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Initial Details About Bike Share Start to Emerge

April 30, 2012

In my conversation with DOT Policy Director Jon Orcutt yesterday at the New Amsterdam Bicycle Show, audience members were treated to a few details about New York’s bike sharing system, set to debut this July. Here are the tidbits, which made their way onto Twitter during the talk:

  • An annual membership will cost $95.
  • A one-day membership will cost $10.
  • The first 45 minutes of any ride will incur no additional charges to annual members beyond the initial subscription fee.
  • Lower membership levels, such as one-day and multi-day options, will have a shorter “free” ride limit: 30 minutes.

One major caveat to all of this: since no official announcement has been made about the system all of the above could change at any time. With that in mind, what follows are some notes, comparisons with what I know about other systems, and my own personal opinions on it all.

First up, the annual membership:

  • The $95 annual membership is $9 less than the cost of a monthly MetroCard, which had for a while been the standard measure for approximating bike share membership’s annual cost.
  • The annual membership fee for DC’s Capital Bike Share is $75. Boston’s Hubway runs $85 per year. When one considers that DC currently has just 1,200 bikes and that Boston’s 600-bike system shuts down for the winter, New Yorkers are getting a relative bargain.
  • If one exclusively uses bike share for an entire year and incurs no additional charges, the cost of getting around New York City will cost just 26 cents per day. Even if bike share is largely used to supplement other transit trips it’s still a marginal cost if it brings the user added convenience.
  • Ninety-five dollars may be a relative bargain when compared to other annual transportation costs, but it can be a lot for some people to pay in one lump sum. Orcutt mentioned that DOT and the system operator, Alta, will work with city agencies such as NYCHA to offer discounted or installment-based membership plans in order to reach lower-income New Yorkers.

The 24-hour membership:

  • $10 for 24-hour access may seem steep, but it’s only three dollars more than what Capital Bike Share charges. It’s double the 24-hour charge in Boston, but spending twice as much money to get access to nearly seventeen times the number of bicycles still seems like a fair deal in my book.
  • $10 for 24-hours of potentially unlimited “free” trips is still less than the cost of even two extremely short taxi rides.
  • That being said, a $10 fee means that casual users will be subsidizing a somewhat disproportionate share of New York’s system. But as I pointed out, regular straphangers subsidized tourists on the subway for a long time until the one-day “Fun Pass” was phased out. I also don’t think tourists or other visitors will mind paying slightly more if bike share delivers a convenient, reliable, and fun way to get around town.

The initial ride time period:

  • Forty-five minutes should give someone picking up a bike in Brooklyn plenty of time to make it to Midtown–and certainly almost anywhere below 14th Street–without incurring any additional charges. Orcutt said that the typical Brooklyn-to-Manhattan commute was part of the calculation in determining that amount of time.
  • It seems like it would be very hard for an annual member taking an intraborough trip to rack up additional fees.  A ride from Penn Station to Wall Street with no stops would probably take about 30 minutes at a slow pace.
  • The 30-minute free period for lower membership levels will help not cut into existing bike rental businesses.  Orcutt didn’t discuss fees for using bikes beyond that initial time limit, but in other cities they tend to get progressively more expensive to the point of being nearly punitive for all-day rentals.  Tourists are still going to want to use Bike-N-Roll for all-day rides.

I couldn’t take notes on everything we covered during our talk since I was focused on hosting and playing Phil Donahue with the mic during the Q&A, so if you attended and picked up any other bits of information that I didn’t list here, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Many thanks to Jon for providing such great insight into the system and to everyone who came for their interesting questions.

  1. April 30, 2012 2:35 pm

    – annual membership online pre-sale expected in June!
    – No way to pay with ‘transit check’
    – Thursday night presentation of station locations to CB1 in Manhattan
    – DOT may be publishing maps of the rest of the stations within a week

  2. April 30, 2012 6:36 pm

    “.26 cents”, as you write here, is not the same as $0.26 or 26 cents, which is presumably what you mean.

  3. April 30, 2012 7:12 pm

    Yes, that’s true. .26 of 1 cent is what I mean. Thanks for correcting.

    • Mike permalink
      April 30, 2012 9:19 pm

      No you don’t — you mean 26 cents a day. (It’s still wrong.)

    • Josh permalink
      April 30, 2012 10:22 pm

      not a math major, I take it… remember, dollars and cents are not the same. $95 / 365 = .26 or 26 cents.

  4. Krista permalink
    April 30, 2012 11:33 pm

    As someone who visited New York last year, had a blast riding around the city on a rented bike and thinks that bike share will be a great thing for the city, $10 a day is too much! I would have been really reluctant to pay so much, and I _like_ cycling and think it is the perfect way to explore new cities. I was in New York for seven days, and so joining the bike share would have cost me over double what I spent on the Metro.

    Unless this pricing structure is designed to discourage tourists?

    Something between a day and a year is also needed. Say $30 for a month. Both for “tourists in town for a week” and “locals who want to try it for a bit without spending $100”.

    • Krista permalink
      April 30, 2012 11:36 pm

      Just re-read your post, and it does imply that there will be multiday options, which I’m glad to hear.

      • May 1, 2012 9:54 am

        Yes, I believe there will be options for the tourist coming for a long weekend, for example.

    • nhamblen permalink
      May 1, 2012 9:03 am

      Agreed. $10 a day might sound reasonable compared to fledgling systems in the US, but why limit the comparison to that? The daily rates in Paris and London of €1.70 and £1 reveal this New York trial balloon to be positively obnoxious.

      On a recent trip to London I took advantage of bike share for a good number of trips on 3 days; if the going rate were 6 times that (as this would be) I would not have used bike share at all. And while it’s certainly a good idea to help tourists onto bicycles, it’s not the main objective. The main objective is a low barrier for locals to try the system, not just once but many times, until they are sold on the value of a yearly pass. A rate of $10 a day does not facilitate that kind of conversion.

      I understand that the city does not wish to upset the thriving bike rental business, but their higher allegiance must be to the public. Rental businesses will evolve, and in the long run they stand to profit far more from a city that is fully accessible by bicycle. In Maastricht there is a massive, efficient, privately owned rental operation outside the train station that charges a fraction of what it costs to rent a bike around here. Their margins on each rental are lower but their volume of rentals is is orders of magnitude greater. The city doesn’t have bike share and maybe they don’t need it; in an environment that embraces practical cycling, the market has set a reasonable price for short-term equipment use.

      It may be that we all end up in the same place, and bike share is just a high tech lever to get there—but it can’t do that with sky high entry costs. DOT needs to take a more serious look at pricing in Paris and London, and specifically how it has affected (or not affected) existing rental businesses there, and come back down to earth.

  5. May 1, 2012 9:53 am

    This is what happens when I write posts drunk. Yes. 26 cents. One quarter and one penny. Still a bargain.

    As for the $10/day for casual membership, I would assume that the system will offer discounts and other special offers in the beginning or even periodically to encourage experimentation. Few businesses, save Apple, release a new product and simply leave things as is without making adjustments to pricing and other details. The beauty of this system, as I understand it from other cities, as that many things about it, including pricing, can be changed at almost the drop of a hat. What’s to say they won’t have introductory periods where a day pass is $5 or even free?

    Capital Bike Share offered a Living Social Deal that added thousands of new members during its first year of operation. Over eight thousand people purchased the deal, and while I’m not sure how many memberships were redeemed fro that offer, it had to have been a lot. Boston did the same, offering an annual membership for $42, or about 50% off. New York is almost certain to do what it can to get and retain members.

    And why only compare London’s bike share price structure to other bike share systems, but not to the Tube or to a taxi? I’m not sure if a three-day Oyster card exists, but surely it would have cost you more than £1. And you almost can’t get into a black cab for less than £5. A tourist using the NYC subway over the course of, say, noon Saturday to noon Sunday, could easily spend more than $10, but bike share means he could take the kind of short jaunts (Times Square to the Intrepid, Times Square to Central Park) where paying even a discounted subway fare isn’t worth it.

    As a New Yorker, I do regular calculations when I think about getting around and weigh the relative benefits of one transportation choice against another. If you see bike share as just another choice along with the subway, bus, and taxis, I think the pricing structure is in balance.

    • nhamblen permalink
      May 1, 2012 9:34 pm

      > And why only compare London’s bike share price structure to other bike share systems, but not to the Tube or to a taxi?

      That’s what makes this pricing scheme so bizarre. The tube is significantly more expensive than the subway, and London taxis costs more than ours. So our bike share should be six times as expensive as theirs? That makes no sense.

      • May 1, 2012 10:19 pm

        I don’t think it’s as simple as average taxi or subway rates being one figure and the price of bike share memberships being X times that figure. I’m sure it also has a lot to do with how the systems are financed. NYC’s is supposed to be supported solely through sponsorship dollars and user fees. I believe the London system receives some government money, although I’m not sure how much. Capital Bike Share has received federal funds for some of its capital costs.

        There are a million other factors, all of them related to personal choice. A person who currently gets off of a train at Penn Station and then pays $6 for a taxi ride to his office and another $6 to head back to at the end of the day may think it’s worth it to take a bike instead because it’s faster, involves exercise, and ultimately saves him $2. (Such a person might eventually switch to a longer membership option, but the cost of trying bike share will still be relatively low.) I know there are plenty of days when a large number of appointments and errands means that I’ll pay more than $10 in subway fare in a matter of hours, so a 24-hour bike share membership would be worth it if I wasn’t already planning to get an annual one.

        Ultimately it may be the case that only people with intimate familiarity with other bike share systems will think that ours is considerably more expensive, at least at the casual level.

  6. Hilda permalink
    May 1, 2012 9:24 pm

    I know that I will have to go to a full on presentation, but today made me think…A day like today where you might not commute in on your bike, but it turns beautiful anyway, and you find yourself agreeing to meet friends at the pier below the Intrepid, (west highway and 44th St). Seems like everyone had the same idea, and there is no free spot in any station nearby. What to you do?

    • May 1, 2012 9:58 pm

      Hilda, this happened to me in Boston, but the good news is there are some options, none of which will cost you extra money:

      1. Download an app like Spotcycle on your phone. You can have it find your location and the nearby stations with real-time info on how many spaces/bikes are available in each. You could also check this info ahead of time and head to the station that’s most likely to have a place to return a bike.

      2. If you get to a station that’s full, the touch screen on the station kiosk will also have info on availability at nearby stations.

      3. Hubway and Capital Bike Share give users an extra 15 minutes free to return a bike if they get to a station and there’s no space to dock it.


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