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Anna rents bicycle from NYC's Citi Bike share system.
Anna rents bicycle from NYC's Citi Bike share system.

What We're Learning From NYC's Citi Bike Experience

New York City's Citi Bike bikeshare completed its first full year of operation and now we have a clear picture of its strengths and weaknesses, which is helping us define our operational baseline numbers, from potential accident rates to flat tires to malicious vandalism, for our own bicycle rental venture.

ePEDALER's Chief Technology Officer, Michael Brace, shared a graphic he'd scanned showing some of the performance numbers for the first year of operation of New York City's Citi Bike bicycling sharing program. I've reproduced it at the end of this article.

By most measures, Citi Bike has been a success, as the graphic indicates: 16 million miles travelled in 9 million trips. 5.83 million tons of CO2 were offset, not to mention calories burned, instead of hydrocarbons. Economically, the program could use shoring up and reducing the cost of rebalancing the system, moving bikes from where there are too many to areas where there are too few, an expensive, time consuming, carbon-intensive process all by itself - need to be better controlled. Then there's the issue of wanton vandalism, but more on that in a moment.

From my perspective as the founder and interim CEO of ePEDALER a couple of the numbers are pretty interesting as the developer of an electric bicycle rental franchise. Those two numbers are the reported crashes and numbers of flat tires per month: the first in terms of potential liability issues and insurance costs; the second in terms of upkeep and maintenance.

Citi Bike officially launched on Memorial Day, May 31, 2013, so the numbers in the graph encompass almost a full year of operations to May 9, 2014. The system has some 375 stations in it and a maximum of 6,200 bicycles like the ones in the above photo. The bikes are sturdy and manually powered: in other words, you pedal them. They have three speeds, which is sufficient for the nearly level ground of Manhattan island where most of them are positioned; a small number are placed in the lower Brooklyn area across the East River. Eventually the city hopes to expand to as many as 10,000 bikes. At any give time, according to NYC Bikeshare, something like 90% of the bikes actively in the system. The remaining 10% are undergoing repair or periodic maintenance. That's also a good number to know.

While ePEDALER's business model is different from Citi Bike, or Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C., operationally, we're interested in things like crash rates, flat tires and vandalism, all of which directly impact profitability. So seeing Citi Bike's numbers gives me hope that ePEDALER can be profitable, assuming we take certain precautions.

Take those 100 reported crashes; and note that I am not aware of any fatalities, although 25 of them required emergency room (ER) visits. That turns out to be one crash or accident every 160,000 miles traveled in one of the world's most highly congested cities.  Or, put another way, that's 1 reported 'crash'  every 3.66 days, when on an average day there are more than 24,650 trips taken, most of them concentrated in Lower Manhattan, where most of the bikes are located. Effectively, that's 1 crash every 90,000 trips.

Extrapolated to ePEDALER, where each of our rental 'pods' houses 16 electric bicycles, that would be one accident/crash every 18.75 years, assuming a 100% utilization rate of each e-bike being rented once a day every day of the year. Or put this way, that's equivalent to one accident annually for every 18-19 'pods' in our franchise system.

Now, admittedly, that's probably a pretty low number, but it, at least, helps better frame the issue when it comes time to negotiate insurance premiums.

The rate of flat tires is also instructive. 511 flats per month out of fleet of 6,200 bikes extrapolate out in ePEDALER's model as 1.3 flats per month per 'pod'. Now, again, that's simply a base line number. Our rate may be different since we're looking, in some cases, at people riding on not only paved streets, but also possibly gravel, depending on location. For example, Arcadia National Park outside of Bar Harbor, Maine has some 50 miles of biking and hiking trails, but they're all crushed and packed gravel, so we could expect a higher puncture rate than lower Manhattan… maybe.

My CTO tells me there's ways to address this so that nobody has to push their bikes back to the trailhead with a completely flat tire.

Maybe of greater concerns, certainly for the operators of Citi Bike, is the rate of vandalism. In the period of July 2013 through March 2014, a total of 914 acts of vandal were perpetrated on Citi Bike docking bay and bicycles. The monthly reports don't break out the degree of damage or which part of the system was involved: the docking bay or the bike. By way of contrast, Washington, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare system experienced only 71 incidences characterized as acts of vandalism over the same period. I created the graph below from official figures published by each system.

vandalism rates between Citi Bike versus Capital Bike Share

Sources: NYC Bike Share, Capital Bikeshare

Why the nearly 13x difference between the two system begs to be better understood. Granted, the D.C. system has about half the number of bikes in operation as New York, but even if you compensated for that difference, the scope of malicious acts of defacement and damage are startling. The Capital Bikeshare has been around three times longer than Citi Bike, so hopefully with age, the novelty and enticement to vandalize the system will diminish. Worldwide, though, these childish acts of spite remain a serious threat to the economic viability of all bikeshare system. The Velib bikeshare system in Paris, France has become a poster child for this problem with as many as a third of their bikes damaged or stolen every year.

Overall though, I am encouraged by all these numbers. At the very least, they provide an important baseline for measuring the performance of our system once we deploy it, hopefully late this year. We may find our experience as varied from New York's as it's experience, with vandalism in particular, is from Washington, D.C's.

Citi Bike Year 1 Performance Numbers

Posted By: Bill Moore [10-Jul-2014]