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Truckloads of Bikes Not Enough to Meet Citi Bike Demand at Penn Station

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - 05:57 PM

WNYC
A Citi Bike rebalancer adds bikes to one fast-emptying dock outside Penn Station. (NYC Bike Share/Facebook)

Following our story on the problem of popularity facing New York's bike sharing program, we get a photo essay on the Citi Bike Facebook page that shows how hard the company is working to keep up with peak demand... and how it's still not enough. 

"As soon as our rebalancers manage to fill up the 33rd and 7th Station, people exiting Penn Station come to check them out and take them on their way," Citi Bike writes of a the morning rush hour. "We are currently using two larger trucks to help us keep high traffic stations like those around Penn Station better stocked." 

The yellow large box trucks appear to be former Penske moving trucks, filled with blue Citi Bikes from end to end. 

As we reported Monday, an analysis of the usage patterns of several Citi Bike racks around Penn Station shows that the docks are empty or near empty well before the end of the morning rush hour. Commenters on our article said this phenomenon is happening elsewhere, too. 

"I arrive at [the Port Authority Bus Terminal] at 7:15 am to 7:30 am every day and the four bike stations nearby are usually empty by then. I often have to walk nearly a mile to 6th Ave 41st St or 43rd St to get a bike," Terrance from Bergen County wrote

"I too have an annual pass but no longer use Citibike now that the program has caught on and become too popular for its own good. It is near impossible to get a bike near Columbus Circle after 8:15 am, and even if you do there is no point since there is only one dock serving the enormous office area around 6th Ave and 56th St where I work and I have never found an empty dock after 8:30 am," Dave from Inwood wrote.

Our bike share map confirms some of this, showing the average daily patterns of usage at each station.

That's what we used to focus on Penn Station's rush hour shortages, but what our analysis can't capture is how often the docks get refilled each morning. Tuesday's Facebook photo set implies Penn Station docks are refilled two times each morning at least on some days.

It is unclear exactly how many times bikes get added and on what schedule at Penn Station or elsewhere because that data isn't released. But the Facebook photo essay makes clear, no matter how many new bikes the company adds into the empty docks, eager Penn Station commuters are snatching them up almost instantly.

"At high traffic stations like Penn Station we fill the stations close to capacity, knowing that they will empty out again quickly," one photo caption reads. Followed by the ominous closing note, "The 33rd and 7th Street station is restocked for now." 

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Comments [17]

Josh

I arrive at Penn Station between 7:30-8am each day, and I'm lucky if there is one bike available per week at the 31st & 7th Ave station. Really disappointed with the program. Hopefully that will change as the cold weather rolls in and the novelty wears off.

Nov. 13 2013 06:49 PM
Jeanne from nyc

I love the Citibike program but am so frustrated with trying to find a bike in the morning, and if I am lucky enough I can't find an open dock (mid town east)! The same happens at the end of the day. If I leave work just a few minutes after 5 p.m. all the bikes have been taken, but again if I should be lucky enough to find a bike I can't find a dock any place near my apartment (Stuyvesant Town). Last night I was competing with another 5 or so bikers cruising around trying to find a dock. I finally waited in one place until someone took a bike. The whole experience: 15 minutes riding home and then 45 minutes finding an open dock. Ugh

Aug. 13 2013 07:09 PM
pb from Soho

There are many young people in need of employment. Why not hire re-balancers who can ride bikes between stations. Give them Metrocards to move from an empty station to a full station. Use a ticketing program (Service Now, Heat Hybrid) to assign re-balancing. Close the re-balancing incident on docking. Give the re-balancers iphones that read the incident tickets. Pay a bonus for achieving levels of incident closing. Or make the re-balancing a condition of scholarship or workfare. You can move many more bikes to Penn Station and PABT with individuals than with a truck that has to move through traffic and then off load. Fresh Direct does this now, using 5 delivery people with carts to deliver 4 deliveries each in 3/4 hour without returning to the truck.

Jul. 31 2013 12:15 AM
DCN

CitiBike management needs to think outside the box to solve its balancing issues.

For starters, it should re-channel its truck rentals towards using flatbed trailers, like this http://www.dktrailers.com/trailers/flatbed/large_photos/flatbed_combo2.jpg, outfitted with suitable racks. Re-balancers waste too much time loading/unloading elevated trucks with lifts.

Second, it should develop the means to compensate the public for rebalancing. Years ago, supermarkets and airports solved this challenge by paying people (usually young or unemployed) a token amount to retrieve carts and the same has worked with bottle/can recycling.

If this program's success is what's been touted, there's certainly surplus revenues to actually deliver on the currently unfulfilled promise made to paying customers. (Note: no where on CitiBike's materials does it warn that customers will have a high probability of being disappointed because of a severe shortage of bikes.)

Jul. 26 2013 05:22 PM
S. Strong from Manhattan

Terence@11:27 = "Citibike is the best thing and the most successful that Citigroup has done or sponsored in my memory"

Thanks for admitting CitiBank's real agenda with this bike rental program: to salvage its public image after the beating it took from us in 2008-9 for its gross financial bailout at taxpayers expense while the CEOs racked up fortunes in bonuses.

Crain's NY Business did an exposé on it:
Apparently, Citi Bike was conceived by former Bloomberg Deputy Mayor, Ed Skyler, who is now VP for Public Affairs at Citi Bank.
He approached Sadik-Khan, who bought it. Bloomberg, always ready to help his banker friends, approved, likely over a cocktail party at Gracie Mansion.

Now Citibank is branding throughout the city, and gullible people sing the praises of these greedy financiers, who know how to con the public as well as the conned the Fed.

Jul. 24 2013 08:24 PM
Andres

If I were a bike shop that sold folding bikes in nyc, I would advertise on or near these empty bike stations. Something along the lines of, "citibike out of bikes again? Time to buy your own folding bike at..."

Jul. 24 2013 12:49 PM
Terence form Bergen County

Citibike is the best thing and the most successful that Citigroup has done or sponsored in my memory (I have banked at Citibank for over 25 years). I wish its stock price could perform just a fraction as well as Citibike has.

Jul. 24 2013 11:27 AM
mjrombuffalo

There's generally a bunch at 31st and 8th, in front of the Post Office.

Jul. 24 2013 10:43 AM
Ivan

Trucks for rebalancing are an ugly necessity, but I think the net result is still positive. They don't publish the numbers, unfortunately, but I'd estimate that Citi Bike has a handful of rebalancing trucks traveling a few hundred miles per day total at most. This is to support 30,000 bike trips totaling 60,000 miles every day.

Jul. 24 2013 10:31 AM
Craig from DC

You need a bikestation like we have in DC. You can never keep up with the demand for taxis, bikes, etc at such a massive commutter hub. This is the solution. http://home.bikestation.com/bikestation-washington-dc

Jul. 24 2013 10:13 AM
Matthew Snodgrass

I've seen this every morning this week coming out of Penn Station. Both the 31st & 7th and the 33rd & 7th stations are devoid of available bikes. To make matters worse, it takes a couple of minutes for the CitiBike mobile app to refresh to show that there are 1 or 0 bikes available. I typically have to wind up walking to 4 stations to get a bike, and I've had to ride past 3-4 stations near Union Square to find an available dock. They really need to address this.

Jul. 24 2013 09:46 AM
James

The problem is just as bad, if not worse, at Port Authority during the AM rush. If you arrive at Port Authority by 7am you can typically get a bike but any later and you are out of luck. This morning I arrived at 7:15 and there were no bikes at any of the four closest stations to port authority. The 42nd and 8th avenue station the 41st and 8th avenue station, the 45th and 8th avenue station, even the 9th avenue and 39th street station was out of bikes. This has been the case all week, and now I see why , all the bikes are at Penn Station. I think city bike needs to buy more bikes and fast, or at the very least do a better job of repositioning bikes for the am rush.

Jul. 24 2013 09:41 AM
SuperWittySmitty from Sunnyside, NY

@S Strong- fewer cars and more bikers = a better city; soon we will only have your fumes to deal with. Trucks should be encouraged (or required) to conduct their business when it's NOT rush hour, unless they have no other choice. The world is changing: evolve or perish by the wayside.

Jul. 24 2013 09:41 AM
myna lee johnstone from saltspring

when cities quit allowing cars,and only taxiis, service vehicles, they will become pleasant places to be in: more quiet, less crime, fresher and much less stress

Jul. 24 2013 09:37 AM
Bob

This seems like so much effort to help a really marginal amount of people. How many bikes are they going to add each day, maybe 100-200 out of the tens of thousands of people who use Penn station. They really need to find a way to target reverse commuters who could bring bikes to Penn organically. They should ride the trains leaving Penn in the morning and give out free citibike memberships that are contingent on bringing a bike to Penn in the morning at least once a week.

Jul. 24 2013 09:17 AM
S. Strong from Manhattan

This program was marketed as a "green" solution to the traffic problem and a means to reduce congestion.

Some solution where we have trucks spewing fumes and driving around the city with important cargo like....bikes.

The Emperor has no clothes.

Jul. 24 2013 09:14 AM
Murray Schechter

The counts are somewhat bogus as broken bikes are counted as available. Not sure why Citibike doesn't correct this.

Jul. 24 2013 08:22 AM

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