Citi Bike May Raise Annual Membership More Than 50%

E53_St_Citibike_station_loaded_jehIt’s been just over a year since Citi Bike was introduced, and in that time, New York City’s first bike-sharing program has become a key cog in the largest public transportation infrastructure in the nation. Bike sharing programs have become almost de rigueur for any would-be progressive city, and while New York’s cumbersome size and bureaucratic entanglements make implementing any citywide program a Herculean task, it’s already hard to imagine the city without those clunky blue bicycles.

But Citi Bike has been plagued by problems nearly from the start, most stemming from a variety of systemic issues with their roots in the program’s rollout. It’s brow-furrowingly frustrating to get any program in this city up and running; turns out, it’s even harder than that to keep it solvent.

Citi Bike is run, via a subsidiary, by Alta Bicycle Share, an Oregon-based company that also oversees bicycle-sharing programs in seven other cities. Although ridership continues to rise, Citi Bike is leaking money like a sieve, and all types of ad hoc fixes from on high have been discussed, from tax breaks to bailouts. Several bike-share advocates, including Paul Steely White, the Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, place blame for the program’s wobbliness on Alta, for everything from operational mismanagement to chasing contracts in other cities to misjudging the difficulty of implementing a system in America’s most unwieldy metropolis.

For a couple of months now, it’s seemed as though Alta might get an angel investor in the form of REQX Ventures, a subsidiary of the real estate company Related Companies. REQX has been negotiating with Alta to purchase 51% of the company, but (understandably), they appear to have taken a hardline stance regarding how Citi Bike should be run–and, of particular note to New Yorkers, how much it should cost: yesterday, the Daily News reported that is currently discussing raising the annual membership fee from $95 to $140 or $155, as part of the deal to transfer ownership and operation of Citi Bike to REQX. A source with knowledge of the discussions also told the paper that REQX Ventures is seeking more control over the placement of stations in the future.

While a circa 50 percent raise of the cost of an annual membership might sting, moves like this are necessary if Citi Bike is going to avoid bankruptcy. It’s certainly better than scrapping the system entirely, which remains popular: slowly but steadily, annual memberships continue to rise, creeping over 100,000 in March. And although annual memberships are a lock to increase, daily and weekly access passes would probably remain at their current prices of $9.95 and $25, respectively.

Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso

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