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Say Good-Bye to the ‘Free’ Citi Bike E-Bike Loophole

Some electric Citi Bikes that were previously free to unlock and ride will now cost users the "standard" e-bike fee, Lyft said on Monday.

12:00 AM EDT on September 19, 2023

File photo: Gersh Kuntzman|

This guy will pay more … if he wants the full e-bike experience even if there’s no regular bike from which to choose.

Full-powered electric Citi Bikes that were previously free will now cost users the bike-share program's "standard" e-bike fee — unless the member chooses a "low-power" option, Lyft said on Monday.

Though many members did not know it, Citi Bike e-bikes have long been free if no non-electric bikes are available in a given rack. But now, Citi Bike members faced with bike-share stations exclusively docked with e-bikes will have to either pay the full $0.17 per minute member fee to ride one of Lyft's "next-gen" white e-bikes at full speed or settle for a "low assist" option on the same bike, Lyft wrote in an email sent only to members who use key fobs to access the system.

"When you unlock a next-gen e-bike from a station that only has e-bikes, you now have the choice of two ride modes: Low assist or full assist," the message said. "Low assist mode feels like and costs the same as a classic bike. Full assist mode has the regular e-bike settings and price." (The two tiers of speed and price will not apply to older, blue e-bikes.)

Members who use the app to access bike-share bikes will receive a prompt when they unlock an e-bike asking whether they want the low or full assist option, Lyft said. Members can also set their default assist level by logging into their account on the Citi Bike website or app and adjusting their preferences under the "view profile" tab.

Here's these choice provided in the app.

Citi Bike lovers on Reddit speculated the new policy could be an anti-theft measure to discourage members from marking the last remaining "classic" non-electric bike in a rack as needing repairs so that they can unlock the free e-bike benefit.

"This addresses the messed up incentives of rewarding bad behavior with a free e-bike," shared one Redditor who described themselves as "pleasantly surprised" by the change.

Citi Bike saw classic bike availability drop from 90 percent to 50 percent in May due to the phenomenon of "wrenching," so named for the wrench icon on docks users press to make a bike for repairs, Lyft said.

A company spokesman said the low-assist level will at least compensate for the white e-bike's extra weight, and attempted to spin the new cost as a positive.

"We know that our members appreciate the option of picking an e-bike or a pedal bike, and an important part of the value proposition for annual members is always having the option to ride at no additional cost," Lyft rep Jordan Levine said in a statement.

"Now we’re giving members the experience of a free pedal bike ride via low-assist mode or to pay for the full assist when there are only e-bikes at a station."

At least one Reddit user expressed skepticism about the new low assist "experience."

'"[T]he bikes are so heavy that I have a hard time believing low assist is actually equal to a classic bike in good condition," the user wrote. "I prefer classic e-bikes anyway, so I hope those will still be free." (They will be.)

Citi Bike's electric fleet makes up just 20 percent of its bikes in New York City, despite significantly higher demand for the juiced up rides: In 2019, the operator said each pedal-assist e-bike was rented out for three times as many trips per day as a "classic" non-electric bike.

At $0.26 per minute for non-members, e-bikes are also bike-share's big money-maker — something Lyft has sought to capitalize.

Before last October, for example, Citi Bike users paid no more than $3 to ride up to 45 minutes on trip that "started or ended outside of Manhattan." Lyft nixed the perk; the company claimed it had been a "glitch" and the $3 cap was only meant to apply to trips that started or ended in Manhattan.

Additional reporting by Dave Colon

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