Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
CORRECTED POST There's been not a little controversy about the cost of New York's bike share since the program was unveiled this week -- much huffing and puffing about how an afternoon's ride would cost you a C-note. The city Department of Transportation notes that bike share is not intended for four-hour rides, any more than a taxi ride should last four hours. If you need a car for four hours, you can rent one. If you need a bike for four hours, you can rent one too -- just not a bike share.
Also responding to the critics: Matt Seaton takes a comparative look in the Guardian Wednesday.
Their point is: this is transportation, not recreation.
But still, New York's rates are among the highest in the world , as far we can tell. The annual fee is $95 -- a bit above most other annual rates, which range from $70 to $80.
The usage fees for annual members, in the chart above, are also high, although NYC annual members get 45 minutes of free riding, unlike riders in Washington, DC, London, Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Minneapolis, who only get 30 minutes of free riding.
And the usage fees for daily members are the highest of all - $4 for the first hour, $13 for the first 90 minutes, compared to a $2.00 and $6.00 fee for most other cities.
Here's a look other annual fees (& daily membership fees) around the world:
New York: $95 ($9.95)
Boston $85 ($5) CLOSES IN WINTER
Denver $80 ($8) CLOSES IN WINTER
Montreal $80 ($7) CLOSES IN WINTER
Washington, DC $75 ($7) -- there's also an $84 annual fee that can be paid out monthly.
Chicago $75 ($7) TO BE LAUNCHED LATE SUMMER
London $72 ($1.60)
Minneapolis $65 ($6) CLOSES IN WINTER
Paris $50 ($2.20) -- this level of annual gives you 45 minutes free riding
Mexico City $23 (daily rate N.A.)
The New York bike share annual membership is still cheaper than a monthly MetroCard, as the NYC DOT likes to point out. And with it, you can ride anywhere, anytime, as many rides as you want -- for free, so long as those rides don't exceed 45 minutes. That grace period exceeds the grace period in most other cities. With the exception of Paris, Montreal and Mexico City, charges in all the above cities start at minute 31. (In Paris you can chose between a deluxe membership, which costs about $50, or a regular which costs about $36, and gives you just 30 minute free riding)
NY officials say 97 percent of rides in DC are under the 30 minute free ride there. But if you keep the bike past the grace period, the charges escalate rapidly. The $2.50 cost for the initial usage fee in New York is the highest we could find.
As for next increment: it's $9.00.
NYC DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow says that's still misleading -- because in New York, you can ride for an hour an a quarter for $2.50, and for an hour and three quarters for $9.00.
"These rates are not so easy to compare to each other," Solomonow said. "Some trips are cheaper or more expensive, depending on the specific city, type of membership and length of trip. Some rides are cheaper or more expensive depending on whether they lasted 59:59 or 60:00."
Many, many of you have commented below about whether New York's bike share should ever be used for 90 minutes (mostly, you say no.)
For most one-way rides that people will make after the initial roll-out in Manhattan below 59th Street and parts of Brooklyn and Long Island City, it shouldn't be a problem to stay under 45 minutes for a one-way trip. You should be able to get most places around that district in under 45 minutes.
New York's transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan says the pricing arrangement is a necessary way to keep trips short and bikes in circulation. Here's how she explained it in an email:
"The system is the first unsubsidized bike share system and it is designed to incentivize people to return bikes promptly so there will always a be a bike available for any user who wants one. There is no other system of this size and structure that compares, and instead of costing tens of millions of dollars to implement as budgets are being cut, the system will actually provide a new transportation option and revenue for the city."
"As we have seen in other cities, users primarily use the bike share bikes no longer than the free period. The system works when people return their bikes promptly and incur no additional charges at all. It breaks down if users go looking for a bike but find only empty docking stations because all the bikes are checked out on long rides."
However, when the system expands to Park Slope, Crown Heights, and the Upper West Side, one can easily imagine a one-way commute of an hour and a quarter. Alta officials have said one-way commutes are frequent in Washington, DC. When it's raining in the morning but nice in the afternoon, a user might want to ride home from, say, Lincoln Center to Crown Heights.
No word yet on whether the system's pricing could be adjusted -- though in Washington, officials have created low-income payment plans and other discount schemes.
[CORRECTED POST: Our initial post inadvertently compared New York's usage rates for daily and short-term members to the usage rates for annual members in other cities. The chart above has the correct rates. We regret the error.]