Citi Bike Celebrating Citi Bike’s 5-Year Climb to the Top

by Kate Ashford | June 07, 2018

Laurie Ulster hopped on her first Citi Bike three years ago, and she hasn’t stopped pedaling since.

The 52-year-old television producer from Pelham, NY started riding in the summer for work when the weather was nice. “I thought I’d have to give it up in the winter, but I never did. The only time I don’t ride is if it’s raining, extremely windy or the streets are slushy,” says Ulster.

Ulster, who attended New York University, uses her morning bike ride as an opportunity to cruise by her old college haunts. “I found the perfect route,” she says. “I get this beautiful ride past my old dorm and around the park where we used to hang out. It’s very nostalgic.”

Citibank sponsored the Citi Bike program, which is now operated by Motivate, in May 2013. It launched with 5,000 memberships that sold out in 30 hours. Since then, it’s experienced incredible growth and success, and today it is the most used bike share system in North America. 

That could be because Americans continue to lean toward an economy of sharing. But it’s also because as New Yorkers see riders every day on the ubiquitous blue Citi Bikes, they realize that there’s a greener transportation alternative. Riding a Citi Bike is fun, it’s healthy and it’s a quick way to get around.

Getting out of the office

John Garger, a public relations director, uses Citi Bike to ride from Pennsylvania Station to his office on 57th Street and back at the end of the day. “It gives me options when I don’t want to walk the full 23 blocks,” says Garger, 49, who lives on Long Island. Not just for commuting, he sometimes grabs a Citi Bike in the middle of the day to ride through Central Park or along the bike path by the Hudson River. “I enjoy the afternoon rides when I can get out,” he says.

Being a Citi Bike member has made New York City feel more accessible to Garger, who used to find it stressful to travel across town for meetings. “It was always a big pain, either getting a cab or trying to figure out if there was an adequate subway route, which there really isn’t,” he says. “Those cross-town rides are a lot easier, and now I don’t hesitate to meet somebody on the East Side.” (Data scientist Todd Schneider actually determined that biking is faster than taking a cab across town in Manhattan more than half the time.)

Not only is a Citi Bike convenient, but it can save riders some serious cash. An annual membership is $169 a year — and Citi Bike is committed to equitable access to bike share, so also offers a $5 per month membership to public housing residents in the city. Compare that to the cost of $121 per month for an unlimited MetroCard for the subway. And the average 20-block cab ride will likely run you about $8, not including tip.

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It gives me options when I don’t want to walk the full 23 blocks.
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Infographic showing growth citibike fleet over time

Size of fleet

  • 5,130 bicycles and 34,409 annual members in June 2013
  • 5,362 bicycles and 93,444 annual members in June 2014
  • 5,452 bicycles and 86,750 annual members in June 2015
  • 7,164 bicycles and 108,438 annual members in June 2016
  • 9,140 bicycles and 140,000 annual members as of January 2018
average trips each day

Average trips each day

  • 18,654 in June 2013
  • 31,257 in June 2014
  • 31,372 in June 2015
  • 48,703 in June 2016
  • 57,732 in June 2017
  • 43,583 in April 2018
total minutes traveled

Total minutes traveled

  • 10,932,954 in June 2013
  • 14,104,593 in June 2014
  • 13,570,075 in June 2015
  • 21,904,102 in June 2016
  • 25,949,568 in June 2017
total trips

Total trips

  • 559,643 trips in June 2013 for 1.36 million miles traveled
  • 937,723 trips in June 2014 and 1.75 million miles traveled
  • 941,181 trips in June 2015 and 1.69 million miles traveled
  • 1,461,112 trips in June 2016 and 2.72 million miles traveled
  • 1,731,965 trips in June 2017 for 3.22 million miles traveled

Impact

Citi Bike riders burned a total of 135,887,912 calories in June 2017 or the equivalent of 503,289 bagels, and offset 2,566,069 pounds of co2 or 130,972 gallons of gasoline.

What’s next for Citi Bike?

Citi Bike expects to see continued growth of users as more people turn to biking as an alternative to public transportation and cars. Daily ridership, even in the spring of 2018, saw record numbers, and new technology is making it easier to navigate the city. The Citi Bike app, for instance, now allows users to plan a ride, find bikes and docks, and track ride stats.

Citi Bike hopes to begin implementing dockless technology in New York City in concert with the city’s recent interest in expanding dockless bike share to different neighborhoods. Citi’s dockless technology is a “lock to” model in which the bike must lock to something, like a piece of street furniture or a sign, to help reduce clutter.

There’s also the possibility of electric-assist bikes — bicycles with an electric component that augments your pedaling — eventually appearing in Manhattan. Motivate, the company that operates Citi Bike, recently deployed a fleet of electric bikes in San Francisco, and the experiment was wildly successful. The bikes were hugely popular, with riders taking longer routes and covering more area on them — all of which get people out of taxis and cuts down on traffic and pollution. 

couple walking with bicycles under bridge

What’s next for biking?

In general, as the population becomes more eco-minded and bike sharing programs grow, experts believe cycling will continue to ramp up. Bike sharing systems worldwide now boast more than 3.4 million bikes as of May 2017, with more than 1,200 systems up and running. Electric bikes are a trend on the radar, with growth mostly in China and northern Europe — and popular with food delivery service people in New York City. These models make it possible for more people to bike, while still being more environmentally friendly than alternatives such as motorcycles and cars.

For Ulster, Citi Bike has been a game changer. As a busy professional, it’s often the only exercise she gets, and she saves a significant amount of money on subway fare. But the biggest plus for her is the quality of life she gets by riding to work. “It takes the guessing out of my morning commute as I know exactly how long it will take me, and the traffic or subway issues become irrelevant,” she says. “Plus, I like myself more. My whole mood is better when I arrive.”

Easy on the wallet and stress levels — it’s a good time to be a cyclist. And bike share programs like Citi Bike are making it easier for even more people to join the pedaling pack.

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Easy on the wallet and stress levels — it’s a good time to be a cyclist.
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Kate Ashford

thinks New York City is best explored on two wheels. Her work has appeared in Money, Parents and Forbes.com.