Op-Ed: Get the Blue Bikes Out of the Red
By Charles Gross Citi Bikes, New York City's public biking program, may well be the city's best transport innovation since the subway. The program is a hit with residents, so much in fact that Citi Bike is a victim of its own success. Unlike the subway, Citi Bike receives no government subsidies. In addition to the yearly pass, you can also buy a day pass for $9.95 or a weekly pass for $25.00. While the yearly pass has been a major hit with locals (yours truly included), the blue bikes are in the red because not enough daily and weekly passes are being sold to visitors and tourists. So how can Citi bike sell more daily and weekly passes? Here are a few ideas: Give the rider more time A daily/weekly user can only keep a bike out for 30 minutes at a time. (A yearly key holder gets 45 minutes). After that he must either return the bike or face additional fees. Ironically after the bike's put back in its kiosk, the same user can take it right back out and keep riding for another half hour at no additional charge. The time limits are fine for yearly users who generally just want to get from here to there. A tourist however, wants to explore. They want to lose themselves in the city. This is hard to do if you have to worry about checking a bike in every 30 minutes. The solution? Let daily/weekly users keep their bike out for 3 hours at times. Yes, Citi Bike may lose some overtime fees, but they will more than make up for that with the additional business. Bring the bikes to the tourists Right now, Citi Bikes kiosks only go up to 60th Street in Manhattan. This means that many prime tourist attractions such as the Met and the Museum of Natural History are inaccessible by Citi Bike. Governor's Island, a great place to explore by bike, also lacks a kiosk. Citi Bike is planning to expand, and popular tourist destinations would be a good place to start. In addition, Citi Bike needs to have more kiosks outside hotels and train the hotels' concierges so they can easily explain the bike program to their guests. There's a map for that (or there should be) Nothing is more frustrating than trying to find a parking space in the city, but trying to find a kiosk can come close. Citi Bike did a good job of placing their kiosks below 60th Street, but you still have to find them. Citi Bike currently has a website and an app to show riders where the kiosks are, but not every rider has a smart phone that can run it. Citi Bike needs to create a paper map that can be given out at hotels and at the bike kiosks. Ease of use A yearly rider who wants a Citi Bike merely has to insert a key into the kiosk. It gets a little more complicated for a daily/weekly user. Each time they want to take out a bike, they have to insert their credit card into the kiosk, wait for a pass code and then punch the code into the kiosk holding the bike. Here again, local hotels could be the solution. While it is not possible to send keys to daily/weekly users, why not give the hotel reprogrammable keys that could be distributed to guests using Citi Bike? The keys could be returned when the guests leave and reprogrammed. Sponsors Finally, Citi Bike needs to find additional sponsors. Yes Citi Bank has the prime spot, but they also have the prime spot at Citi Field, and that does not prevent the stadium from having signs from other sponsors all over the place. Citi Bike has kiosks in a high traffic city and is planning more. This is prime adverting space. Hey, it works for bus stops. Charles Gross is the Director of Commercial Leasing for Phipps Houses and the host of "Two On The Aisle," a TV show covering Broadway.
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