Friday, July 5, 2013

24 Hours with Citibike NYC Bikeshare Program

This past weekend, my wife and I decided to give the nascent Citibike program a day.  After a late evening stop at the 21st Trader Joe’s, we decided to bike home with some groceries and continue using the bikes for errands on Sunday.  I bought two  24-hr passes for me and Sara that totaled $21+ after taxes.  Once I received the pass codes, Sara and I selected our bikes, punched in the pass codes on the selected bike dock, and off we went.  My first selected bike and dock didn’t accept the code, but the second did.  Didn’t realize it was a sign of things to come.
Basic Costs
Before going any further, here are a few details on the Citibike bike share program.  Costs are as follows:

  • $9.95 for 24hr period
  • $25.00 for 7-day pass
  • $99.00 for an annual pass and key
  • Bikes can only be used in 30-minute chunks.  In other words, once a bike is checked out, it has to be docked within 30 minutes.  
    •  If a bike station is crowded, there is an option to request an extra 15-minutes at the electronic concierge to allow riders to find the next empty station.
  • Overage charges vary according to how long the bike has out of dock

Sunday was a gorgeous day for a bike ride.  I heeded my wife’s advice against a long ride to Piermont because my marathon was a week away, but I thought riding in the city would be fine since it’s at slower speeds. 
Initial Problems
We got to our nearest station at 44th and 9th excited to check out our bikes.  I held on to the codes from the previous evening to check out our bikes.  We punched in the 5-code digits on every available bike – no luck.  It took nearly 60 minutes, dozens of bikes, and three stations later, ending up at Broadway and 53rd for us to finally check out our bikes.  Why?

  •  First, the codes last for only 5 minutes after created.  I had to request new codes from the electronic concierge.  We discovered that after the second station.
  •  Secondly, discovered by trial and error, we couldn’t check out the bikes when I requested two passcodes.  However, if I requested one code at a time, the bikes would check out of the dock.  
    • Note that there is a 2 minute mandatory wait period in between passcode requests.

We called the Citibike help desk 3 different times and they were helpful, navigating us to the nearest station with available bikes and working docks.  They were also agreed to grant us an extra 24-hrs of rental given our troubles.
Finally, Sara and I could pedal to our first destination – Nordstrom Rack at Union Square to return an item.  Navigating through Times Square and down Broadway through Herald Square, It was a glorious ride, albeit short.  The dock at Broadway and 17th was fairly empty so we had no issues with the bike return.
Sara and I used the Citibike station on 14th and Broadway for our next pickup.  I requested the new bike codes, one at a time, checked out our bikes, and we were off to Chelsea Market for some gift shopping.  We headed west on 13th St., made a right on 8th Ave., left on 15th, and docked the bikes right in front of Chelsea Market.  This was starting to be fun and easy!
After picking up some items and lunching at Chelsea Market, we got on the bikes again, one pass code at a time, and we headed to Giggle in Soho, docking at a crowded station at Thompson and Prince.  Another fun and short ride following the bike lane from 9th Ave. to Bleecker, and heading south towards Wooster. 
While there, I decided to check if there were cronuts available at the originator’s bakery (name escapes me).  No luck unfortunately.  After our Soho stop, we decided to make one more stop uptown at FAO Schwartz.  It was a more enjoyable day to ride a bike around the city  instead of being in a muggy subway station.
We returned to the bike dock where we had parked our bike and realized why the station was crowded -   the electronic concierge was not operating properly.  I dubbed it a bike black hole station.  We saw other black holes throughout the day.  We checked the map on the concierge for the nearest station.  Only two blocks away, we were lucky there were just enough bikes available for me and Sara.  Sara took advantage of the two minute wait between codes by loading our items on our selected bikes.
Back on the saddle, we headed north on 6th Ave.  When we reached 34th St., I decided we should dock and switch out the bikes because although we could make it FAO Schwartz on time, we would still have to find a dock in the area.
After switching out our bikes, we continued to head north on 6th Ave, where we encountered traffic once we reached the 50’s.  We made a right on 53rd and found a dock that was taped off.  It wasn’t online yet.  So we continued west towards 5th.  No bike stations.  Worse, it was the Puerto Rican day parade.  We circled a couple of blocks heading all the way to Park Ave. for a station – no luck.  Finally, we decided to head back to Broadway and 53rd, where we checked out our first bike.  I was feeling very smart about exchanging the bikes at 34th because we would have already been charged for late fees.
Sara and I had to navigate through quite a bit of pedestrian and vehicular traffic due to the parade to get back to our first station  Between 5th and 6th on 53rd St., we navigated through parked cars on the right and cars in traffic on our left.  Although the bike lane was on the left side of traffic, we rode on the right because delivery vehicles were blocking.  Suddenly, an SUV’s door flung open, timing perfectly to knock me off my bike and to ricochet me off a parked black Mercedez.  I wasn’t going that fast, but the accident was a blur.  I remember the car door opening, thinking “crap, this could cost me my marathon,” bouncing off the Mercedez, trying to protect my camera slung around my back, and then landing back on my feet over the bike.  I did a systems check and noticed various pains on my left side.  I sustained a cut on my left ear, sprained left middle finger, slightly sprained shoulder, and lightly banged up knee.  Things could’ve been worse, and I’m thankful I’ll still be able to run the SF marathon on Sunday.  Sara called over police officers.  We stayed at the scene expecting for the Mercedez owner to file a report against the people in the vehicle, but he decided against it. 
Checking In
Sara called Citibikes for the 4th time, and they were understanding of the situation.  Interestingly, we also found out that the bikes we returned at 34th station were not checked into the system.  One last tip for future users:  make sure that the bike is properly checked in by watching the led lights go to green on check in.
We finally finished our shopping at FAO Schwartz, walked back to 53rd and Broadway, checked out our bikes one at a time.  We explained this trick to a couple of other frustrated users at the same station and it worked for them as well.  We dropped off our bags at home and made one last stop…back to Trader Joe’s where it all started hrs earlier.   

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