Home Public Transit Policy Will CitiBikes integrate or compete with NYC’s transit network?

Will CitiBikes integrate or compete with NYC’s transit network?

by Benjamin Kabak

Whether we recognize it overtly or not, competition is a key to New York City’s transit success. The MTA doesn’t necessarily care too much if bus ridership is down if the subways are capturing those trips, but if, for example, the combined New York City Transit ridership declines while some other mode share increases, Transit loses out on revenue. If auto trips increase, the New York City society on the whole loses as well due to the impact of increased congestion and decreasing environmental conditions. The equation grows a bit more complicated when bike trips enter the picture.

Over the past few years of the Bloomberg Administration, biking in New York City has taken center stage. Reimagining street space for pedestrians and cyclists is something the city can do without interference from Albany. We may need a “home rule” message to institute a congestion pricing scheme or enforce bus lanes with cameras, but city planners do not need such approval to reapportion space as they see fit. So where biking was once a rather terrifying proposition in the city, an ambitious expansion of dedicated bike lanes and traffic-calming measures had made cycling safer and saner.

For transit both with a capital T and without, the rise of biking is a mixed bag. Most folks cycling to work are doing so not at the expense of a car but at the expense of a MetroCard swipe. I’ve heard many stories of riders switching to pedal power who are fed up with slower and less frequent subway service, more crowded trains and more expensive fares. Now that the city has unveiled its initial plans for the ambitious bike-share network, we have an even better sense of what the future will hold in New York City.

The details have been covered extensively elsewhere, but I can summarize: In late July, the first bike-share stations will hit the streets, and by the end of the year, the city will have 420 docking stations in the southern half of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens. The initial map — available here — clearly shows how the Citi Bank-sponsored initiative will, at first, compete with transit. By targeting Manhattan south of 59th Street and the readily-accessible areas in Queens and Brooklyn, the bike-share network readily imitates the subway system.

Over at his Spaciality blog, Steven Romalewski charted bike-share docking stations against distance from subway entrances and came up with the map below.

Click to enlarge.

He also offered up the following commentary:

Here are the stats:

  • 89 locations (22%) between 14 and 250 feet (length of a typical Manhattan block);
  • 117 kiosks (28%) between 250 and 750 feet (the average distance between Manhattan avenues);
  • 97 kiosks (24%) between 750 and 1,320 ft (a quarter mile);
  • 89 kiosks (22%) between 1,320 and 2,640 ft (a half mile); and
  • 21 kiosks (5%) further than 2,640 feet.

(The percentages do not equal 100% due to rounding.)


  • The proposed kiosk closest to a subway entrance is in lower Manhattan, on the west side of Greenwich St near Rector St (ID 12364), 14 feet from the Rector St entrance to the 1 train.
  • The kiosk furthest from a subway entrance is on Manhattan’s west side, in the Hudson River Greenway near West 40th Street (at the West Midtown Ferry Terminal; ID 12092), almost three-quarters of a mile (3,742 feet) from the 40th St entrance to the 42nd St/Port Authority Bus Terminal station.

In other words, half of the proposed kiosks are within an avenue of a subway entrance, one-quarter are within two avenues, and the rest are further away.

As Romalewski notes, a bike-share system is well designed if it works within the existing ideological framework of “first and last mile.” The bike-share isn’t supposed to be a replacement for transit; rather, it’s supposed to deliver people too and from transit in an cost-effective, efficient and quick manner. At some places, the early kiosks will do that; in other places, the first docking stations may make it easier for riders to eschew transit all together.

Eventually, as docking stations spread out to the areas of the city not so conveniently located to the Manhattan Central Business District, the “first and last mile” concept will become more important. Can bike share convince travelers in the areas of the city with poor transit connections to eschew their cars? Will potential drivers in Sheepshead Bay and beyond be willing to use bike-share to reach the B or Q instead of their cars to reach Manhattan? When we know the answer to those questions and can ascertain usage patterns, we’ll have a better sense of how bike share meshes with the transit network and how it competes as well.

At first, it will be tough to gauge the impact CitiBikes has on New York City Transit and mode share. It may, in fact, shift potential straphangers out of the subway. After all, it’s cheaper to join bike share than it is to buy monthly MetroCards, and many riders don’t often take particularly long trips. But eventually, bike share should increase transit usage as it brings people from isolated areas to the subway. If all goes well, bike share won’t compete with the subway system as much as it will enhance it. That last mile may wind up shorter yet.

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Alon Levy May 21, 2012 - 3:26 am

Nothing in Uptown Manhattan? Sigh.

Bill Reese May 21, 2012 - 8:58 am

This is just the initial roll-out. The program should be a big success, and if it is, the program will expand throughout the city.

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Larry Littlefield May 21, 2012 - 9:46 am

I see the bicycle as a solution for urban living as mass transit is destroyed by the Republican/Wall Street debts and Democratic/union retroactive pension deals of Generation Greed.

The serfs are becomming less and less well off, but face constant blackmail. Bail out Wall Street or the economy will collapse even more. Agree to cuts in old age benefits for those 54 and under or those 55 and over will collapse the federal government and under right now by not raising the age limit. Agree to a 20/50 pension deal for transit workers or face a strike. Agree to have the MTA keep borrowing and face collapse later, or maintenance stops and it collapses now.

The SOBs can’t stop you from riding a bicycle, although they might run you over.

Erik May 21, 2012 - 9:58 am

After 13 years in NYC my fiance and I moved to Boston (actually Cambridge / Somerville) 6 months ago. Boston’s version (Hubway)… same bikes, same stations, same infrastructure, opened last summer, but only in Boston proper. Currently they are greatly expanding the program by opening many stations in Boston’s “outer-boros” as well as non-core areas.

During the pilot phase (which was a smashing success despite initial skepticism, by the way), the bike stare was a great way to get to “short-circuit” the transit system when points A and B are not directly connected and the ride would require transfers (especially if one leg would be a bus). It was also perfect for a situation where you would want to ride your bike one way but not both.

With the expansion it’s become much more useful to people like me. I live a little less than 1 mile from the nearest subway stop, although there are plenty of buses near me (and Boston’s open source, real-time bus tracking system makes them highly usabale!). But this will be great because they are opening two racks near me, so I can be on a bike in less than 5 minutes and either ride directly to whatever destination or be on the T within 5 minutes. I do own my own bike, but there are some circumstances where I don’t want to bring it, such as if I know that it will rain during my return trip or that there is a chance I might have one too many drinks…

My bike is much more usable here than it was in NYC… no more need to latch the door and then carry it down 3 flights of stairs! If I was still in NY, I would be saving my bike for my 25 mile joyrides and using the bike share for simple round-town transport. But it is true, I would use it INSTEAD of the MTA.

Where it will really shine is in Queens and Brooklyn… especially areas like Fort Greene and Bed-Stuy. Being able to get directly to someplace like Atlantic Ave. (sorry, Barclay’s Center!) in minutes will beat a G connection every time. It will be a boon…similar story in Astoria.

In the meantime, at least it will reduce ridership load on the busiest lines. I imagine riders of the 4/5 at morning rush will be the first to jump ship for the bike share (I used to live near Union Square and work downtown).

Looking comparatively at NYC vs. Boston and MTA vs. MBTA, Boston has recent improvements that beat the MTA hands down. System-wide RFID touchless fare cards, bus GPS tracking, cell signals in many tunnels, etc. The reason that NYC can’t match this is because the system is so large… you can’t roll out touchless fare cards without installing it at 450+ stations, and that becomes the constraint on every one of these items. Its scale puts Boston to shame, but it’s also it’s biggest weakness (plus Boston’s doesn’t run 24/7). However the Bike Share is one place where NYC CAN mimic an improvement that Boston has made which has made transit more extensible and flexible overall.

So, ride the bikes and make sure that the program cannot be considered anything but a success so that they don’t fold it prior to expansion. It’ll be worth it.

Eric May 21, 2012 - 10:14 am

“The reason that NYC can’t match this is because the system is so large… you can’t roll out touchless fare cards without installing it at 450+ stations, and that becomes the constraint on every one of these items.”

I don’t see how that is a constraint. The task is larger, but so is the budget.

SEAN May 21, 2012 - 10:49 am

Do MBTA busses have bike racks? The NYC area bus systems don’t, but many transit systems across the US are installing them or have already done so.

Erik May 21, 2012 - 12:13 pm

Many do, but not all.

WIth regards to “bigger system, bigger budget”, don’t we all wish that were true! Both the MTA and MBTA are in the red, so it’s really a bigger budget SHORTFALL that the MTA has in NYC.

It’s a lot easier to throw the dice on some new nicety when you can implement across the entire system at a scale that would be only a pilot program for NYC.

Plus the scale of the NYC subway system is such that maintenance and basic improvements (e.g., signaling) draw more and more.

At least both systems are moving forward with much needed , much delayed, already-in-process expansions. Again, though, Boston has it easier on that note. NYC needs to bore tunnels for all of its service… a lot of the expansion plans for Boston involve reclaiming and reusing railway rights-of-way and shifting commuter rail tracks to be able to lay down extra tracks for new transit. It’s similar to what it would take to make the Triboro X train a reality.

In both cases, unfortunately, Republican (and Democrat, but mostly Republican) governors sold out mass transit and told it that it needed to live only off of its own revenue and debt, and now the debt is coming due.

Douglas John Bowen May 21, 2012 - 10:19 am

No need to think “zero sum” in this matter; public transit should include and/or incorporate bicycle options, as both expand the use options that become practical, as Mr. Kabak alludes to in this comments. Some people will bicycle one day, ride the rails (or take the bus) the next. Isn’t choice a great thing?

Salem May 21, 2012 - 10:58 am

Transit is not about a fixed number of people with a set pattern of trips. The accounting is far more complex than that. When we built the subway system, Manhattan’s population plummeted and Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx’s soared. When we built highways, we incentivized purchasing an automobile. When those highways extended into Nassau and Westchester Counties we created demand for suburban living. Nobody wealthy who worked in midtown each day would live on the North Shore if it meant spending three hours in traffic on queens boulevard, crawling across the Queensboro bridge and circling block upon block in midtown search for on-street parking.

Similarly, these bike lanes will not simply steal subway ridership. They will create further demand for weekend trips. The cost of traveling from, say, Long Island City to Cobble Hill will be reduced, because once-cumbersome weekend transfers will be eliminated by your ‘first-mile/last-mile’ bike approach. Cross-town hopping that was once cumbersome will now be effortless. This ought to boost business throughout the bike share coverage area, most notably on the far east and far west avenues. Similarly, the drop in subway riders may likewise lower the cost of a weekend trip, leading to a rapid replacement of the lost riders, as people learn the lines are less crowded.

Of course, this analysis all depends on numbers … will these bikes even make a dent in a system as massive as the MTA network? The 420 stations seem to have roughly 30 bikes on average. That translates into under 13,000 bikes total. Let’s say the ideal average turnover for each bike in the system is somewhere around 30 minutes. That translates into the traffic of about 15 subway trains in the same period of time, or the capacity of about 4 lines with trains running 8 minutes apart. Which does seem like a noticeable chunk of weekend traffic. This assumes the system expects the bikes to mostly be in use at all times. If I were designing a successful system with loyal customers, I’d probably want a healthy chunk of bikes to stay in the docking stations at all times. So maybe reduce this number by half.

Eric May 22, 2012 - 4:45 am

If the system is successful, more bikes can always be added later.

Larry Littlefield May 21, 2012 - 12:10 pm

Until deferred maintenance causes the subway system to deteriorate further, I would expect bikeshare to take rides away from buses and taxis more than the subway.

The exception might be those coming to the CBD via suburban transit. They may find bikeshare a better way to reach their destination than a crowded subway ride.

Clarke May 21, 2012 - 5:44 pm

Don’t these numbers suggest the “first and last mile” theory? Half of the stations are close to subway entrances while half are not.

Duke May 21, 2012 - 9:34 pm

Except look at the map. A lot of the racks are located where someone coming from the subway would have nowhere to bike to that isn’t closer to another station. If this were based purely around getting people to the subway from places not right next door to it, there would be no racks in Lower Manhattan, and none between Park Ave & 8th Ave.

Alon Levy May 21, 2012 - 10:28 pm

People have to be able to park their bikes at the subway, though.

Ivan May 22, 2012 - 10:52 am

The way the NYC subway network is laid out, with mostly parallel or radiating lines, you might need a 10-mile subway trip with two transfers to go between two stations that are actually within one mile of one another! So even if all bikeshare stations were next to a subway stop, you could still use the bike to solve the last mile problem.

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Omri May 22, 2012 - 9:24 am

The first thing you’ll see is people using the bikeshare to skip whatever transfer they need once they get on the Island.

Then you’ll notice that any time the PA in the subway is used to announce delays/rerouting/something unintelligible, a large crowd will immediately go topside and use the bikeshare instead.

Ivan May 22, 2012 - 10:57 am

Unfortunately, there will be only about a dozen bikes available upstairs, so some people in the “large crowd” will find themselves grumbling that they now need to pay again to get back into the subway, or wait for their unlimited metrocard to become usable again.

MRB May 22, 2012 - 9:56 am

I have a relatively short commute (10 minutes) on the 4/5 express train – but add in walking, and it’s 25 minutes. But at $100/year, I’d rather use bikes exclusively in July/August/September to not only save money, but to be healthier, and then the rest of the year as weather permits.

I just hope I can use my Wageworks card.

Andrew June 22, 2013 - 3:14 am

Its a shame that Citi Bike does not accept Wageworks cards. The law does allow for Wageworks to be used for bicycle expenses. It’s just up to Citi Bike to start accepting commuter benefit cards.

Ivan May 22, 2012 - 10:36 am

I’m pretty sure bikeshare will compete (and be much superior) with crosstown buses south of 59th St. Not only it is much cheaper (unless you are using a transfer for the bus), it is also much faster. Those buses have an average speed that barely exceeds walking!

I often see, to my surprise, that people take the subway for a single stop (getting off on a station with no transfers). I want to hope that at least a few of these people who are lazy enough to not walk ten blocks will consider biking them. (I’m not talking about the elderly or disabled who may have a hard time walking ten blocks; I’m talking about people who seem to be in their twenties and healthy, and are able to walk perfectly fine.)

Streetsman May 22, 2012 - 10:39 am

You got at this point in the article, but just to echo it- the hope is that bike share DECREASES subway trips in the Manhattan core where subways are slow and overcrowded, but INCREASES subway trips at the fringes of the bike share service area where people might be driving instead (Greenpoint, LIC, Bed-Stuy). I’m sure it will be more of the former than the latter, but any trips you can shift from auto to bike/transit is a huge victory. And yeah – if and when it expands to the high auto use neighborhoods is when you might see the real gains. I’m looking at you Red Hook, Jackson Heights, Maspeth!

AG May 22, 2012 - 8:02 pm

I actually think it will both compete and compliment. It’s actually a good thing if transit riders switch to bikes. Why? The rate of public subsidy is higher on the trains and buses… and as is pointed out – the subways and buses are already stressed. The more using bikes the better. Though traffic enforcement needs to be stepped up.

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