bike can ride off in multiple directions. If I leave a bike in front of my house, on a one-way street, I can only ride in one direction.

    Also, what about at busy times? The app shows a bike available halfway down the block, you start walking, but by the time you get to the address, someone else has already taken the bike away, and perhaps the next nearest bicycle is a block or two in the wrong direction.

    And additionally, having docks is a kind of insurance that bicycles will still be provided in low-density areas. Subscribers can complain that there are no bikes at the dock on the corner of Eerie St and Desolate Blvd. With a smart-bike system, the contractor can just pass the blame onto other users not leaving the bikes at that corner.

  • Weiben Wang

    I think they are de facto heavily regulated. Any expansion, siting of docks, etc., requires going through the city’s extensive planning process, through the DOT, community boards, etc. My sense is that their pricing is subject to city approval as well, and and that much of their operations are governed by their contract with the city (you can glean a fair bit by reading their monthly operating reports https://www.citibikenyc.com/system-data/operating-reports). It would not be a level playing field if they have to go through months of planning to expand into a new neighborhood, but some other company could come in and just dump their bikes there.

  • Weiben Wang

    I don’t get the sense that any other companies trying to horn in are interested in outlying areas. They want to go where the money is, which is largely where Citi Bike is already.

  • Wilfried84

    I don’t get the sense that any other companies trying to horn in are interested in outlying areas. They’ll want to go where the money is, which is largely where Citi Bike is already.

  • Wilfried84

    I think they are de facto heavily regulated. Any expansion, siting of docks, etc., requires going through the city’s extensive planning process, through the DOT, community boards, etc. My sense is that their pricing is subject to city approval as well, and and that much of their operations are governed by their contract with the city (you can glean a fair bit by reading their monthly operating reports https://www.citibikenyc.com/system-data/operating-reports). There are lots of controls and constraints on Citi Bike, and it would not be a level playing field if it takes months of planning for Citi Bike to expand into a neighborhood, but another company could come along and just dump their bikes there.

  • CtotheC

    Dockless bikes are insane to use in NYC, particularly Manhattan, and using such a system is selfish and shows not a lot of forethought.

    Imagine a dockless system in a neighborhood that has very narrow sidewalks yet a lot of pedestrian traffic, like East Village, or really most anywhere. Now imagine one person leaving their bike in the middle of the sidewalk because they wanted to have the convenience of leaving it directly outside of their destination. A single bike can completely block the entire sidewalk.

    Now imagine two people doing the same thing. You will end up with people walking in the streets causing traffic to back up. Just so you can leave your bike somewhere that is convenient for you.

    And what’s to stop some pissed off pedestrian from throwing these bikes in the middle of the road, so now buses can’t even move? Your dockless system would bring NYC to a literal halt.

  • Kevin Love

    Because right now people block sidewalks with bicycles all the time. Oh no, wait, that would be AUTOMOBILES that currently block sidewalks. And it is AUTOMOBILES that give kill hundreds of people in New York City every year with their fine particle lethal cancer poison attacks.

    I will now point out that 4th gen systems are already in place in North America, with the two largest ones being in Portland, Oregon and Hamilton, Ontario. So far, without any of the problems that the pearl-clutching sky-will-fall critics predicted.

    Meanwhile, the people that are poisoned and killed by car drives stay dead, as do those that are crushed and killed by car drivers.

  • CtotheC

    “Oh no, wait, that would be AUTOMOBILES that currently block sidewalks.”
    Have you been in Manhattan lately? Like last ten years? What AUTOMOBILES are you talking about that currently block sidewalks in Manhattan?

    Of all those cities you named, none one has the sidewalk traffic and urban density of NYC, especially Manhattan. Those dockless systems work fine there because they don’t have thousands of pedestrians an hour on each block’s sidewalks.

    And you just defined non sequitur when we were talking about docked and dockless systems, and you bring up dying from cancer.
    http://www.mrlovenstein.com/images/comics/159_non_sequitur.png

  • Jason

    “Also, what about at busy times? The app shows a bike available halfway
    down the block, you start walking, but by the time you get to the
    address, someone else has already taken the bike away,”

    In smart bike systems you can reserve a bike to give you time to walk over to it. In Santa Monica (smart bike SoBi system) it’s 10 minutes. Just like Car2Go lets you reserve the car for 30 minutes so it’s actually there once you walk over to it.

  • Bernard Finucane

    It’s funny how blind Americans are to the car problem. Consider the East Village. This street is 60 ft wide. Most of the traffic is pedestrian or bike traffic. There are no bike lanes, and almost no bike or motorcycle parking areas. The sidewalks are 15 feet wide, but effectively only 10 feet because they are partially blocked by trees. The remaining 30 feet is dedicated to cars, and 20 feet of that is free parking.

    There aren’t even curb bulb-outs at the intersection for pedestrian safety. Street cafes are extremely cramped, limiting public life and the emergence of a community.

    It’s an insane mis-allocation of public land.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/442882302697fae3be87c4f49bdd86a4b4a04aa4a99478682c2d62d8b7ebd722.png

  • Bernard Finucane

    Of course, California is much much worse. Consider the romantic sounding intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard (Historic Route 66) in Los Angeles. Sounds like it could be a tourist Mecca on par with Times Square. In terms of name recognition, it’s probably one of the world’s most famous intersections.

    In fact, there’s a Jiffy Lube there. At the intersection Santa Monica Boulevard had until recently a stunning 100 feet of car space: enough to accommodate 10 lanes of traffic. Sunset has 70 feet for cars, and a 5 foot unprotected bike lane. In addition, Manzanita Street, which goes nowhere, has its sidewalk closed, and has 38 feet allocated to car traffic, makes the Jiffy Lube property accessible to cars from all sides.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8f480cc1e76b6d230e91fb969a6603f9961cd18faf617efd554218d29c7135f1.png

    Recently there have been slight improvements. The new design includes lots more on street parking, a big swath of pavement covered with yellow stripes so it is never used by anyone, and an area covered by decorative shrubs pleasing to passing motorists.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0fda4d7aa8ad1bdb755c74623161efc08ca704e71808c0e5d73230e681107abd.png

    The lack of imagination this entails is stunning.

  • SoBi has just deployed a “pedelec”-share of 100 motorbikes locked to bike racks in San Francisco, two days before the relaunch/rebranding of the city’s official Motivate-operated bike share.

  • A dockless bike share operated by a San Francisco startup called Spin is hoping to expand to Staten Island, and have a Kickstarter for the purpose.

    San Francisco has an exclusivity deal with Motivate, so Spin is not operating in its own city. They moved against a Chinese dockless bike share startup (BlueGoGo) who did an unauthorized deployment earlier this year.

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