EXCLUSIVE: Electric Citi Bikes — Grounded in April — Won’t Return Until After Sept. 21

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

It’s the fall of Citi Bike.

One month after the Lyft-owned company grounded all 1,000 pedal-assist electric bicycles due to brake problems, Citi Bike now says the popular speedsters will return after Sept. 21 — an unprecedented over-five-month outage that raises questions about Citi Bike’s ambitious expansion and electrification plans.

“We expect pedal-assist bikes will return to the Citi Bike system this fall,” the company said in a statement to Streetsblog. “We’re confident that putting rider safety first is always the right decision, and we’re working hard to design a world-class pedal-assist bike that we know our riders will love.”

In February, Lyft promised to put 4,000 e-bikes on the street this year, a key element of Citi Bike’s promise last year to triple the size of its rentable-bike fleet to 40,000 bikes, plus double the Citi Bike footprint, which currently includes a large portion of Manhattan, small parts of Brooklyn and Queens, and not much else. That expansion plan came as Lyft promised $100 million in investments in its bike-share system.

But the grounding of the entire e-bike fleet in New York — plus Lyft e-bikes in San Francisco* and Washington, D.C. — has altered the timeline.

The e-bikes were expected to be a big part of the expansion plan because their electric assist allows for longer, faster commutes. And they have proven far more popular than Citi Bike’s so-called “classic” models, with five times as many trips per bike. Had the pedal-assist e-bikes ever been deployed in neighborhoods such as Jackson Heights, Crown Heights, the South Bronx and other “outer” borough neighborhoods, they could have eliminated thousands of unnecessary car trips. (Citi Bike said it will soon announce the first neighborhoods to benefit from the expanded zone, albeit without electric bikes for now.)

Transportation experts were appalled at the delay in restoring the e-bike fleet.

“It’s hard to understand the extended outage, since the reported problem was the front wheel brake,” said Jon Orcutt, director of advocacy for Bike NY and a former official in the Bloomberg administration DOT. “That should be easy to replace on at least some number of the bikes. It’s possibly a lawyer/liability-driven delay rather than a technical issue.”

Citi Bike obviously put a positive spin on the missing e-bikes, pointing out that the overall fleet size — comprised entirely of classic Citi Bikes — remains large and popular. Even without e-bikes, the bike-share system handled roughly 78,000 rides on Wednesday last week — just short of the record 80,624 rides in a single day.

“Citi Bike remains an integral part of New York City’s transportation network, with near-record ridership this past week,” the company said.

It’s an integral part of the city’s public transit system that does not receive any public funding — unlike public buses and subways, and, of course, the mayor’s heavily subsidized ferry system.

Elected officials have displayed a lack of urgency about the disappearance of the e-bike fleet. Mayor de Blasio declined to comment for this story, and previously said he wasn’t alarmed by the situation. Citi Bike said it has been “in regular contact with city DOT,” but the agency declined to comment on the specifics of that “contact.”

On the other side of City Hall, the City Council has done nothing to hold Lyft accountable for the e-bike flop. There have been no hearings and no requests for information. Transportation Committee Chairman Ydanis Rodriguez declined to comment. And Public Advocate Jumaane Williams did not respond to a request for comment.

Instead, Streetsblog asked Citi Bike for the kinds of details that elected officials should be demanding. We were told that repairs are underway to fix the brake problem that grounded the entire fleet back in April. At issue is Citi Bike’s decision to not install a brake modulator recommended by Shimano — a part that Lyft’s competitor Uber installed on its Jump bikes, which use the same Shimano system.

Citi Bike did not directly explain whether it is now installing the required power modulators, telling Streetsblog that “key parts of the bikes are being redesigned.” The company also said it would unveil a “new and improved” electric bike this fall.

When unveiled earlier this year, the e-bikes carried a $2-per-ride surcharge, which was being waived for members for the first few weeks. The company had said it would create new pricing levels over time, but the grounding of the fleet has changed that timeline. Now Citi Bike said it plans to “share some good news on pricing with members when we bring pedal-assist bikes back into service.”

In addition, “We’re increasing our commitment to the Reduced Fare Bike Share program and will have more to share on equity programming soon,” the company added.

* After initial publication of this story, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that roughly 1,000 Lyft-owned e-bikes would return to Bay Area streets in June. 
  • Jim Burke

    This is terrible news. The ped assist bikes are a boon to disabled and elderly NYers and those who want to go longer distances but can’t. I love Citi bike but between this and the practically ZERO expansion in Queens is very disheartening. We are at peak biking season and this is when the expansion and electric bikes would be the most impactful.

  • Mike Snoow

    Electric bikes r a novelty in NYC they aren’t really that powerful enough. And most of them aren’t charged even if u want them. NYC is mostly flat but hilly SF is perfect for them not nyc

  • I signed up for the service late last year on the promise that 2019 would be the year of e-bikes. I hope they do something for subscribers instead of throw around excuses

  • Rex Rocket

    Riders were getting wiped out from going over the handlebars on these bikes—broken arms, wrists, concussions–for months before the bikes were pulled. Many of them thought they were to blame. This is very bad. There should be a public forum to report bike malfunctions, other than the one Lyft keeps to itself.

  • Uchendu Nwachuku

    “It’s the fall of Citi Bike.”

    No it isn’t. What kind of shit-tier sensationalist clickbait writing is this? ?

  • It’s a pun. The e-bikes return in the fall.

  • “We expect… this fall”

    I would wager on a date much closer to Dec. 21 than Sept. 21. When corporations talk all vague like that, you have to lower expectations.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    The bike share in SF doesn’t serve any hills. All the stations are in the flat parts of town.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    What I’d like to know is if they are planning to refund at least in part the member fees of members in San Francisco, where the e-bikes had long since been launched and then were taken away. It seems like the right thing to do.

  • Uchendu Nwachuku

    OK, I can accept that. But that doesn’t excuse the rest of the doom-and-gloom nonsense throughout the rest of the article.

  • Look at the author.

    “tabloid legend Gersh Kuntzman, who has been with New York newspapers since 1989, including stints at the New York Daily News, the Post”

  • I will be frank here. I didn’t enjoy being overtaken in the bike lane by Citibike bros all jacked up on battery power. So I am enjoying these rollout issues. I believe pedal power is superior to all this battery business, and not talking morally or ethically. Talking strictly pragmatically. However I say all this with full apology to all those invalid or disabled transit-underserved folks in the outer reaches of the outer boroughs, who are going to depend on these future bikes. I get it, I am the horrible person for not fully backing e-bikes and scooters and micromobility machines on every street corner.

  • EBikeFanatic

    It’s too bad they won’t approve an already-existing solution to make ALL Citibikes electric – you’d have to carry your motor/battery with you, but it snaps on in 5 seconds and makes a regular Citibike into a pedal-assist Electric Citibike:
    https://onemotor.co/

  • Urbanely

    There are areas in Queens (particularly eastern Queens) that have hills and could benefit from pedal assist bikes.

  • You make a good point about the lack of CitiBike in Queens outside of Long Island City and Astoria. In Queens, CitiBike would be most useful in the borough’s eastern half. We should have stations in Laurelton, Hollis, Bayside, and Little Neck, and also near the 7 train stations along Roosevelt Avenue, in Jamaica at the various E/J and F stops, and along Queens Boulevard on the E/F, so that CitiBike could function as a means of connecting residents of Queens’s eastern wastelands to our City’s subway.

  • Andrew

    Have you been away from Streetsblog since last July?

  • AMH

    That’s an intriguing concept.

  • AMH

    There are plenty of hills and bridges where the e-bike is advantageous. Not to mention the constant stopping and starting because of NYC’s overabundance of traffic lights–the motor really helps with that.

  • JarekFA

    I didn’t enjoy being overtaken in the bike lane by Citibike bros all jacked up on battery power.

    You don’t have to lie to make your point, as stupid as your point may be. The ebike Citibikes simply do not have enough “power” to aggressively overtake someone already moving at speed. That’s not how the “burst” would work. You’d literally only get a boost when starting or going uphills. Your top speed doesn’t go up. And your acceleration when already moving doesn’t go up (except on hills) so your scenario of “jacked up citibike bros” [honestly, what a fucking stupid thing to say] passing you at high speeds (or, high rate of acceleration) in the bike lane, just doesn’t happen. I’d get passed going up hills by ebikes but that’s literally it and I’m not particularly fast (I’m not slow though).

  • JarekFA

    It’s kinda shitty, no? I can ebike home from Hudson Yards to South Slope if I don’t take my own bike to work. I’m not going to take a regular citibike all that way. I mean, I’m just one of 8 million in this city but that’s a scenario that kinda sucks, no?

    And it may seem like a small deal. But I assure you, on those nice days where I didn’t take my own bike for whatever reason, and I end up taking the train and have to wait for over 12 mins at Atlantic for an R train in the PM Rush, I will be sure as F pissed that I didn’t take an ebike from Hudson Yards.

  • Man you e-bike proponents have an answer for everything don’t you. Fine, I concede. I am stupid, just like you say. And these e-bikes are without flaw, and are not obnoxious in any conceivable way. Fine.

  • JarekFA

    I don’t own an ebike nor am I an ebike proponent but I’m just calling bullshit on your ridiculous example which frankly undercuts your entire point. “jacked up citibike bros” which just means, I guess, “men who are in decent health,” get no boost from the ebike when passing. They can pedal super hard but the motor won’t give them a boost. The harder they pedal in fact, the less of a boost they would otherwise get anyway. So its’ like, WTF are you talking about then? Because frankly the people helped most by citibikes’ ebikes, aren’t “bros,” but rather people of all stripes and genders. I see this first hand on my bike commute and the citibike riders by far are a diverse lot.

    And moreover, using discredited stereotypes of bike riders to make your point is fucking foul. It’s ok to take pride in the old “pedal way” of doing things. But you don’t need to be dishonest to do so.

  • Joe R.

    I’m hoping part of the reason for the delay is to install charging stations. They may have realized how dumb their idea of swapping batteries was. Rather than have two fiascoes in a row (the brake debacle and uncharged e-bikes) they cut their losses and decided to fix both problems. Unfortunately, installing charging stations isn’t something you can wave a magic wand and do in a week or two. September is a more realistic timeline.

  • I am not able to be superobjective like you I guess. I got left in a dust by a young gentleman on a powered citibike. Guess I’m getting old and weak huh. My quads must not be what they used to be. If we go by your cold hard facts. I rented a powered citibike one time out of curiosity. I could’ve swore I achieved faster acceleration than on the non-powered one. Whatever. You and I should meet up in East River park for a little race, you can confirm to me than I’m getting weak, and I’m likely to get passed by a citibike whether its powered or not.

  • meelar2

    Electric bikes are the difference between “me getting a nice, moderate workout on my way to work” vs. “me taking the subway to work, because I’d otherwise arrive all sweaty”. They make a real difference.

  • Do we know for sure SF and DC have the same timelines?

  • Simon Phearson

    So – question – did you confirm with CitiBike that it won’t be until after September 21 that the bikes will be replaced, or are you simply surmising that “September 21” must be the date, because they said “fall,” and that’s about when fall officially begins?

    If the latter, that is some recklessly sloppy journalism going on there.

  • Joe R.

    Maybe when the Citibike workers were collecting the e-bikes they were singing “See You in September”. But yeah, I’d love to know if September 21 was an actual date given by Citibike.

  • drloosen

    At least the injury toll will be reduced meantime.

  • Misses the Point Guy

    In the meantime, go check out a electric bike shop. I’ve had a sweet e-bike for years, and still use my regular bike more than half the time. For shopping trips, for neighborhood friend visits where I know i will appreciate the easy pedal home, and for crossing the bridge on a 90 degree day, my ebike rocks. My two fav spots are Greenpath Bikes deep in the Slope, and Propel bikes in Navy yard area. Make the move!

  • Gary Hennion

    When these Citi Bike e-bikes do return, it would be helpful if they were a different color than the lumbering human-powered bikes, so that we can all better judge our distance from them while we’re all in motion. Perhaps blue on white, rather than white on blue? I say this as both a cyclist and a pedestrian.

  • MatthewEH

    The e-citi-bikes are far faster in normal cycling conditions than nearly anyone on a not-e-bike. One can maintain 18mph on the flats on those things whilst barely breaking a sweat. Very few unassisted riders can do the same so effortlessly.

  • JarekFA

    I don’t know man. The only electric bike I’ve ever ridden were citibkes and I regularly take the Hudson River Greenway so long straight stretches are my frame of reference here and while I can get up to top speed quicker (18 mph), when I’m pedaling hard at around that speed I’m no longer receiving any boost of any kind. It literally only helps when you need to accelerate from a slow speed or stopping. For example, when I’m trying to over take someone [and thus accelerating] and I’m already at speed, I get zero boost.

  • People don’t even want to talk about owning an electric kick scooter. Far too much hassle. So IMO you can forget about getting people interesting in buying e-bikes.

  • Hari Seldon

    Ah this is unfortunate, I enjoyed riding the electrics, must’ve used it like 60 times, some lady was docking it at exactly the time I was heading to work every day. I don’t know how she managed to find one daily. Anyways never experience an issue with them, I’m thinking it was a user error, its a common mistake can be made on any bike, and a motorcycle.

  • robertorolfo .

    You are talking utter nonsense. Riding 18mph on a regular Citibike would be hard work, and it would have you sweating and out of breath pretty quickly. So yeah, if you are cruising along at 18mph and passing people, you are doing exactly what Golf Hard mentioned. And it’s nonsense. The electric Citibikes should have to ride on the regular roads, and not in bike lanes. These “brake issues” are proof that too many riders can’t handle those speeds.

  • robertorolfo .

    This article isn’t specific about this supposed “brake issue” at all. It’s hard to believe the riders aren’t at least partly to blame.

  • robertorolfo .

    Try pedaling for yourself instead. You will feel better for it.

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