Last week, Alta Bicycle Share, the beleaguered operator of Citi Bike, sold its bike share holdings to REQX Ventures, a real estate company. This morning, the Daily News reported that REQX will appoint Jay Walder, former CEO of the MTA, to oversee Citi Bike. Walder was named at a press conference this afternoon in Long Island City.
The problems with Citi Bike are legion and well-documented. (Here’s a primer.) The REQX takeover, and the concomitant infusion of cash, will provide a platform to resolve some of those issues, but prices for annual memberships are still expected to rise to $149, from $95.
At today’s press conference to announce Walder, a formal plan devised by REQX was also outlined. According to the Times, in addition to the price increase, there will be more payment offerings, including monthly and seasonal memberships, and an infusion of 6,000 bikes into the Citi Bike fleet, across 700 new stations in Red Hook, Park Slope, Greenpoint, Astoria, Sunnyside, the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, and Harlem.
Walder, a Queens native, has a long history in public transit, with mixed results. As head of the MTA, he was immensely well-liked and respected, and his abrupt resignation, in 2011, was greeted with chagrin. Walder worked in a lesser role at the MTA from 1983 to 1995, and returned in 2009 to be the Chairman and CEO. He left the organization to oversee Hong Kong’s mass transit system, the MTR.
Walder’s Hong Kong tenure was less successful than his time at the MTA. In July of this year, he was forced out a year ahead of his planned exit date because of “poor judgment” over the handling of an expensive and much-ballyhooed high-speed rail project between Hong Kong and China. The breaking point seems to have been the revelation that the project would be two years late—a tolerable deferment for the MTA, but an unacceptable one for the MTR. Officials led by Walder were accused of covering up the delay, and it was reported that his contract, set to expire next August, would not be renewed.
Instead, Walder left a year early, and now he’s back in New York, managing the largest bike share program in the country (and it’s about to double in size). Citi Bike has proven incredibly popular, but its myriad problems have stemmed from poor capitalization and inept leadership at the top. With REQX’s purchase and the impending price increase, the first problem looks to be solved. Let’s hope Jay Walder can solve the second problem.
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