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:

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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:

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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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