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Citi Bike Stations That Charge E-Bikes Are Coming—Maybe

The technology is ready, as long as Lyft, the Department of Transportation, and Con Ed can find some more money.

The new self-charging station in Hell’s Kitchen. (Hell Gate)

Every day, as thousands of New Yorkers zip along on gray Citi Bike e-bikes, an army of workers circulates from station to station, trying as quickly as possible to replace e-bike batteries, which can only be charged at Citi Bike's Long Island City warehouse. The result of this complicated choreography is one that's immediately apparent, and extremely frustrating, to Citi Bike riders—docks filled with those gray bikes, but none you can use, because they're waiting for a technician to come by and swap out their batteries. But help might soon be on the way—if Lyft, which operates Citi Bike, can get someone to foot the bill. 

During a Monday morning press conference in Hell's Kitchen, Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez, along with Manhattan Councilmember Erik Bottcher and staffers from Lyft and Con Ed, unveiled a new type of charging station that will allow e-bikes to be charged at their docks, by pulling directly from the electrical grid and solar panels that Lyft hopes to install on the next generation of Citi Bike docks. A spokesperson from Lyft, which funded the pilot charging station, explained that, according to their calculations, replacing just 20 percent of its stations with these types of self-charging stations will cover up to 90 percent of all charging needs for e-bikes, mostly eliminating the need for workers to go around replacing batteries. 

Right now, e-bikes make up around 50 percent of the Citi Bike fleet, and over two-thirds of all rides are now e-bike rides. Earlier this month, 103,951 people rode Citi Bike e-bikes in a single day, which set a new record.

"Bike charging has the potential to improve electric Citi Bike availability citywide," Rodriguez said during the press conference. The commissioner added that by putting charging stations in places that e-bikes often transit through, like Lower Manhattan, those bikes could then hold a charge much further into the outer boroughs. 

These new charging stations are the result of heated negotiations between Lyft and the City regarding the continued operation of the bikeshare program. Last year, the City agreed to let Lyft raise rates on e-bike rides and expand its e-bike fleet, provided that Lyft look into electric charging stations, among other stipulations, like lowering the top speed of the e-bikes. The new Hell's Kitchen charging station, alongside another one in Greenpoint, will test out the technology. It will also give all the various bodies involved—the DOT, Lyft, and Con Ed—time to figure out who needs to do what to make these successful with the least amount of friction. Right now, both pilot stations are located on sidewalks, as the City and Lyft determine what permits need to be obtained to locate Con Ed infrastructure on streets themselves (most Con Ed infrastructure rests below the roadway, not on the surface). That could take a few years to iron out, explained Jordan Levine, a spokesperson for Lyft. "The idea is that we only want Con Ed to have to dig once," Levine said. 

When will these new charging stations be at every dock? No one knows, and it may not happen—all the City required from Lyft was a pilot project like the one demonstrated on Monday. As the Adams administration still refuses to fund Citi Bike (despite the mayor's campaign promises), Lyft and the DOT will be looking elsewhere for the funds to roll out the new charging stations. One option: Federal funds meant to increase micro-mobility, which could mean that the charging stations might be done at the same time as larger rollouts of EV vehicle charging and charging stations for delivery workers, aiming to minimize the number of times that Con Ed will need to tear up streets to install all of that infrastructure. The current e-bikes can receive a charge through their triangular docking mechanism, it's the docks themselves that need to be swapped out. 

Lyft said that the charging station currently being tested will take four to six hours to give an e-bike enough juice for the docks to "unlock" it and allow riders to once again zip around the city. 

At the demonstration station on Monday, the mileage range of the charging e-bikes slowly ticked up during the press conference, and one bike gained 10 miles of range in just over an hour. 

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