The operators of Citi Bike failed to properly inspect bikes and docking stations around the city, Comptroller Scott Stringer found in an audit of the contract to run the bike share program released today.
“New York City Bike Share’s management of Citi Bike left too many New Yorkers in the lurch,” Mr. Stringer said in a statement. “While Citi Bike has become part of our urban landscape, auditors found that the bike sharing program’s spotty maintenance, poorly-cleaned bikes and substandard docking stations inconvenienced riders and discouraged growth in the system. Moving forward, I hope that these findings will provide a road map for ways to improve safety and performance for this critical component of our transportation network.”
Mr. Stringer faulted New York City Bike Share, the operator of the program, for not having enough staff to properly inspect the fleet’s 6,000 bikes and 330 stations—something the company says is changing thanks to a recent acquisition and an influx of cash.
While every bicycle is required to be inspected once a month according to the terms of NYCBS’s contract with the city’s Department of Transportation, in November 2013 just 28 percent of bikes were inspected, and onlu 34 percent that December and 38 percent in January 2014. The company, whose rocky first year and troubled finances has been well-documented, blamed the layoff of 16 bike checkers that winter as the reason for the decline in maintenance. By this March, inspections rose to 54 percent of fleet and up to 73 percent by April.
The parent company of NYCBS, Alta Bicycle Share, was recently acquired by Bikeshare Holdings LLC—and the company said new management would mean better service.
“We agree that while Citi Bike has been hugely popular with New Yorkers, the previous ownership of the company was not able to provide the resources necessary to deliver on its potential,” Jay H. Walder, incoming CEO of Alta Bicycle Share, said in a statement. “With new ownership and an experienced management team being put in place, we are already beginning the hard work of reinventing Citi Bike. New Yorkers will see a much better service in 2015 and moving forward.”
The DOT said the comptroller’s findings were out-of-date and didn’t take into account more recent changes to the program.
“Bike share is headed in the right direction because the de Blasio administration worked throughout this year to bring in a new operator, fresh leadership, and concrete fixes to address Citi Bike’s financial and operational challenges. The Comptroller’s audit covers a period predating all those changes,” a DOT spokesman said. “Under our new agreement, Citi Bike has received a $30 million infusion of private funds, and will double its size from the current 330 stations and 6,000 bikes to over 700 stations and 12,000 bikes by the end of 2017.”
The spokesman continued: “We engaged in lengthy negotiations in which the City made it clear the new operator must update the software, build out the supply of bikes and expand the service area into more boroughs and neighborhoods. DOT’s priority is to make sure the operator runs an improved, accountable and efficient privately-funded system and we look forward to its continued expansion.”
Mr. Stringer said unchecked bikes increase the risk of undisclosed safety defects in the bicycles, and said the company’s financial woes show the need for extra scrutiny in city contracts.
“New York City Bike Share needs to ensure that every Citi Bike cyclist is using a safe bike. The company’s decision to lay off inspection staff highlights DOT’s responsibility to make sure it covers all the bases when it enters into public-private partnerships such as this one,” Mr. Stringer said.
The audit also noted Citi Bike’s slow response to complaints on unkempt stations or bikes—83 percent of cleanliness complaints about bikes remained open for an average of 79 days—and the technical problems that have beleaguered the program’s docking stations. While communications and payment systems at the bikes are required to be up and running at least 98 percent of the time, Mr. Stringer found that standard wasn’t met in seven of 10 months his office sampled.
The company was generally receptive to Mr. Stringer’s recommendations for hiring staff to boost maintenance checks and to respond more promptly to customer complaints, according to the comptroller’s office. The DOT also agreed to implement a recommendation for enhanced oversight.
This story has been updated with comment from the DOT.