Alex Goldmark is a senior producer in the newsroom for New Tech City and Transportation Nation.
As 10 a.m. approached, Renato Lopes rushed up to the last working Citi Bike at 33rd and 8th Ave oozing haste and gratitude. A bike at this dock at this time was a rare treat. As a WNYC analysis shows, Citi Bike docking stations near Penn Station are regularly emptied of bikes by 8:30 a.m.
"I'm very lucky to get one today. Yesterday I couldn't, I had to walk two blocks to get one," Lopes said as he adjusted the seat a few notches lower. He commutes from Warren, NJ via New Jersey Transit and Citi Bike to his job at the Brazilian Consulate at 46th Street and 6th Ave. In typical Brazilian fashion he prefers the later half of American rush hour, but by this time, the early risers have already claimed most of the bikes.
"I usually get here around 9:15, 9:30 and no more bikes. So I'm very lucky today," he said. He was behind schedule. "So, let me go," he said politely rolling away pleased that Citi Bike would help him arrive a little less late. He is not alone, many commuters who pass through Penn Station enjoy Citi Bike, too many by some measure.
The WNYC Data News Team analyzed the average number of bikes in various docking stations around the city by time of day. At Penn Station there is an especially fast depletion of bikes at the several docks surrounding the transit hub that serves commuters from New Jersey, Long Island as well as 6 subway lines. (Article continues below chart).
The several docks closest to Penn Station have similar usage patterns. They are also large docks with roughly 50 bikes in each. Starting around 6:30 a.m. the number of bikes drops dramatically until it hits empty, usually before 8:30 a.m., meaning, for the most part, bikes are available for commuters trying to get to work in midtown before 9:00 a.m. not not after.
J.R. Lanteri works at 23rd and Broadway. He comes in via Long Island Rail Road then prefers to take a Citi Bike from Penn Station, if there is one. "During peak hours you can either never find a bike or the bikes are broken... Sometimes I have to wait for bikes to come in. It's like an airport," he said. "I give myself like five minutes. If no one's here I'll walk to another station."
This is a problem of popularity of course. And users we spoke with say they like Citi Bike, they just want more of them. But in crowded midtown, space solutions are neither easy nor cheap. The first tranche of docking stations already stoked outrage in some quarters And rebalancing the bikes more frequently during rush hour requires driving trucks through traffic that crawls more slowly than a walking pace.
"For the most part it's OK, but I think they need a lot of support with respect to displacing bikes from crowded areas to empty areas in peak hours."
Docks close to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Grand Central Terminal did not seem to have similar and stark usage patterns as those around Penn Station.
Citi Bike is growing in popularity serving around 30,000 rides a day.
The company that operates Citi Bike, NYC Bike Share, is "working to identify these developing ridership patterns and continually improve daily bike distribution across the network, providing bikes and docks where and when riders need them," according to a spokesperson at the NYC Department of Transportation. "As we work to expand the the system when resources and funding allow, the number of bikes would increase," he said.
That would help daily commuters like Lanteri. He walked up to the dock just in time to see Lopes roll off with the last working bike. "I'm going to walk to another station to see if there are any bikes there," he said, nonplussed.