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Antonio Reynoso

Manhattan and Brooklyn Borough Presidents Ask DOT To Raise Cap on E-Bikes in Citi Bike Fleet

3:44 PM EDT on April 7, 2022

That was then…

These politicians want to give you the power.

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and his Brooklyn counterpart Antonio Reynoso asked the Department of Transportation last week to allow Citi Bike to put even more e-bikes on the streets of the city in order to make the city more bike-friendly and cut down on car trips.

The request from the borough presidents is simple: raise the cap that keeps e-bikes at only 20 percent of the total Citi Bike fleet.

"Given the increase in congestion around the city, now is the time to expand our transportation options," the two BPs wrote in a letter to the city's most important agency. "The fact is that if we hope to get New Yorkers out of their cars and utilizing bikes as a regular commuting option, increasing the availability of Citi Bike electric bikes is essential. We strongly urge DOT to take steps to increase the 20-percent cap on electric pedal-assist bikes to a level that will ensure the availability and reliability of these bikes.

E-bikes have lived up to their reputation as game changers in the city, allowing New Yorkers to get between boroughs and across the city's bridges. According to the New York League of Conservation Voters, almost two-thirds of Citi Bike rides over bridges or between boroughs were done with e-bikes, and 45 percent of the total rides taken by Reduced Fare Bike Share members are taken on e-bikes.

Additionally, the letter points out that more than half of the car trips in the city are less than three miles long, the kinds of trips the Beeps say are a perfectly cromulent trip for an e-bike.

The city could also use more e-bikes because the rides are incredibly popular, and will be sorely needed as the system expands further into the Bronx and Queens. Each pedal-assist in the Citi Bike fleet gets between three and four more rides per day than a traditional Citi Bike. And if the bike share system is going to be more than just a first-mile/last-mile connector in neighborhoods like Glendale or Corona, more e-bikes will be crucial to encouraging commuter cycling from those neighborhoods.

Expanding the number of e-bikes has come with higher prices for users, though. When Lyft announced that it was expanding the e-bike fleet from 200 to 4,000 bikes, the company also slapped a $2 unlock fee on every e-bike, whether riders were members or not. When the e-bikes came back to city streets following a series of safety issues, the pricing structure changed to the per-minute fee that exists today. First e-bikes were 10 cents per minute for members, 5 cents per minute for reduced fare members and 15 cents per minute for non-members, a price that's eventually risen to 15 cents per minute for members or 18 cents per minute for non-members.

Lyft has said that the fee on the e-bikes is necessary because the company must have about 100 employees to drive around the city to manually swap out depleted batteries. One possible change that could help expand the number of e-bikes while keeping prices down would be to allow Citi Bike to connect some docks to the city's electric grid, allowing for batteries to get charged while bikes are docked, something that he company is currently piloting in Chicago as the bike share there moves towards an all e-bike system.

Another factor that could help keep prices down on the system if e-bikes expand is if Mayor Eric Adams follows through on his campaign promise to publicly subsidize the transportation option, since unlike the MTA or even the NYC Ferry, Citi Bike gets no public money to help run its operations.

A spokesperson for Citi Bike declined to comment on the letter.

The current contract between Lyft and the city doesn't allow the DOT to set the prices for e-bike rides, which maybe explains why the DOT doesn't sound like its ready to move fast on the request from the borough presidents.

"We will continue to work with Lyft to make sure all New Yorkers receive the best and most equitable service throughout the Citi Bike program area," said DOT spokesman Scott Gastel. "Currently, the parties are working on criteria that aims to find the best balance between the conventional and pedal-assist bikes in the Citi Bike fleet."

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