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There Will Soon Be a Lot More Citi Bike E-Bikes

Lyft gets its e-bike expansion, but no actual money from the City.

2:04 PM EDT on November 3, 2023

A Citi Bike (without charge). (Hell Gate)

As Citi Bike completes its long-awaited expansion even further into the outer boroughs, the system is both a massive success (record ridership) and a victim of that success (broken docks, broken bikes, lagging customer support). Over the summer, facing falling profits from its rideshare business, Citi Bike's owner, the rideshare company Lyft, floated the idea of either selling its bikeshare business or taking on outside financing to continue operating Citi Bike. And while that's still a distinct possibility, Lyft just received a big boost from the City of New York in the form of a long-held policy goal.

No, the Adams administration isn't giving Citi Bike any money (which the mayor promised on the campaign trail) but they are lifting the cap on the number of e-bikes that the company can have in its fleet, from 20 percent to 50 percent. This is a big deal, because the wildly popular e-bikes represent 46 percent of all rides in the system.

More e-bikes means that Lyft will likely want to charge e-bike riders more, though the company says that the pricing is remaining the same for now. Currently, the e-bike fee for members is $0.17 per minute. Under the new agreement, which takes effect in January of 2024, Lyft can charge up to $0.24 per minute for members, $0.36 for non-members, and $0.12 per minute for reduced-fare bike share members. 

On top of these changes, the City is lowering the maximum speed of Citi Bike's e-bikes from 20 mph to 18 mph.

The e-bike announcement was not made at a press conference (the mayor might not have wanted one for some reason) but from a Department of Transportation press release, which also stated that the DOT and Lyft will "pilot a grid-connected charging station later this year, with a goal of electrifying stations over the coming years."

This would allow e-bikes to be charged without having to swap batteries, a laborious process that Lyft now has to do by hand, leaving countless bikes sapped of juice and out of service. The DOT and Lyft plan to have two electric docking stations up and running by the end of next year, with a goal of 20 percent of all stations—a rough total of 400—having charging capabilities within the next few years. Lyft estimates that this would reduce battery-swapping needs by 80 percent. 

However, the electrification of stations could cause issues with the current flexibility of the system, where docking stations can be quickly disassembled, stored, and replaced within a matter of hours for street repaving or construction.

According to Lyft, Citi Bike membership will now also be subject to a form of rent-stabilization, with rises in the cost of a full-price membership tied to inflation plus two percent, and e-bike rides into and out of Manhattan will still remain capped at just $3.27 for members, to encourage people taking them over the East River bridges. 

Missing from the announcement was any further expansion plans for the system, which now spans all of Manhattan and covers 60 percent of where New Yorkers live in the city as a whole. 

Further expansion might have to wait until the city actually follows through on Mayor Eric Adams's pledge to put public money into the system. 

And while Friday's announcement signals that Lyft will remain the system's operator for the time being, it does nothing to alleviate concerns that a private company like Lyft might one day decide that it's no longer in the bikeshare game (as it did in Minneapolis), and leave the country's most popular bikeshare system in serious limbo. 

Also on the horizon: a reactionary City Council bill that would require all e-bikes to be registered with the DOT. The bill is somehow gaining steam, and if it passes, how would it square with this new massive expansion in public e-bike usage? DOT didn't comment on the pending legislation that would upend the city's burgeoning e-bike fleet. 

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