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Morning Spew

Yes, the Gray E-Bikes Are Working Against You

They are beauty and grace and power—they also hate you.

9:27 AM EDT on July 24, 2023

This e-bike is not a sentient being, but it still needs love. (Hell Gate)

On a hot summer night, those gray Citi Bike e-bikes can be a sweet, jet-setting balm, able to spirit you over a bridge or take you where weekend train service won't. Suddenly, the stagnant air is moving again. The bright skyscraper lights? They're twinkling for you. For those of us who have partaken in the heady rush of its commuting powers, it's an actual change to how you experience the city—you can imagine (and even see) a better, less car-centric future. 

But that's if you can get a bike—in most neighborhoods, that means waking up before the morning commute, or waiting until the mid-day lull to find one. And even if you do snag one, it's increasingly often accompanied by a blinking red light on the dock that signals it's not working.

For Curbed, Hell Gate contributor John Surico dove into why these beautiful cruisers are both so rare and increasingly decrepit, and answers the question of whether the teens bombing through city streets are to blame (they are not). 

Instead, Surico found, people just really, really want to ride e-bikes, and not the bullshit, heavy, I'm-sweating-through-my-jeans on a steamy night, regular bikes: 

The problem is that most people want to ride the 5,000-plus e-bikes — this year, e-bikes are being ridden 50 percent of the time, triple the rate of pedal bike rentals. That number is only increasing; the six highest e-bike ridership days ever have been since late June, a 54 percent jump from 2022, and a new record was set on July 20, with nearly 70,000 rides.

New York City limits the number of e-bikes to only 20 percent of Citi Bike's fleet, meaning the number of e-bikes aren't keeping up with demand. Lyft has wanted to lift (haha) the cap on e-bikes because it would mean more revenue for the struggling company. But the City Council wants to keep bikes cheap for regular New Yorkers, which means fewer e-bikes. (If only there was a way to solve this conundrum.)

On top of that, the heavy usage of the bikes has cut down on their expected lifetime, from five years to just two years, which means that even more breakdowns are on the horizon. Right now, Lyft, which operates the bike system, is scrambling to keep up with charging and repairs, sending a fleet of hundreds of mechanics out on the street each day. But until the City allows Lyft to install charging stations at the Citi Bike docks themselves (a concept which presents the kind of cross-agency logistical hurdles New York City is especially bad at), they might always be playing catch-up. 

The system will be expanding further into Brooklyn and Queens this fall, which means more bikes, including e-bikes, will be added. But it still won't be enough, especially as New Yorkers have made our preference clear—we want fast, fun, reliable e-bikes. 

Some links without the blinking red light of doom: 

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