Citi Bike Fail Rate Drops Sharply

The number of Citi Bike docking stations out of service for more than four hours has dropped markedly, a WNYC Data News analysis shows. The system is still experiencing problems. But after we wrote about this last week, the percentage of stations out of service for four or more hours dropped from an average of ten percent to about two and a half percent.

Our gauge is blunt -- we're assuming all stations that are inactive for four hours (or more) are not working, and that none of the ones inactive for short periods are -- even though neither may be exactly right. But Paul Steely White, director of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, confirms he's hearing many fewer complaints from users about technical problems. 

"They have gotten on top of the technical issues," Steely White says. "The number of down stations is way down."

As we reported last week, the software New York City is using has not been tested in other major cities. Because of a dispute between Public Bike Share and the company that wrote the software for Boston, Washington, London and other cities, New York is using a software system tried only in Chattanooga, Tennessee -- a system comprised of 30 stations and 300 bikes.

But -- and no one's telling us what they did to fix it -- the glitches in the system seem to have shifted from a big software problem to the typical problems bike shares experience when they come to cities: broken bikes and unbalanced stations.  

It's still far from perfect -- this morning I had to go to four stations before finding a working bike. In the last 24 hours, WNYC reporters Jim O'Grady and Kate Hinds had similar experiences. But in each case, the docks were virtually empty, with only a few remaining bikes. 

That kind of complaint can still be found on Twitter. "First #citibike fails today. 2 stuy town stations report many bikes, actually empty. Then 1st & 14th has 10 bikes no-one can unlock" wrote @lindyboi Tuesday morning. But that's different from the problem many experienced last week, when users would arrive at full docks and be unable to undock any bikes.

Instead, the system is having trouble keeping bikes in docks -- particularly on the East Side and particularly in the morning, as people ride from where they live to where they work. That's similar to the experience other cities have had, like Barcelona, where riders bike downhill but not up, or London, where riders bring all the bikes into the center in the morning.

But system operators can adjust that over time by developing an algorithm to predict where bikes will move the fastest, and physically moving other bikes, via truck, to empty docks.

In the meantime, Citi Bike is still scrambling to keep up with customer calls, and to mail out keys -- which are promised in seven days but are frequently reported to be delayed far beyond that.

And New York City continues its information blackout -- except for good news. After one daily missive about the numbers (over 42,000 members, approaching 300,000 trips) one would-be user Shaun Reid wrote on Citi Bike's Facebook page: "would be more trips if I wasn't still waiting for my key! 3rd week about to start."