As someone in love with 3rd-generation bike-sharing systems before the large majority of Americans knew anything about them, I’ve been eagerly anticipating and covering NYC’s huge bike-sharing plans for years. This could transform NYC. Bike sharing did so in Paris, and NYC’s program is to be a similar size. Additionally, biking in NYC has been booming under the leadership of Janette Sadik-Khan (Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation), so there’s a flame to be fueled with this new program.
A Quinnipiac University poll last October found that 72% of New Yorkers support the program, Transportation Alternatives notes.
Now, if you haven’t heard, the big news of the past week is that Citibank is the primary sponsor of the “Citi Bike” system (the system is not supposed to receive any tax dollars) — Citi Bike website here.
Citibank has signed a $41-million, 5-year contract. Additionally, Mastercard is putting in $6.5 million to operate the payment systems for the bikes.
“We’re getting an entirely new 24/7 transportation network ,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “We are getting an entirely new transportation network without spending any taxpayer money. Who thought that that could be done?”
The system will have 10,000 bikes at 600 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
However, while it was initially stated that the system would start at those numbers, it was made clear in the opening announcement that the system wouldn’t actually reach that scale until 2013. The Upper West and East Sides, Cobble Hill, Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Crown Heights will get bikes and stations next Spring, while the first bikes and 420 stations (about two-thirds of them) will be ready in July around Manhattan and part of Brooklyn.
This is actually not that unusual — implementation of a large bike-sharing program is often done in phases — and this one is huge.
But Andrea Bernstein of Transportation Nation seems to think this is not how it was originally envisioned and may have uncovered the reason for the slow roll-out, as well as some other interesting stories.
Bernstein discusses what seemed to be a difficult road to finding funders and postulates that that led to the phased deployment of the system.
“I got a call sometime last week, that’s when I first heard of a delay,” said Council member Gail Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side.
When it was announced that Alta Bicycle Share would be operating the system, Sadik-Khan said: “Alta will be getting a sponsor.” But this would make it the only large-scale bike-sharing program in North America to be 100% privately funded, so there was no clear example set to show it would be a wise investment. Reportedly, Puma, Adidas, and American Express were all approached and passed on the opportunity, and “officials were beginning to sweat” by February of this year.
“If New York didn’t find a sponsor, the city could be on the hook to Alta — but worse, many officials thought, the bike share program could be imperiled.”
But Bloomberg asserts that he never worried about it, noting that he didn’t need to “because Janette went after it. And anyone who knows Janette knows if she sets her mind to it, it’s going to get done.”
And it did. After the city got the Economic Development Corporation involved and had some discussions with important business movers and shakers, Citibank was in. It actually signed the contract just two weeks ago.
“Without the contract, there wasn’t the upfront capital to get the bikes produced. And that, multiple sources confirm, was the major reason for the delay in getting the bikes to some neighborhoods.”
Sounds convincing. Nonetheless, the important point is that the goal was accomplished — the network will be implemented.
Notably, Citibank’s top executive is Ed Skyler, Bloomberg’s former Deputy Mayor for Operations and Sadik-Khan’s former boss. Apparently, he had trust in Sadik-Khan and Alta, but Bernstein writes that “everyone, from the Mayor on down, credits Sadik-Khan” with getting the program implemented.
I’ll have to take their word for it.
“Citi bike” is clearly a nice little name, since it relates the the bank sponsoring the system and the fact that it is an innovative new transportation option taking cities around the world by storm. Will it help bring a more positive image to a megabank that didn’t come out of the Occupy actions last year with the prettiest public image?
(Note: like in my current city of Wrocław, Poland, the Citi Bike kiosks will be solar-powered.)
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