E-xciting (But Also E-xpensive) News: Citi Bike Electric Fleet Will Grow to 4,000 — With $2 Fee

You'll love these pedal-assist cycles, but you'll also pay for the privilege of taking out one.

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

Citi Bike’s electric fleet will grow from just 200 to 4,000 pedal-assist bikes by the end of spring as part of a major expansion of — and a price increase on — the bike-share system’s most-popular vehicles, the company said on Thursday.

Riders will pay $2 per ride for the electronic boost, meaning that a single-trip e-ride will rise to $5, starting today. Annual members, who pay $169, will also be charged the $2 e-bike fee, starting on April 27. NYCHA residents and SNAP recipients, who pay $60 per year, will pay 50 cents per e-ride, also starting on that date.

The fees do not apply if, for some reason, the only bike in a dock is an electric one.

The additional cost is necessary because swapping out batteries is labor-intensive, said Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for Citi Bike, which will hire “dozens” of new union workers to handle the challenge. Wood added that the company will ask its 150,000-plus members if the company should create a new annual plan that would include unlimited e-bike use, albeit for a higher fee.

The company believes members and non-members will accept the fee because of the overwhelming appeal of Citi Bike’s pedal-assist machines, which allow for far longer, virtually effortless commutes. (The $2 will also be waived for riders who park at certain stations near the L train during that line’s reduced service hours.)

“We think of e-bikes as a different mode of transportation,” Wood said. “Many people currently use Citi Bike for a short trip or to solve a long walk, but the pedal-assist bikes will open up a completely new way of thinking about Citi Bike. I personally don’t use Citi Bike to go from Park Slope to Manhattan. But I would definitely take an electric bike. It’s a 20-minute trip. So you see how pedal-assist bikes open up a whole range of possibilities for New York’s transit system.”

Data: Citi Bike
Data: Citi Bike

The company released statistics to back up that claim. Each electric Citi Bike, for example, gets ridden roughly 15 times per day, compared to five times per day for the standard bike (which Citi Bike is now officially calling “classic”). E-bike ridership does not decline during the winter. And the distances traveled by e-Citi Bikes are far greater, with roughly 18 percent of e-bike trips greater than three miles, versus just 10.7 percent of classic Citi Bike trips going that long.

Currently, about 10 percent of Citi Bike trips across an East River bridge are done on the pedal-assist bikes, compared to about 5 percent.

That number will likely grow considerably once Citi Bike expands its fleet beyond much of Manhattan and a narrow swath of western Queens and Brownstone Brooklyn. Residents of Jackson Heights, Corona, the Bronx, Sunset Park and Bushwick would certainly use electric Citi Bikes if they were available. The company announced in November that it will expand its overall fleet to 40,000 bikes over the next five years, but it has not revealed the lucky neighborhoods that will comprise the first phase of that expansion.

Data: Citi Bike
Data: Citi Bike

The existing 200 battery-powered pedal-assist bikes have proven to be popular — when riders can find them.

“There are two types of people in the world,” former Citi Bike CEO Jay Walder famously said when the e-bikes were introduced in August. “People who have never tried a pedal-assist bike and people who won’t shut up about them.”

Urban planner and annual Citi Bike key-holder Mike Lydon has used one of the electric bikes just once and was impressed. He thinks the $2 fee will create different types of Citi Bike users.

“If you’re using it for a short, relatively flat trip, you may be more likely to use the regular Citi Bike, but if you’re going a longer distance or over a bridge, you’ll prefer the electric bike,” said Lydon, a principal at the urban planning firm Street Plans. “And the fee could discourage some people from taking the electric bike if they don’t need it, meaning there will be more e-bikes for the people who need to make the longer or more physically taxing trip.”

That Dickensian “Tale of Two E-Bikes” is actually in keeping with the philosophy at Citi Bike, currently owned by Lyft, which explained the company’s larger goal of replacing more car trips with e-bikes in a Medium post today.

“Because pedal-assist bikes can be used more easily for longer, steeper trips, they are more likely to replace car trips, combating congestion, reducing pollution, and making the city more livable,” the company said in a statement.

Still, the announcement does raise some unanswered questions:

  • Many riders complain that Citi Bike has not completely perfected fleet balancing, and the addition of 4,000 new bikes could complicate matters. Will Citi Bike hire enough workers?
  • Some annual members will likely balk at paying $2 more for an electric bike, especially members who pay $169 per year, but only ride occasionally. Will e-bike ridership actually decline as a result of the fee?
  • It is unclear how much a “Citi Bike-Plus” membership will cost. Will members resist new fees — even for unlimited use of electric bikes — if the cost is seen as too high?
  • When will the solar-powered Citi Bike docks themselves be able to re-charge spent batteries?

“The current technology does not generate enough power, so for now, we have to hire a lot of folks to go and charge batteries,” Wood said. “And that’s part of the $2 fee. Other companies in this industry have flamed out because of prices that are too low and costs that are too high. But Citi Bike is part of the city’s transportation network, so it has to be sustainable.”

She also said that having more e-bikes might make the company more efficient at replacing batteries and keep e-bikes on the road.

“Right now, we have 200 bikes out of a fleet of 12,000 at 750 docking stations that are scattered all over,” she said. “When we get to greater scale, where there are electric bikes at every station, it will be much easier to swap them out in an efficient way.”

Update: After initial publication of this story, Jump Bikes, a would-be Citi Bike competitor that is operating a dockless system with pedal-assist e-bikes in several neighborhoods of the Bronx and Staten Island, issued a statement: “Millions of New Yorkers don’t have access to Citi Bikes, and we’re asking the Department of Transportation to allow JUMP bikes to serve those New Yorkers forgotten by Citi Bike.”

Citi Bike's battery-powered bike remains popular...when you can find one. Photo: Ben Kuntzman
Citi Bike’s battery-powered bike remains popular…when you can find one. Photo: Ben Kuntzman
  • They are adding 2,500 docks, which supports 1,000 new bikes (you need more docks than bikes so people can find an empty one). That means 3,000 e-bikes will come at the expense of “classic” bikes.

    For the record, today on March 1 there are 11,589 bikes and 25,189 docks

  • They have been talking about e-bikes for over a year. They’ve taken exactly zero steps to add charging capacity. They should have picked their 20 most popular stations and hooked them up to the grid to support charging, at the very least.

  • Wait youre trying to compare to Paris?

    They charge a $113 annual fee and that gets you unlimited 30-minute ebike rides. What are you talking about?

    And a single ride (no annual fee) is 2 euros for an ebike…Citibike is charging $5!

  • It is a bait and switch. They sold memberships with the promise that 4,000 e-bikes were coming in March/April. Now theyre here with a fee that was never previously disclosed.

  • kevd

    the congestion charge on for hire vehicles is a good start at combating “below-cost, carbon-emitting, congestion-worsening car rides”

  • kevd

    Ours is way more expensive.
    500% more for an annual membership.
    but our ebike upcharge is only about 50% more.

    i’m way more upset about our annual membership being so expensive than I am about ebike upcharges.

  • kevd

    no disagreement from me.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    Illogical argument. If the issue is with the company and fair pricing, then subsidizing a for-profit company with public dollars is simply placing the burden on everyone. The City should open up competition and allow Jump or others to operate in the city and allow the market to decide.

  • kevd

    “I’m not even a Citibike member for two reasons. One, they’re not anywhere useful to me, like near where I live.”
    Me neither. They’re by work, but trains are easy to and from manhattan when I don’t ride.

  • kevd

    ah. Okay. Thanks for the numbers.
    I see that as a big problem, too.

  • kevd

    side note on velib.
    you get extra time for taking from a full dock or returning to an empty dock.
    we basically should just have paris’ system.
    but the city and region actually support theirs……

  • Mortal Wombat

    The bait-and-switch is selling me access to their network, and then the racks always being empty (when I need a bike) or full (when I need a dock).
    I bought my annual membership when I moved here last March, and after trying to make the Citibike commute work for a few weeks I abandoned it for just using my own bike. I’ve probably commuted via Citibike no more than a total of 40 days over the last year.

  • They raised the price of a day pass from 1.90 to 5, but the fee now gives you access to 5 bikes at a time – so a family or group of friends only needs to make the single 5 euro purchase. That makes the 1 euro electric fee much easier to swallow. In NYC, its $12 per person + fees

  • kevd

    Looking at their site right now, it seems that the V-decouverte is 5 euros for 1 bike, 10 Euros for 2, and 15 euros for 3, 4 or 5 velib’.

  • MatthewEH

    You do pay more to take the LIRR from Forest Hills to Penn Station than you do to take the E from Forest Hills to Penn Station, though. Even with a City Ticket on the weekend. That’s more how I think of this. (Though I do think the City Ticket price should apply at all non-peak times.)

  • MBA’s not what they used to be evidently.

  • Wilfried84

    I posted this in the Facebook comments freakout. I hadn’t read this article, and no, I’m not a Citi Bike shill. I don’t see how it’s possible to add a much more expensive component to the system, and charge the same price. I don’t need an ebike very often, so I don’t know that I want the price of membership for everyone to go up; I might be happier paying for ebikes a la carte.

    From the article: “Will e-bike ridership actually decline as a result of the fee?” I think that’s kind of the point.

    II’m going to push back on all this nay saying. I wondered how they could possibly make ebikes work. Free ebikes are unsustainable, given that the batteries have to be changed by hand. The bikes so often don’t work because the batteries are dead, and labor to change all those batteries must be enormous. As it is now, there’s no way you can plan on using an ebike, because even if there is one near you on the map, you can be sure it’ll be gone by the time you get there. The few times I’ve ridden one it’s cause there just happened to be one at the rack when I got there, so I took it, whether I really needed it or not. Sure, a fee sucks, but maybe now if I really want to use one, cause I’m going far or over a bridge, I might actually get one. To those with a key who say they are not going to renew because of this, have you been using your key at all? The bikes were a tremendous value, long before there were any ebikes…

    “How does that revenue compare to costs? And I pretty much didn’t think about that at all. I thought about how to make the system useful and sustainable. Labor, not electricity, is the real cost. Ebikes are a higher value and higher cost proposition, so charging more seems not unreasonable…

    “I don’t know that I want to be forced to pay an upcharge for the subscription for an added service I will rarely need. I might be happier paying for it a la carte. The fee is also about behavior. Most of my rides are easy, and I don’t need an ebike, but if they’re free, I’ll take one, cause why not? This means the bikes run down faster, fewer are available, costs for the whole system are higher. If there’s a charge, then I won’t take one unless I need to. Having ebikes available when I want them, so I can count on them and plan on using them when necessary, increases the utility of the system. Fact is, ebikes are higher cost to provide. Rather than raise the price for everybody, raise the price for those who want to use them.”

  • Subway Rider

    Should an express A train cost more than a local E?

  • kevd

    a local E doesn’t require you to push it the whole way.
    silly comparison.

  • Wow youre right, they must have changed it again. Thats very disappointing.

    Note that if you buy a Citibike Day pas ($12) you also only get 30 minutes, not 45.

  • kevd

    copy that.
    1.90 was a stupidly good deal. and 5 ain’t exactly bad.

  • MatthewEH

    Yep, I’m on this page here too.

    Heck, even if costs to provide the service *weren’t* higher to Citi Bike, because of Some Weird Reason or something, imposing a pricing floor is a very rational way to manage demand on a resource that would otherwise be badly oversubscribed. (As the same-price e-bikes clearly are.)

  • kevd

    you keep repeating this like it is clever and insightful.
    it is neither.

  • mikecherepko

    Oh a different type of transportation run by different organizations costs other amounts so that’s just like Citibike. Are you familiar with NYC at all?

  • mikecherepko

    Plucking out differences is how you get to do price discrimination.

  • mikecherepko

    Does the service cost more to provide at rush hour than overnight? Or are the higher prices a way to suppress and redistribute demand?

  • MatthewEH

    Oh, you’re adding (way off-base, I might add) ad hominem put-downs to the discussion! That’ll definitely convince everyone we’re wrong and you’re right

  • Rex Rocket

    In theory, great. But theft, bike not allowed at work, in and out of the apt., etc. This is what citibike is for. Also you citibike fees need only be $169 annually, less than the cost of two years of your used, soon-to-be-stripped/stolen Trek. I wish it could work your way, too.

  • Rex Rocket

    They’ll be available–they’re money makers. They won’t be buying anymore old-style citibikes.

  • kevd

    motorized versus non-motorized is not “plucking” especially given the massive discrepancy in the amount of labor required to keep the two operational.

  • kevd

    LIRR and Subway are all in the MTA.
    Same organization.

  • MatthewEH

    As kevd said 2 days ago, “sure, we’re all free to make up anything we want and call it fact.”

  • kevd

    you’re right.
    there was aa brief ebike pilot.
    they saw how labor intensive and popular it was before determining an approapriate price
    Perhaps they should have been more clear about that being a pilot

  • mfs

    Motivate should offer a few free e-bike rides per year to annual members. that would do A LOT to ameliorate the reaction here.

    Alternatively, if they were able to get ConEd service to some high-volume stations, would that provide sufficient current to charge the batteries?

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  • Dennis Jimmy Villa

    While i am ok with a surcharge for the ebikes because of the added value, i do believe $2 is a way too steep. A 50 cent surcharge would have sufficed. I also believe this will bring ridership of the ebikes down. I will personally avoid them as of April 27th. I am a daily rider.