New York City Comptroller Brad Lander is calling for an overhaul of the city’s Citi Bike contract after a review by his office found the popular bikeshare service has become less reliable since ride-hail company Lyft took over in 2018.
Citi Bike riders are dealing with more unusable stations and broken bikes than ever before — especially in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color — Lander’s office said in a report released Wednesday.
“Citi Bike has grown to be a vital element of New York City’s transportation network, but Lyft’s failure to deliver reliable service across the system raises alarm bells,” Lander said.
The review looked at publicly available data, including monthly reports published by Citi Bike, and found that while the bikeshare program’s network of stations and ridership has grown since Lyft’s takeover, maintenance has decreased.
Rebalancing moves — the relocation of bikes between stations so that bikes and docks are optimally available for riders — dropped 80% between 2014 and 2022, resulting in lackluster service, according to Lander’s review.
The issues highlighted in the report were most significant at stations on the outer edges of the Citi Bike system, primarily in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
Citi Bike users in Sunset Park, Red Hook, and Kensington in Brooklyn and Fordham Heights, Morris Heights and University Heights in the Bronx encountered stations with no bikes or out-of-service docks more than 20% of the time during peak hours throughout June and July 2023, the report found. Riders in the Bronx were 89% more likely to encounter an unusable station than in the three other boroughs in the network. Staten Island does not have Citi Bike.
A 2019 study by researchers at McGill University similarly found that Citi Bike was leaving behind low-income New Yorkers and New Yorkers of color while benefiting richer, whiter communities. At the time, a spokesperson for Lyft said Citi Bike would expand to more neighborhoods, with a focus on “bike share equity,” and that discounted membership was rising.
Lyft did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Lander’s report.
Citi Bike recently announced plans to double its number of electric bikes and reduce the speed of its second-generation e-bikes. The system, which launched in 2013, is expected to have 40,000 total bikes across 2,000 stations in a third of the city by the end of 2024, Streetsblog NYC reported.
The comptroller’s report also said the city Department of Transportation has failed to enforce performance standards in the Citi Bike contract. By Lander’s count, this has resulted in millions of dollars of uncollected fines against Lyft, which acquired Citi Bike operator Motivate in 2018. Rebalancing violations from this past summer alone would have resulted in $812,000 in fines, according to the report.
A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lander said a new contract with Lyft is needed to address the persistent issues.
“The City should overhaul the contract with more strategic performance standards and the oversight and incentives to achieve them,” he said in a statement. “Making sure that New Yorkers can access working bikes and docks in every neighborhood across the city is the way to secure Citi Bike’s future as an essential and equitable component of New York City’s transportation network.”
Among the changes Lander is calling for in a new contract are performance requirements on a neighborhood level instead of systemwide — to ensure high-quality service across the city — and stronger enforcement through fines, especially for rebalancing issues. The city should also provide financial incentives for improving Citi Bike service and expand the system’s discounted membership program for low-income riders, the report says.