Amid the ceaseless spout of nonsensical vitriol spewed by the New York Post (and a Wall Street Journal editorial board member), it can be hard to parse the legitimate criticisms lodged against Citi Bike in its first week—but anyone who has taken the program for a spin knows that they certainly do exist.
There has been little discussion about the first major delay to beset the program, largely dismissed by most outlets as a "computer glitch." As Felix Salmon at Reuters points out, the issue was not so much a glitch as it was the result of a fraught corporate divorce, which led Alta Bicycle Share to develop its own program in-house.
The software that has made bike share run smoothly and reliably in other cities is apparently absent from our program. What the DOT has largely passed off as minor growing pains, Salmon posits are actually deeply embedded technical problems—the inability to return bikes to the racks, and the uncertainty that when a bike is returned, it's actually registered as such.
"They’ve had an extra year to get this right, but if the app doesn’t know when a station isn’t working, my guess is that the system as a whole doesn’t know that either. And that’s going to be hard to fix."
Citi Bike's biggest problem is reliability, Salmon writes. "If you can’t be sure that you’re going to be able to rent one of the bikes, because the system is glitchy and often entire stations just don’t work, or if you’re worried that the stations near your destination won’t accept returns, then all that convenience simply disappears."
Our own tech guru David Jacobs has experienced similar setbacks. Regarding the station on 29th Street, he writes, "the majority of the racks are empty or down. The other night there were no available bikes between Park & Broadway, 35th & 45th. The app shows 1-4 bikes at every station, but they are broken. And the bike racks that show up as 'full' are actually down (so of course 'full')."
Jacobs shared another anecdote: On Tuesday "there was someone sitting and waiting for a bike! [Yesterday] when I tried to return a bike to 10th there were four angry Citi Bikers sitting their fuming. By the way, most of these trips are in the middle of the day—not rush hour." He said, "Even if the software is successful 95% of the time, that's not enough, because it's got to be reliable for crosstown trips, etc."
Then again, Gothamist co-founder Jake Dobkin disagrees.
I've taken 8 @citibikenyc trips and only had one small docking problem (had to move to a second dock)- that's not bad for first two weeks!
— jake dobkin (@jakedobkin) June 5, 2013
Citi Bike clearly has a lot of fans—that much is obvious from its rapid (and documented) increase in ridership. That said, that fan base will quickly dwindle if the system proves itself to be faulty. Will these initial issues be ironed out? Or is the system itself ultimately flawed? We will have to wait and see.