Citibike lags in public housing

NYCHA residents get discount bike share memberships – and the few who use them couldn't be happier

Large numbers define New York City’s bike share program.

More than 4.1 million miles traveled to date. Almost 70,000 annual members. Close to two million trips.

But one number remains small.

Since the program’s launch earlier this summer, only 500 discounted annual memberships have been sold as of mid-July, when the total number of annual members stood at 58,000.

The Department of Transportation and Citibike gave away free helmets in the courtyard of the Jacob Riis Houses. Photo: Claire Moses

The Department of Transportation and Citibike gave away free helmets in the courtyard of the Jacob Riis Houses. Photo: Claire Moses

Discounted memberships are available to New York City Housing Authority residents and members of some community development credit unions. The discounted price is $60 a year, rather than the usual $95.

It seems, however, that only a small share of NYCHA residents is taking advantage of the deal. A Department of Transportation spokeswoman did not specify how many of the 500 memberships were purchased by NYCHA residents and how many by credit union members, and was not available to comment on the membership numbers.

More than 400,000 residents live in NYCHA’s 334 housing developments across the five boroughs. Roughly 55,000 of them live in the area of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn where Citibikes are readily available in the street.

Sherri Bradford, a resident of the Jacob Riis Houses in the Lower East Side, said she drives a truck and described the Citibike program for her personally as a “waste of money.”

She added that presence of a Citibike docking station in the courtyard of the housing project Houses at Avenue D and East 12th Street isn’t a good idea.

“This is the wrong place,” said Bradford. She said that when people don’t lock the bikes into the docks properly, people will take them out and go for rides.

“The other day they broke some piece off,” Bradford said. “They do it all the time.”

She said that she had seen her neighbors share memberships and pass along their Citibike key chains in return for cash from other residents. Citibike memberships are non-transferrable, according to the program’s website.

The Citibike dock at Jacob Riis Houses on the Lower East Side during a recent free bike helmet giveaway. Photo: Claire Moses.

The Citibike dock at Jacob Riis Houses on the Lower East Side during a recent free bike helmet giveaway. Photo: Claire Moses.

Bradford, 30, together with other residents of the Jacob Riis Houses, was among hundreds of New Yorkers who attended a recent helmet giveaway organized by the city’s Department of Transportation and Citibike.

A long, steadily growing line started before the event officially began at 4 p.m., and didn’t end for another two and a half hours.

Kuni Mikami, a 58-year-old New Yorker who lives on the West Side and purchased the $95 annual membership, had taken a Citibike all the way to Avenue D to get a free helmet, after he hadn’t been able to attend a helmet give away closer to his apartment.  

Like dozens of others, he strapped the shiny green helmet to his head, and took another bike out of the station after picking up the new headgear.

While the free helmet events are well established at the Department of Transportation, which has given out tens of thousands of helmets over the past couple of years, the launch of Citibike has made the giveaways a hot scene, with between 500 and 700 distributed a session.

According to Citibike data, more than 18 million trips have been made since the program’s Memorial Day launch, totaling more than 4.1 million miles traveled.

Melanie Torres, one of the roughly 3,000 residents of the Jacob Riis Houses, stumbled upon the recent helmet give away when she left her apartment. She said she was planning to get a helmet for her son. Torres doesn’t use Citibikes, she added, because she doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle.

For Juan Morales, a three-year resident of the Lower East Side housing project, it’s a different story. Morales, 37, said that while he owns his own bike, he still got the discounted membership and uses it on average six times a day.

“It’s perfect,” he said. He added that two of his neighbors had also gotten the memberships to commute to work.

Citibike employees also attended the event recently and provided some curious residents with information about the discounted membership. By the end of the afternoon, however, no new members had signed up.

Correction: a previous version of this article misrepresented the total miles traveled on Citibikes.

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  1. It is very hard to say whether it is a success or failure unless you have something to compare it to. 500 out of 55,000 is about 1%. Also, it sounds like NYCHA residents are sharing memberships.

    Maybe NYCHA residents should be given free memberships, and only charged if they don’t bring the bike back or go over the 45 minutes? Seems like a small number anyway, and would be a huge environmental and transportation justice act by Citibike. Or do first year free, and then future years are $60. (Only sad thing is that the waiting list for NYCHA is over 200,000 names long.)

    • A point of comparison: The overall population of the Citibike service area “sub-boroughs” in 2009, as shown on the excellent, was 979,606. The 58,000 members signed up as of mid-July is equivalent to a little less than 6% of the population of the area. – Ed.

      • That was the first calculation I tried to do. But then I considered that some users are going to just work in the area but not live there. And, given the areas CitiBike serves, those populations are radically different:

        So it is hard to know what that 1% means.

        (Also the 18 million trips and 41 million miles in the article need to be divided by 10.)

    • Rob, you’re are pretty free with other people’s money. Care to write a check; otherwise, everyone ignores you.

      Alta/Citibike must pay back all it has borrowed to get up and running. They have nothing to share until the note and their payroll(with benefits) and the rent and the taxes are paid.

      • Sabina, point well-taken. This is a tough one to figure out, as I know a number of Citibike members who don’t live in the zone with stations, and some who live in the suburbs and outer boros. In fact, I know more members who live outside the zone than inside. Maybe the Citibike folks will share the zip codes of Annual Members. They’re pretty open about other figures, and I enjoy periodically checking the “System Data” tab on the Citibike website.

        TOM, I get your point about “other people’s money,” and while I am sympathetic with Alta, I have a hard time worrying about this issue with CitiBANK which is using taxpayer subsidies as we speak in an enormous way. (Hello, Fed Window? I’d like a few hundred million this morning. Thanks!) While I don’t know the business model for Citibike fully, I think a lot of it is derived from the PR value (corporate logos for Citibank and MasterCard) which is why I fell back on the PR idea for NYCHA. It would only cost them about $30-50K a year (they can even cap it) compared to the over $6 million in fees from annual members ($95 x 70,000), and there is no reason at this pace they may not get close to 100,000 members. Citibank (not Citibike) could pay for this from its very active philanthropy department. Also, if you read the last part of my post, you will see that I thought a one-year free membership would work as an inducement for long-term membership.