New e-bike fleet draws questions


New e-bike fleet draws questions

Are Citi Bikes really the most viable transit alternative?
March 4, 2019

Citi Bike announced late last week that it would be expanding its fleet of e-bikes to include 4,000 new pedal-assist bikes. The news marks a significant investment in pedal-assist bikes, considering that there are currently only about 200 such bikes operated by Citi Bike. But while the expansion represents progress for New York’s embrace of the new technology, the details of the plan have drawn criticism – specifically, the extra $2 that the company will charge riders to use one of its new e-bikes.

Pedal-assist e-bikes like the ones used by Citi can reach up to 18 miles per hour, giving riders an extra boost and potentially expanding the pool of likely riders by making the bikes easier to operate. Citi Bike only uses pedal-assist e-bikes, not the full throttle ones that are still illegal to use in New York City. Back when a full L-train shutdown was in the works, Citi’s e-bike fleet was hailed as a viable transit alternative. Additionally, e-bikes have been offered as a solution to transit deserts in the outer boroughs, where the nearest subway or bus station could be more than a mile away.

An e-ride will cost only 50 cents extra for those who qualify for Citi Bike’s reduced fare program. But some are saying that the added $2 it will cost most riders to use one of the pedal-assist bikes – bumping the total cost for a single ride to $5 – defeats the purpose of offering a more accessible alternative to mass transit or driving.

“We have to ensure that transportation alternatives remain affordable and accessible to all,” said New York City Councilman Antonio Reynoso. “[The] $2 fee for rides on electric bikes undermines this goal. Historically and presently, low-income folks are most affected by inaccessibility to traditional modes of transportation. Additional charges on alternative modes of transportation act as a barrier to these types of transportation and the myriad benefits that they provide to individuals and communities.”

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Annie McDonough
Annie McDonough
is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.