New York’s expensive bikeshare

By Felix Salmon
May 7, 2012
bike-share program, sponsored by Citibank to the tune of $41 million (plus $6.5 million from MasterCard), will go live at the end of July, and the prices are public already.

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New York’s new bike-share program, sponsored by Citibank to the tune of $41 million (plus $6.5 million from MasterCard), will go live at the end of July, and the prices are public already. Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan called them “the best deal in town short of the Staten Island Ferry.” Which, not really.

The Staten Island Ferry is free, of course, but that aside, New York transportation has a very simple pricing scheme. To a first approximation, all rides, whether on the subway or the bus or some combination of the two, are $2.50, no matter how long they are.

And the bikes cost a lot more than that.

As with all bike schemes, there’s a base price to enter the scheme — $10 per day, $25 per week, or $95 per year. Then the first half-hour of bike riding is free (45 minutes if you’re an annual member); after that, you pay on a per-ride basis as well, starting at $4 when you bike for more than half an hour.

The $10-per-day cost is already a significant expense: that’s four subway rides right there. And then the hourly charges really start to rack up if you keep the bike for some length of time. If you take the bike around Governor’s Island, for instance, and stay there for a couple of hours, you’re likely going to end up in the 3-hour time bracket, which is $49. On top of your $10 daily rental. As Garth Johnston puts it, for any real let’s-bike-around-the-city plans, you’re definitely going to be better off just buying your own bike.

What’s more, New York is significantly more expensive than similar schemes in rival cities like Washington and London. Here’s a chart of the cost of one trip, based on a 24-hour membership:


London’s 24-hour membership is just £1, or $1.61, and the cost for the second half-hour is only another £1. Which means that anybody can get on a bike, ride it for an hour, and pay just £2 — less than the cost of a journey on the Tube. In New York, by contrast, getting on the bike costs $10, and then the second half-hour costs another $4, for a total of $14. That’s more than four times the cost of the London bike. By the time you’re on the bike for 90 minutes, the New York cost goes up to $23; you’d need to be biking twice as long to pay that much in London.

Here’s the full chart, going out to the maximum charge for 24 hours:


As you can see, none of these schemes are exactly friendly towards someone just taking a bike and using it to bike around for, say, six hours. But if you do that in London, you’ll “only” pay $58: in Washington, it’s $85, and in New York, it’s $131.

I can’t think of any other area where London is so much cheaper than New York: it’s just weird to me that New York would set the prices for this scheme so high. Maybe the problem is that they haven’t found a lot of places to put the docking stations, so they’re having to set the price high to keep the demand in check. All we’ve been told so far is that the plans for the docking stations will be available “soon”; it’ll be fascinating to see how many of them there are in the first instance.

But one thing’s sure: the price difference between renting a bike and hailing a cab is very small in New York, while it’s very large in London. Which probably makes cabbies very happy, while doing very little to reduce congestion.


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London’s pricing scheme appears to be modeled on the Thames.

Posted by Pietro_F | Report as abusive

Citi nearly went bankrupt a couple years back and they’re still not in very good shape, so I guess they need the money.

More seriously, I think most bike share users who are native to a city do a quick station to station ride. They’ll probably get an annual membership. Not clear to me that Citibike is much worse than Capital Bikeshare, at $95 per year compared to $75. Of course, I don’t know how far you can get in half an hour on a bike in NYC, the maximum time to avoid a time charge.

Posted by weiwentg | Report as abusive

These pricing schemes are designed to encourage lots of short trips in the city center. Not coincidentally, that’s also where all the stations will be. If you’re a tourist and want to take a leisurely ride around Governor’s Island, you can rent a bike there. More than half of the trips in NYC are under two miles, bike share is perfect for those trips, not for tooling around in the park. As you know, bikes can be used for both transportation and recreation. These bikes are cheap for transportation, expensive for recreation.
Also, the pricing for day passes is a bit beside the point. What percent of rides are done on with an annual membership vs. a day pass? I bet it’s 80/20, but you tell me.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Boston rolled out the Hubway which is operated by the same people who do DC and has the same pricing scheme. In comparison public transportation in Boston is cheaper than the other cities (but less convenient) while taxis are more expensive. I’m not sure if that means that the company didn’t evaluate carefully or if given the overall transportation mix comparison they decided the same price point was appropriate.

Posted by tuckerm | Report as abusive

Well, you’re not supposed to keep the bike for 2, 3, 6 hours. You’re supposed to ride it somewhere, and then dock it at a station near your destination so that someone else has a chance to use it. That’s the whole point of the bike share, and the increasing time rates are there to discourage people from locking out a bike for three hours while they sun themselves on the grass in Governor’s Island.

I do agree that the price curve is much steeper than any other city, especially for non-annual members, and it’s a bit baffling. My cynical side wants to chalk it up to Alta seeing a chance to fleece unwitting tourists, a proud New York tradition if there ever was one. It might also be a non-aggression signal to the incumbent bike rental industry, or they REALLY want to keep the bikes in circulation.

Or it could be the simple fact that everyone believes the city is serious when they say there will be absolutely no public money to support this. Every successful bike share program has eventually needed some form of public money eventually, even if the total dollar amounts were peanuts compared to a typical road budget. These higher prices might actually reflect the true unsubsidized cost of a bikeshare system.

More disappointing though is the fact that “launching Summer 2012” actually means “2/3rds done by end of Summer (probably) 2012, with the rest sometime in Spring 2013.” I wish just once we could finish one thing on time in this town.

Posted by mrmcd | Report as abusive


Must casual cyclists wear a helmet?

Posted by crocodilechuck | Report as abusive

Echoing some other commenters, my first thought when I see a base price combination of $10 per day / $95 per year is that this program doesn’t want to cater to daily users.

Posted by realist50 | Report as abusive

@crocodilechuck: No, they are not required to. No one over the age of 14 has a helmet requirement in this state. Helmets won’t even be available for optional rental, initially, since there are logistical issues with keeping them sanitary. (Huge windfall for whoever solves that problem)

As for everyone else wondering about the pricing:

The gist of it is that the prices for using a bike-share bike as a traditional bike rental have to be HIGHER than the prices for actual rented bikes. There was significant pressure on the city to make sure that rental shops would not be flattened by the bike share system.

It turns out that it’s quite expensive to rent a bicycle in the NYC urban core. Easily $40/day if you shop around, and quite often higher than that. So, they’re essentially trying to beat a $60/day rate. In order to do that, they had to price 2-3 hour trips above that. Since the system tallies hourly charges, and since they didn’t want some sort of perverse reward for people holding onto the bikes past 2-3 hours (“Hey, now that I’m already in for $80, I might as well hold onto it until tomorrow”), the pricing scales aggressively.

But that first 30 minutes – with a 15 minute extra buffer time if you’re a yearly subscriber – is extremely competitive with taxi travel. And though you’d think taxis would be fuming about this, I believe they are unconcerned because most of the bike share-compatible trips are exactly the ones that make the least money for them. They are not worried that dumb tourists crossing through Times Square 5 times a day are going to effectively find and utilize the bike share system. They’re just happy they don’t have to take anyone from the East Village to Chelsea during rush hour anymore.

Posted by BrianVan | Report as abusive

I visited DC last fall for 2 days. One day I rented Capital Bikeshare bikes for $5 for 24 hours, and did 4 fine rides around the Mall and monuments. MUCH faster and easier than walking. But the 30 free minutes were too constraining for me, so the next day I went to Bike & Roll where for $18 I rented a fine hybrid bike for 4 hours, pedaled to Mount Vernon and back. Just wonderful.

Both were fine but they serve different needs. Bike sharing programs like Citibike and Capital Bikeshare are designed to simply replace short trips, especially “last mile” commute ones. Their success in Paris, Lyon and elsewhere testify to their popularity.

Posted by quail | Report as abusive

The cost per rental is not relevant for most uses. Bike share is for for short trips. One of the advantages for the user is that he doesn’t need to worry about what happens when he is not riding the bike. In Paris and London, I almost never see one of the Bike Share bikes parked away from an official dock. You use the bike to go from one destination to another. When you are done, you end your relationship with that bike.

For more of my thoughts on this, see my posting at

Alan Forkosh

Posted by aforkosh | Report as abusive

Yes, the pricing structure is clearly intended to encourage shorter point-to-point trips. They don’t really want you hogging the bikes all day. If that happened, the racks would empty and no bikes would be available during the day. (The fact that New York’s service is more expensive than other cities is New York’s special dysfunction.)

Posted by Moopheus | Report as abusive

I’ve seen more than one article get the gist of the pricing wrong. This is not for a leisurely ride around the city anymore than you would hail a taxi for a summer drive through the country. Taxi’s are economical and useful for a short trip where you don’t want to be burdened with a vehicle when you get to your destination, and so is the bike share. The relevant costs for the majority of rides will be the $95 annual subscription, or $0.26/day. The unlimited Metrocard is $3.35/day. The average cost of a taxi trip: $12. Bikeshare sounds pretty economical to me for the people who will use it most!

Posted by aldnyc | Report as abusive

While people are right to point out that you want to encourage short trips, its a big mistake to discourage casual users who opt for the daily charge.

Hard core users will tend to move large numbers of cycles in a similar direction at set times of the day, depending on a cities commute patterns.

Casual users have less predictable needs and will help redistribute bikes, leading to fewer full or empty docking stations.

That’s how it seems to work in London, anyway.

Posted by davidsteven | Report as abusive

have to agree with some other commenters. The pricing is clearly designed to avoid cannibalizing the bike rental programs that have sprung up over the last few years and which are clearly geared toward the tourists who want to take leisurely rides around the parks. I personally know several people (my parents!) who, while in Paris during a transit strike, took out bikes and held on to them the whole day, even when they weren’t actively using them, which defeats the purpose of this system and reduces availability for other potential users.

As far as davidsteven’s comment above regarding redistribution of bikes, the program has a solution built in – part of Alta’s proposal included the ability to redistribute bikes throughout the day (via truck) to deal with this obvious, anticipated problem.

I look forward to getting an annual subscription!

Posted by very-simple | Report as abusive

@very-simple – redistribution is very tough/expensive if flow is heavily tidal (which largely depends on the size of the after-rail market), and full/empty docking stations rapidly erode trust in the scheme.

Casual users, doing short hops between meetings/tourist attractions, improve the system’s diversity. Or they would do if not deterred by a $10 daily rental. They’re not the answer to the redistribution problem, but they help.

In an ideal world, you’d also have small incentives for those who move bikes from full or nearly full, to empty or nearly empty docking stations (maybe points on an incentive scheme).

Posted by davidsteven | Report as abusive

I would enjoy knowing if Bike Shares will be available in all the boroughs. The only information currently available is about Manhattan locations.

Posted by PASystems | Report as abusive

In related news, it’s very expensive to hire a cab for an all day trip..

Posted by IRMO | Report as abusive

Like others have said, the system is intended to encourage short trips.

That said, I wouldn’t want to keep the bike for hours even if it were cheap. You can’t let it out of your sight; it might be stolen and then you’d have a $1000 bill for the missing bike. The bikes don’t come with locks; do you expect tourists to bring their own?

In any case, it is true that the fees are way more expensive than other cities, even London, which is a very expensive city in general. The daily fee of $10 for casual users is particularly bad.

Posted by qrt145 | Report as abusive

I was a tourist in Montreal. I used Bixi BikeShare a lot. Never did I have a bike for longer than 45 minutes. The abundant stations were well-distributed, and at every destination.

As a periodic (every few weeks) visitor to NYC, the $95 annual membership is a bargain. All I ask is that NYC keep building more protected bike lanes!

Posted by HamTech87 | Report as abusive

A couple of the comments highlighted the idea of bikeshare being best suited to “the last mile” of your transportation options. Last year I analyzed the crowdsourced suggestions for bikeshare docking stations in relation to subway entrances/exits — in effect, trying to identify the best spots for docking stations for the last leg of a trip after you’ve arrived by subway (or biking to your subway station to start on your trip).

Here’s the post: tial-analysis-of-nyc-bikeshare-maps/ I discuss other aspects of DOT’s crowdsource project (data quality, spatial analysis techniques, etc). But about halfway down I get into the nuts and bolts of rating the crowd’s suggested docking station locations in relation to subways.

I’m looking forward to seeing the DOT’s final maps. I’ll try to compare the actual docking station locations with what the crowd had suggested over the last year, and how closely the locations match the crowd’s preference as well as the actual subway entrances and exits.

Posted by sromalewski | Report as abusive

@davidsteven – I don’t disagree that the tidal issue could be a problem, but I think you’re blowing it out of proportion. As someone who reverse commutes to CT every day, I would absolutely use bikeshare to ride to GCT rather than take the subway. Presumably, there would then be a large crowd of people who arrive into GCT, some of whom would take those bikes back out to various business districts around the city like times square. and then tourists would ride from times square back to my neighborhood of the Upper West side to go to the parks or museums.

I think the fact that NYC has multiple business districts, along with people who live/work in ALL parts of the city, will mitigate the issue greatly. And then Alta is required to redistribute as part of their agreement – that cost has already been priced into the program.

Posted by very-simple | Report as abusive

IRMO is spot on. What Felix Salmon proposes is equivalent to taking a taxi around town for 4 hours but having it keep the meter running at every destination. That simply is not how taxis are designed to be used, and their fare structure discourages such use. The same is true for bikeshare. If the stations are well spaced, there should be a station near every destination within the bikeshare area. You dock your bike whenever you get somewhere and walk the final few blocks. This is a transit system, not a recreation rental service, and we really need to start talking about it as such.

The trip to Governor’s Island analogy is ludicrous. If you wanted to take a recreational pleasure driving trip to the countryside, you’d never hire a taxi to do so, you’d rent a car. Similarly, you wouldn’t take a bikeshare on a long recreational bike trip either. You’d rent a bike from a bike shop. The pricing will make this an extremely obvious choice. Apparently, though, it’s not obvious enough for Felix Salmon to understand.

Posted by JacobMatthew | Report as abusive

Someone else posted a statistic: 88 percent of Capital Bikeshare trips in DC are for under 30 minutes. That’s the whole point of a bike sharing system. So, people clearly want to use bikeshares for short trips, and only a handful of folks use it for long ones. Certainly, those folks should consider just renting a bike.

Another poster alluded to this, but if you have a system where the majority of trips are 2 hours or more, it’s much more difficult to guarantee availability. The amount of turnover in CaBi means that you can march up to a station and almost always have a bike there. ke-share-is-for-short-trips-not-four-hou r-jaunts/

Posted by weiwentg | Report as abusive

This bikeshare program exists to make money for the banks but neither to lower the pollution level nor as a part of a mobilitty management program.

In Sweden, for 20 kronas a day 2.5 US$ you can rent a bike for 24 hours. In Lund, they provide a bike for every student free of charge (300 Sw Kr deposit / year only refunded when you bring back the bike).

Bikes are maintained by city hall workshops free of charge to.. Why such a nice policy ? No car lobbying groups no Swedish oil company, no car industry ( except Volvo), heavy taxes on the purchase of cars. And a national mobility management scheme at the national level. In every city, the access to downtown is limited.
Consequences : very low air pollution, and plenty of people biking all over the place ( more than 50% of urban trips in Lund are performed on a bike).
The city halls save a lot of money on repairs as a bicycle track requires almost no maintenance. Urban dwellers are much more fit and show a better physical health.

Posted by indy.texto | Report as abusive

This article misses the point, as others have commented on. Bixi and B-cycle systems are not for “rentals”, they are for short trips. The whole point is to get residents to buy annual memberships. Sure, they will make a buck off the odd tourist or casual user but the pricing deliberately scares off most of them.

For a more comprehensive view, looked at from the annual membership aspect, see: ronto_overpaying_for_bixi_bike-sharing/# comments

The key to NYC is that while the $95 annual fee is on the upper end of the range, they give you 45 min instead of the 30 min in other cities. And the 10,000 (TEN THOUSAND!) bikes will ensure lots of opportunities to use it. It will be a home run.

Posted by CdnExpat | Report as abusive

Glad to see someone with a larger platform than us commenters weigh-in: ke-share-is-for-short-trips-not-four-hou r-jaunts/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_med ium=twitter#comment-523182191

Not sure why this concept is so hard for otherwise smart journalists to graps. Ride it and drop it off so someone else can use it. $95 a year is cheap compared to every option except walking. Wise up crap ass writers!

Posted by jefeto | Report as abusive

here’s what it costs in Milano:
annual (365 days) 36 €
• weekly (7 days) € 6,00
• daily (24 hours) € 2,50

the first 30 minutes are free.
After the first 30 minutes you will pay € 0.50 for every subsequent half hour or fraction of half hour for a maximum of two hours.
Remember that the bike cannot be used for more than two hours*. After the two hour limit, you will be charged a € 2 penalty per hour or fraction of hour. Service is automatically suspended if you exceed this time limit three times. In this case, you can’t reactivate your card but you must subscribe again.
At least 10 minutes must elapse between the first and second use.

Posted by hansrudolf | Report as abusive

Felix Salmon,

Dude, what’s wrong with you?

You pay 95 bucks. You ride a bike to work. You ride another one home. You ride one to the park on the weekend. You ride one back from the park. None of these trips take more than 45 minutes.

If you did this year round, you’d be paying FIFTEEN CENTS per trip. How difficult is this to understand?

Posted by nnyc | Report as abusive


You’ve been punked by DOT!!

Hope you and your little friends enjoy being overcharged to ride around on an overweight bike advertising for Citibank.


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