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Citi Bike’s New Electric Bike Is Exciting For Riders (If They Live Near Citi Bike, Of Course) Yet No Help to Deliverymen

12:05 PM EDT on August 20, 2018

Citi Bike’s electric fleet will not return until the fall at the earliest. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

They're going to have to start calling this company Motor-vate.

Citi Bike officials unveiled the company's latest improvement on Monday — a game-changing, battery-powered, pedal-assisted bicycle that will slowly (but not abundantly) be showing up soon at a dock near you.

"This is the best bike-share system in the world — and today, it is getting even better," said Jay Walder, CEO of the Citi Bike parent company, Motivate, after he rode one of the 200 new e-Citi Bikes over the Brooklyn Bridge with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Department of Transportation staffers.

"There are two types of people in the world," Walder continued. "People who have never tried a pedal-assist bike and people who won't shut up about them."

There's actually a third group, several reporters pointed out: Hundreds of New York City deliverymen and women who use e-bikes that are still illegal in the city — and subject to confiscation and fines. Last month, city rules went into effect legalizing e-bikes that are controlled by pedaling, while maintaining the ban on the cheaper, throttle-controlled e-bikes that delivery workers use. (Reporters were invited to test-ride the bikes; read a full account of my ride from Brooklyn Borough Hall to Windsor Terrace here.)

Motivate CEO Jay Walter (far right) led a group of Citi Bike staffers and DOT officials on a ride over the Brooklyn Bridge.
Motivate CEO Jay Walter (far right) led a group of Citi Bike staffers and DOT officials on a ride over the Brooklyn Bridge.
Motivate CEO Jay Walter (far right) led a group of Citi Bike staffers and DOT officials on a ride over the Brooklyn Bridge.

From January 1 to July 29 of this year, 654 e-bikes were confiscated by the NYPD, the department told Streetsblog. That number, while still high according to advocates for delivery workers, is down from 772 over the same period last year.

Walder declined to answer the question about mayor priorities — he didn't make the law, after all — so Adams jumped in.

"I don't believe e-bikes should be illegal," he said. "The city must find a way to make all e-bikes legal." (After publication of this story, a spokesman for Mayor de Blasio responded. “In order to increase the transportation options for New Yorkers, including delivery workers, the mayor clarified DOT rules that pedal-assist bikes are legal in the city," said the spokesman, Seth Stein. "The Administration is currently considering additional actions to help delivery workers transition their throttle e-bikes to peddle-assist.”)

The Citi Bike app now shows locations of e-bikes.
The Citi Bike app now shows locations of e-bikes.
The Citi Bike app now shows locations of e-bikes.

The 200 new battery-powered bikes will make their way into Citi Bike's 12,000-bike, 750-dock system, with 1,000 more coming online during the L-train shutdown, which begins in April. The new e-Citi Bikes resemble existing cycles, except they feature a battery pack on the frame. A Citi Bike worker must replace the battery for recharging every 30 miles or so. Walder said that maintenance work would be done by existing Citi Bike crews.

"If they have to replace a flat tire at one station, they can also swap out a battery if it's low," Walder said.

The bike's additional power, pick-up and hill-conquering torque could make Citi Bike a city-wide force...if Motivate and DOT officials would only expand the range beyond Manhattan, several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the westernmost strip of Queens. Commuters in Jackson Heights, Crown Heights and Bay Ridge would use Citi Bike if it was available — even more so if more electric bikes were in the mix.

Walder declined to explore the politics and economics that have blocked Citi Bike's expansion, saying only, "We'd like to expand."

The story was updated to include a comment from the mayor's office.

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