Citi Bike, the hugely popular New York City bike-share system that has been plagued with technical and financial problems, is getting a fresh start, thanks to a new investor with deep pockets and a high-profile change in management.
The deal was announced yesterday at a press conference outside the Queensbridge housing projects in Long Island City, one of several neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan where the system is now slated to expand over the next three years. By the end of 2017, if the new management keeps its promises, the city will have 700 stations with 12,000 bikes, with 1,000 new bikes coming online next year.
Citi Bike’s management is being taken over by a newly formed company called Bikeshare Holdings LLC, a partnership of Equinox fitness clubs and real estate behemoth Related Companies. The new company has acquired Alta Bicycle Share—a pioneer in the spread of bike share in North America that had been struggling as its supplier, Montréal’s Bixi, slid into disarray and then bankruptcy.
The announcement ends months of uncertainty about the fate of New York’s bike-share system, the largest in the nation and the only one completely dependent on private funding. It also means some big changes for Alta, the company that has been running bike-share in several cities, including New York; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Melbourne.
First, the company will be moving its headquarters from Portland, Oregon, to New York City. Second, Alta will be getting a heavyweight new CEO in the form of Jay Walder, former chief of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Walder most recently has been heading up MTR Corporation, Hong Kong’s transit company, and earlier served as managing director of finance and planning at Transport for London.
At yesterday’s press conference, Walder spoke about what he sees as the bright future of bike share in the larger context of urban transportation. “If you look across the United States, indeed if you look all across the globe, we are seeing the enormous potential that bike share has to transport cities,” he said. “As cities become more and more complex, we are looking for creative solutions about how we live. We want our transport choices to be better, and we want greater convenience in everything we do.”
Citi, the megabank that has been the New York system’s sponsor since the start, is betting on the future of bike share in a big way. The new deal has Citi committing to an extension of its role through 2024, and the bank will be kicking in $70.5 million over the life of the contract, on top of its initial $41 million.
Users will pay more, too: The price of an annual Citi Bike membership will go from $95 to $149, although the $60 price tag for residents of public housing will remain the same. Additional financing will come from the Partnership Fund for New York City and Goldman Sachs.
Walder said that improvements to the New York system would begin immediately, with every bike in the system being overhauled and every dock being fixed. Alta, he added, will also be bringing on a new vice president dedicated to technology, who will be looking at the best way to deal with the ongoing software and hardware challenges that have bedeviled Citi Bike from the start.
He added that the change in management would also affect the other cities where Alta has been operating, but that he can’t say exactly how just yet. “The arrangements in each city are a little bit different, but we are working with every one of those cities,” said Walder. “Today, my focus is here.”
New York City Department of Transportation commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who was instrumental in the negotiations, said the deal reflected Mayor Bill de Blasio’s priorities of getting the system adequately funded without a financial contribution from the city’s coffers.
Walder, who has managed some of the worlds most complex transit systems, said he sees bike share as an urban transportation mode with huge potential that is as yet untapped—although for now, he is going to be focusing on fixing what’s broken in New York.
“Alta is a global company, it has operations in the U.S., it has operations in Canada, it has operations in Australia,” he said. “Frankly, I think it could have operations in a lot more places as well. Having said that, I’m a big fan of keeping the horse in front of the cart. … We have to deal with some of the questions in front of us right now, showing that we’re going to deliver on the things I’m talking about.”