Even the truest Citi Bike believers are beginning to lose their patience with the program's technical difficulties. Repeated assertions from DOT that widely-reported glitches are "initial kinks" are beginning to sound like the same rote assurances issued by flight attendants when the plane is clearly headed down. WNYC reported yesterday that roughly 10 percent of the stations are out of commission at a given time, data it collected not from the DOT, but from its own observations.
"We did this analysis because the city has outright refused to answer our questions about the number of down stations, customer complaints, call wait times, and other indicators of system problems," station reported. But between Twitter and Facebook, there's certainly no dearth of data: A large portion of the comments posted on Citi Bike's Facebook page convey varying degrees of frustration or disappointment. Many of the entries read like desperate logs from a lost ship.
"No go again today. Bike station by Penn Station was not working. Bike station at 33 and 6th, not working, Bike station at 32 and 6th out of bikes. I had to walk again. I've had only 2 glitch free experiences during my first week," wrote one disappointed user.
"Both kiosks are down at Grand Central Station. There are about 70 bikes just sitting there," wrote another. "Come on guys, Grand Central, penn station and WTC should be top priority."
It now seems possible that Citi Bike's problems—persistently non-functioning kiosks, the inability to re-lock bikes—aren't the simple roll-out kinks the DOT is insisting they are, but part of a larger, more knotty software issue that can't be easily solved. By now, several outlets have remarked that the "computer glitch" that delayed Citi Bike's arrival in New York for several months wasn't a computer glitch at all: It was that parent company Alta Bicycle Share was attempting to manufacture its own software after splitting with its former developer, 8D. In essence, the company has used NYC as a guinea pig to test-drive software for the world's largest bike share program.
According to the Times, the only other city to have implemented the new technology was Chattanooga, Tenn., a city that has about as much in common with New York City as a horseshoe crab has with a gym sock. While Chattanooga's program has been consistently buggy for its nearly year-long existence, its pint-sized nature (300 bikes to NYC's 3,000) at least ensures that its problems are relatively manageable.
Perhaps the most telling indicator of the depth of Citi Bike's troubles is the city's refusal to release any data—or even adequately answer any specific questions. Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the DOT, suggested to the Times "that riders’ own inexperience with the system was contributing to their troubles."
But the issues have nothing to do with the ineptitude of users. The newest revelation in a spate of problems is that the stations are particularly faulty on cloudy days.
"Stations are both solar- and battery-powered, with the strength of their charges dependent on factors like weather and use rates for bikes, as well as the adjoining touch-screen device," the Times reports. "Accordingly, a beautiful day is both a blessing and a curse: The sun can help sustain a station, but ideal riding conditions beget heavy use, which can drain batteries."
This, of course, comes as disappointing news to the many New Yorkers who so badly want Citi Bike to work. Another Facebook poster summarizes the situation well:
"Oh citibike, why do you make loving you so hard!"