Will Citibank's $41 Million Bike Share Bet Pay Off?

(Photo Andrea Bernstein)

It's been a long time since the private sector completely took in hand the funding of a public transportation network, and New York's Citibank is certainly rolling the dice by getting behind one as new as New York's bike share.

But there's some anecdotal evidence the bet to associate itself with a hip, new environmentally friendly, healthy form of transport may pay off.

(You can listen to an audio version of this story here.)

On the streets of New York last week, lots of people were already familiar with Citibank's sponsorship --  "I'm very familiar with it," said Jason Banks, who works in advertising. "Isn't it Citibank?" said Erin Goldsmith, who works for a social media company.

Lisa Lipshaw, from London, worked with the company that set up London's Barclay Cycle Hire.  "They did really well out of the sponsorship," she said.

At the kick-off press conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg did his part.   At least four or five times, he said "Citibank" when he meant "citibike," before he corrected himself.

"The person who I have the pleasure of introducing next hopes everyone confuses Citibike with Citibank," Bloomberg said, teeing up the remarks of Citibank CEO Vikram Pandit.

Pandit himself was pretty bullish on citibike. "We think this is a very innovative program that makes people's lives easier, and that's what we do, that's what we do as a bank."

Not everyone was thrilled.   Web designer Antonio Ortiz is uncomfortable with big banks' roll in the recent financial collapse "It's like some kind of subversive way of 'Hey we're buying PR, we're being good and we care about the environment and the people of the community.' Like if it was Patagonia, I'm sure I'd feel a different way."

But still.  There are exactly zero New York bikes on the street, and already the name is catching on.