Stringer’s Citi Bike Report Is Woefully Behind the Times

Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office took so long to produce an audit of Citi Bike maintenance that major issues flagged in the report no longer appear to be affecting the system.

Citi Bike had a maintenance backlog a year ago, but not today. Photo: Velojoy

The report dropped Thursday night, and on Friday several media outlets came out with stories following the lead of Stringer’s “scathing” press release, which emphasized Citi Bike’s failure to meet bike maintenance targets last winter. At the time, financially struggling operator Alta Bicycle Share cut several mechanics as colder weather and lower levels of bike-share usage approached. The key metric Stringer’s report points to, the share of bikes inspected by maintenance crews, fell far short of the obligation spelled out in Alta’s contract with the city: checking 100 percent of the bike each month.

But beginning this spring, Citi Bike has gradually improved its maintenance record. In February, Citi Bike reported inspecting only 34 percent of its bike fleet. By June, the rate was up to 71 percent. And from July through October, between 98 and 100 percent of the fleet received mechanical checks each month. Customer service calls are dropping compared to the same time last year. The improvement began even before new management took over in October, injecting more financial resources.

The audit was initiated when John Liu was comptroller, and the news cycle following its release feels like the last gasp of bike-share fearmongering that Liu started propagating back before the system launched. (Curbed headline: “Citi Bike Has Apparently Been Unsafe for Riders Since Launch.”)

Not everything is rosy with Citi Bike yet, and anyone who frequently uses it probably knows that feeling when the bike you checked out has squeaky brakes or keeps slipping back into a lower gear. But its safety record is on par with other bike-share systems — which is to say, excellent. There’s no indication that Citi Bike maintenance actually put people at risk.

If you want some tidbits that skim the surface of how Alta scrambled to cut costs and cope with disappointing hardware and software from its suppliers last winter, check out the comptroller’s report. If you’re looking for up-to-date, accurate insight into the current state of bike-share operations in New York, though, you won’t find it there.

  • I know it’s not much difference (with these pols knowing how information will be refracted), but the report itself isn’t nearly as alarmist as the headlines are.

    Note it’s actual title: Audit Report on the Maintenance of Bike Share Equipment by New York City Bike Share, LLC, in Compliance with its Contract with the Department of Transportation
    Kinda dry, if you ask me.

    I never listen to anything in headlines from Curbed/Eater anymore. You have to read through every article they publish/share to make sure they didn’t completely mangle the points being raised. In this case, the only direct impact that the comptroller’s office could measure is that Alta didn’t live up to contractual obligations, and a possible (but uncertain) consequence of that was a general lingering of malfunctions in bikes that would have otherwise been “serviced” more quickly. Not all malfunctions were masked safety issues; most were aesthetic, obvious and/or mechanically impairing. Nobody who is hired at Curbed is capable of expressing such subtlety.

    But the Comptroller’s office has to know a report like this is going to land with a splash with tabloids and blogs. Unfortunately, the facts in the report are correct, and the office has lived up to its stated job. Would be nice if Stringer would have been more forthcoming with counter-spin to the bike-haters, but then again, that’s what we’re here for.

  • qrt145

    Much of this “scandal” could be gleaned from the monthly reports available from the Citi Bike website (not to mention anecdotal experience), but only now that the comptroller publishes a report that is already half a year out of date (and covering things that happened under the previous management), suddenly the media is all over it.

    Lazy reporting at its best. Why try to figure out what’s going on with Citi Bike when you can just wait until the report falls on your lap and then cherry pick some dramatic quotes out of it?

  • snezan

    the report seems well timed… there aren’t as many cyclists on the streets and people are preoccupied with the holidays, this would have been a banner story in the spring/early summer.

  • Cold Shoaler

    I agree that it’s silly to come out damning the prior management about performance at what was hopefully the nadir of the program. I’ll also allow that things may be turning around; I certainly hope they are and continue to. However, from my experience of using the system lately I’m quite suspicious of the claim that the inspection rate for the fleet is 98-100%. Unless, of course they’re only doing some level of ‘essential’ repairs in these mechanical checks. The bikes are in awful shape. The last half dozen docks I’ve used have also been in pretty bad shape. My last two bike returns – the dock closed my trip but didn’t lock the bike.

  • carma

    as a founder member, i think the single most annoying thing right now is not the bicycle itself, but broken docks. and there definitely are a whole bunch that simply just dont work.

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    Does Scott Stringer ride Citibike?

  • mrtuffguy

    You know about unlocking unused docks, right? Maybe in your area there are a lot of broken docks but in my experience the lock mechanism is more frequently just incorrectly closed with no bike in the dock. There’s nothing you can do when you’re trying to return a bike but once your bike is docked you can do a good deed by using your key to unlock them.

  • BenAudited

    This is the way all Comptroller performance audits are. Complete misunderstanding of all quantitative and narrative information + non-sequiter findings + counter-productive recommendations = press release copied and pasted by the NY Times. I’ve been on the inside of dozens of them. I’ve never seen one that got anything right or actually picked up on the the real weaknesses in a program. Until you experience it, you would never imagine that there are people this stupid and lazy in the world. Ignore every Comptroller audit.

  • erica holder

    I was practically ambushed by a PIX reporter after I took a bike from a dock at Grand Central on Friday. “What just happened there? What went wrong?” she demanded. Well, nothing did. I put my fob in the wrong way the first time, but really, the whole transaction took about three seconds, and the bike was its usual clunky self. She seemed disappointed.

  • Brian

    Great article Ben – really insightful

  • Anon resident

    Previous administration of Citibike by former GM Justin Ginsberg were the cause of past problems. Money woes and he jumped ship and he was not qualified to have the job in the first place. Stringer is a monday morning quarter back and if there should be any auditing done it should the use of his SUV to get around town. Geez, he’s a comptroller not a diplomat and could travel around NYC by subway, cab and Citibike.

  • Matthias

    I thought that the safety allegations were a bit overblown. Most people don’t get their bikes inspected regularly anyway, and the most dangerous thing that could happen here would be a brake failure (the frame is never going to break) but there was no evidence of dangerous equipment, only of a poor inspection record.

  • I dunno. By definition an audit looks backward in time. That Alta made a callous decision not to inspect bikes on the street for four straight months deserves to be exposed. But equal in blame is the DOT and the media largely gave those folks a pass.

    Alta never explicitly informed the DOT that it had ceased the on-street safety inspections. It simply stopped reporting the number. A DOT that took its oversight mission seriously would have asked Alta for the missing stat. Instead, the department was asleep at the wheel.

  • JK

    My two cents for December is that bikes are generally fine, way too many docks are still broken, and that means more dock block. Unfortunately, seems the phone app sees broken docks as “open.” This really stinks because you check the app, see open docks and find on arrival what was “open” is busted.

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