Citi Bike has arrived in New York City. Well at least in parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. However, the question that both New Yorkers and tourists alike have is: how to use Citi Bike? There are a lot of questions and there have been a lot of negative reports about a variety of topics. After 7 hours of riding over the course of 2 days in two boroughs, I have a pretty good idea on how to use Citi Bike. Here is a guide and my honest take on the good and the bad.
To get a Citi Bike from a docking station you need to buy a pass. You can choose from a 24-hour pass for $9.95 plus tax (as I did on multiple occasions) or a 7-day pass for $25 plus tax. You can also get an annual membership for $95 plus tax; which actually increases your ride times to 45 minutes instead of 30.
Buying a pass is pretty straight forward using the automated terminal at each docking station. It is however, fairly annoying and there are several screens you have to click through in order to finally get to where you dip your credit card and agree to their terms. It will take a minute or two to finish up and the machines are short so tall people (like myself) should be prepared to bend over awkwardly.
Unlocking the Bike
After paying, you will be given a 5-digit code containing a combination of the numbers 1, 2 and 3. This 5-digit code is good for 5 minutes from the time of printing to type the code into a bike dock and unlock your bike.
You may choose any bike in the docking station. I suggest choosing one where the seat is adjusted already to your height to avoid wasting time fiddling with the seat.
You will know its unlocked when the light turns green and you are free to pull it out of the dock. Note you must pull fairly hard and even lift it a little when pulling it out.
Keep an Eye on the Clock
This is easily the MOST ANNOYING thing about Citi Bike. You must return your bike within 30 minutes to any docking station in New York City. You are then free to re-insert your credit card again to get another 5-digit code to re-unlock your bike (you will not be charged again). Yes, you must basically check in every 30 minutes or you will be charged more money.
As long as you continually check in within the 30-minute time period, you have unlimited 30-minute rides for the length of the pass you bought. However, the key is keeping an eye on the clock; which can be really irritating.
How to Find Docking Stations
The best way to find docking stations for Citi Bike is to download their app. Citi Bike is the name of the app and there is a detailed map for your smart phone to tell you where the closest station is if you need to check in or you want to pre-plan your trip.
This is quite annoying if you’re out for a joyride because it means you have to stop the bike, pull out your phone and look up where the nearest station is. Or even worse, look while your peddling. Either way it is pretty annoying.
Also, as I found out, not all stations work. I actually docked my bike at Battery Park City after about 25 minutes with the idea to reload my time and the machine was out of order. Therefore I had to walk down to West Thames Street; which was the nearest station. That station was out of bikes. So then I had to walk a while and cross West Street near Ground Zero which is a nightmare to get a new bike at a station over there. So this is not a perfect system by any means.
What is the Purpose of Citi Bike?
The purpose of Citi Bike is to give a viable alternative to mass transit like busses, subways and taxis around Manhattan and Brooklyn. The purpose is not to go for joyrides, run errands or just have a relaxing pleasant day.
This means that if you want to use it for those purposes you must adhere to their strict 30-minute policy or your late charges can add up quickly.
Who Benefits from Citi Bike?
Aside from the obvious answers of Citigroup, the City of New York and your credit card company-commuters within certain parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn can benefit.
You can cover a lot of ground quickly on a bike and as long as your destination is near a docking station; of which there are a ton; you can save time and hassle from the subway or bus.
I think a great example would be someone who lives in Brooklyn Heights and works in Lower Manhattan. He could simply get an annual pass and ride a bike across the Brooklyn Bridge every day to work and save time and crowds.
Additionally, someone commuting to/from Grand Central Terminal could get there quickly instead of dealing with the bus or train. I was told that the most popular bike docking station was Pershing Square across from Grand Central Terminal.
What are the Major Detractors of Citi Bike?
Citi Bike is annoying. It really is. However, that said, I do like Citi Bike and think the idea is great. Let’s face it, the subway is really annoying too. I do wish however, they had some type of pass for like 3-4 hours where you could just enjoy a nice ride around Central Park or up the West Side Highway without having to constantly think about how much time you have left.
I also think it’s dangerous for several reasons. Citi Bike’s time restrictions, as I mentioned before, make you think about the time constantly and you are constantly checking your phone so you don’t go over and get charged. Looking at your phone on a bike in Manhattan is even more dangerous than texting and driving. I think many accidents could occur this way.
Also, riding a bike around the streets of Manhattan is simply not safe and very confusing. There are bike lanes on SOME streets and avenues but not all plus a lot of car doors opening all over the place. The rules for bicyclists are also very confusing to those that don’t ride frequently. Which way can you go? Can you ride on the sidewalk? Etc., etc.
I have a feeling many accidents have and will occur from the increase in bikes on the street and Citi Bike DOES NOT provide helmets. Wearing helmets while riding a bike is not a law in New York City. So be warned.
So this is a basic guide and honest opinion about ‘how to use Citi Bike’. I think it’s a great idea in theory but there needs to be some tweaks to make it better and more enjoyable. However, I do see some real value in it and I will probably get myself an annual pass in the next few days as it seems that’s where the value is if you live in Manhattan as I do.