Citi Bike Offering $3 Single Ride Fares as a Promo. Why Not Make It Permanent?

With City Hall reportedly set to allow dockless bike-share services to begin operating in the summer, Citi Bike's fare structure is worth renewed attention.

Citi Bikes aren't performing that well. Photo: Adrian Nutter/Flickr
Citi Bikes aren't performing that well. Photo: Adrian Nutter/Flickr

If you don’t have a Citi Bike membership, you can buy $3 single rides for the month of April. It’s the lowest price Citi Bike has offered per ride, following a $4 single-ride fare that was available last spring.

The single ride fare is a temporary promotion intended to introduce people to Citi Bike and drum up interest in unlimited passes as temperatures warm, says Motivate, the company that runs the service. But it raises the question of whether Motivate — and New Yorkers interested in using bike-share — might be better off if it was permanent.

Annual Citi Bike membership currently costs $169. Citi Bike also offers one-day ($12) and three-day ($24) passes. With the promo, Citi Bike is trying to reduce the initial barrier to trying the service and get people more people to buy annual passes.

Streetsblog contacted Motivate to see how the company plans to evaluate the single-ride fare, and if making it permanent might be in the cards. A spokesperson gave no indication the company intends to offer $3 rides after April.

“We are always looking to introduce more people to the benefits of bike share, and we hope this flexible new payment option will do just that,” the spokesperson said. “This is a limited-time offer for April for the beginning of riding season.”

With City Hall reportedly set to allow dockless bike-share services to begin operating in the summer, Citi Bike’s fare structure is worth renewed attention.

Given Motivate’s exclusivity arrangement with the city, the dockless systems may not be allowed to operate in the Citi Bike service area, which covers Manhattan below 130th Street and parts of Brooklyn and Queens. But Motivate itself is one of the 12 companies that submitted proposals to the city for the dockless bike-share pilot, and its dockless offering will be much more useful if fares are integrated with its current system.

Citi Bike’s fare structure is very different than the dockless companies, many of which offer single rides for as little as $1 (though it remains to be seen whether that price point can be sustained in the long run). How will Motivate compete with that? To get new people interested in Citi Bike beyond the current service area, a single-ride fare may need to be an option past April.

  • Orcutt

    If you use it regularly w an annual pass, CitiBike is extremely competitive with anything charging $1/ride

  • We’re going to end up with a situation where people who can’t swing the $169 upfront will have these frustratingly sparse dockless systems to work with. Weird set-up.

  • qrt145

    I’ve always thought that Citi Bike day passes are ridiculously expensive. A per-ride option costing about the same as the subway makes a lot of sense; they just need to make it permanent.

    I remember Vélib used to charge the same as a subway ride (1.70 €), but for a day pass! Apparently things have changed and now they charge 5 € for a day pass (still cheaper than Citi Bike) or 1 € per ride.

  • Jeff

    A single trip should cost the same amount as the subway/local bus fare, and it should be payable with the same fare media. This will presumably be technologically feasible with the new fare payment system coming online in a few years or whatever (it’s not feasible right now because they do need a way to charge people late fees, up to and including the $1k replacement fee, which you can’t do with a MetroCard, but you could do with a contactless bank card).

  • J

    So many times I’ve come to NYC and needed to take one or two bikeshare trips, but with a $12 day pass as my only option, I’ve simply taken the subway or an Uber instead. Having few options is bad business and bad for the city. It also means a less accessible system for people who may not have $169 for an annual pass and may not want to jump through the hoops needed for a discounted pass. Dockless companies, on the other hand, have had great success getting more people on bikes with cheap single trip fares. Why Motivate wouldn’t want to emulate that success is beyond me.

  • J

    Sure, but you need a lot of money up front, AND you have to commit for a long time. Many people either don’t have that cash or don’t want to make that commitment. Is there a good reason not to offer different options to meet different needs?

  • J

    DC’s $2 rides on CaBi is a nice counterpoint to the dockless bikes here. All the systems seem to be getting along so far.

  • Citi Bike has a $14.95/month installment plan, but it does require an annual commitment. (If you cancel before the year is up you’re responsible for the balance.) It also winds up being a little more expensive than a regular annual membership, but at the very least it lowers the barrier to entry for people who can’t afford $169 up front.

    https://member.citibikenyc.com/register/step1?edPurchaseId=5ac52d868edb8

  • Vooch

    My 11th grader ( Manhattan born and bred ) was going on and on about what a rip off Citibike is.

    He and his buddies thought that it cost $12/day to ride Citibike.

    He is a skilled and confident cyclist; so if he didn’t have a clue; it means Citibike has a vast u tapped pool of potential customers out there.

  • com63

    Just looked up Citibike annual numbers for the first time in a while. 138k active annual members as of Feb 2018. This is becoming an enormous constituency. Just need more of them to vote and show up at CB meetings.

  • com63

    They should set up a system for everyone where you pay per trip. If you take more than 4 trips in a day, you are capped at the $12 daily pass. If you take 57 trips in a year, you get the rest of the year for free.

  • J

    Brilliant! A customer-centric fare system that is designed to give you the lowest cost pass for the services you use. It’s intuitive and low-stress, getting more people to use and trust the system and the companies operating it. Many transit agencies already do this.

    Of course this means that Motivate will NEVER do it. They make a ton of money by confusing people into buying more than they need and paying more than they expect. Not a good long term strategy to attract and retain users, if you ask me.

  • Eli

    It’s a shame the pricing plans are so rigid. I don’t plan on renewing my annual plan, since I use it maybe once a month on average — it’s just way too rare that there are protected bike lanes that go from where I need to go, to where I am.

    If they had a $50/year plan that allowed up to 5 trips a month, I would commit to that in a heartbeat.

  • kevd

    A month pass for unlimited 30 min rides is EUR 3.10.
    Why would anyone pay the EUR 5 for a day pass?*

    *Looking it up now, the EUR 5 / day pass allows you to take out UP TO 5 BIKES at the same time.
    Perfect for sight-seeing families!
    Though Paris riding isn’t exactly tranquil…

  • Ken Dodd

    I really wish they’d introduce a fair priced month to month package with no annual commitment. I run a business in which employees have a fair amount of traveling around to do and I’d be more than happy to compensate them monthly for a CitiBike subscription – a year’s commitment is just too much of a risk for me to shell out for (let’s say they leave their jobs after only 6 months of having the key, for instance. They get the rest of the 6 months as a bonus and I have to then pay for their replacement’s key). I bet there are many businesses out there which would benefit from their employees having CitiBike keys. It’s just not viable to pay an employee an annual lump sum for one though.

  • AstoriaBlowin

    I think they need more pricing options for sure but a cheap single trip pass would probably attract more people to use the system. The problem I find is that there aren’t enough bikes already for the number of users. At least in my experience in queens, you will almost never find a dock with more then three bikes in it outside of Queensboro Plaza. I want more people riding but they need more bikes in the system first.

  • Price went up, but now your Velib day pass allows up to 5 bikes.

  • Citibike pricing is pretty much the highest in the world, its ridiculous.

  • ohnonononono

    NYC prices for many things are among the highest in the world… unless you’re comparing us to certain Nordic/Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, the toniest of central London, etc… NYC is extremely expensive in general.

  • ohnonononono

    If you take Uber both ways it’s pretty hard to come out under $12 total in NYC unless you’re taking trips that are basically walking distance… I’m not sure it makes sense to say that CitiBike is too expensive to compete with Uber in NYC.

  • qrt145

    You are right; I missed that little detail about being able to check out five bikes at once. 🙂

  • woodyguthrie

    My wife and I go into NYC at least every couple of weeks but have never used Citibike for this very reason. Yearly pass is too much. We just want to use it for short trips. We are confident, veteran cyclists.

  • ohhleary

    It’s not even the highest-priced bike share system called Citibike. Miami is $180/year for 30-minute rides or $300/year for 60-minute rides, paid monthly (there’s no annual pass option).

  • That comes from their legacy as DecoBike which was created to charge tourists $6 an hour to ride along the beach.

  • ohhleary

    True, but monthly passes were priced to be advantageous to locals and are *still* more expensive than Citibike here. DecoBike is slightly cheaper in San Diego, but is still $199/year for the 60-minute option.

  • J

    Often I just don’t know exactly what I might be doing, and if I buy an all-day pass, I’m locked into taking bikeshare, which is often not appealing in the winter and/or when the weather changes or my plans change, or I travel a longer distance where the subway makes more sense, or really any other reason. But the point is, why is there such resistance to giving people more and easier options for choosing bikes? We should be making it as flexible and affordable as possible, not throwing up weird fare structure barriers.

  • afc

    I don’t, but would still like to use it. Why isn’t there a good option for the many people like me who might like to bike on the weekends but will never use it during the week?

  • ohnonononono

    Agree.

    As a tourist in another city though, I often find myself in the opposite situation, wishing they had a day pass when I want to take a dozen rides around the city. I made the mistake of thinking CitiBike in Miami (which is operated by Decobike) operated the same way that it does in NYC without realizing I was being charged for each ride! (I see that Miami’s CitiBike now does offer a day pass… for a whopping $24! http://citibikemiami.com/pricing)

  • I believe San Diego was created by the same folks behind Miami. The business plan as fleece the tourists, not provide transportation.

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