Friday, February 27, 2015

Maybe it’s time to get real about keeping bike share open in dead of winter

If you just look at ridership, we come away impressed by the relatively high use of the system in the winter. Even with 9,000 fewer members this January vs. last, those members took 2000 more rides this year. For some perspective, total rides in January, at around 314,000, are 30 percent of last summer’s peak in July.

But when you take a look at the costs of supporting those 314,000 rides, it’s kind of eye-popping. Revenue for January -- $126,000 -- is 5% of last July’s revenue and the lowest of any month since the system opened in May 2013. Throw in February 2014’s rides in and you’re at 10% of last July.

Total rides were up slightly over last January but average miles per trip set a new low.

And all but the most casual users of the system must notice the toll that winter takes on bikes left on the streets, those cracked seats, those frozen cranks, the repeated tweets from Citi Bike about wholesale station crashes. The salt.

Rides may decline 70 percent in winter, but station repairs don’t. January station malfunctions -- 402 -- are 87% of what they were in July. Single dock malfunctions, 81%.

If that’s not bleak enough, February in New York is shaping up to be the coldest since 1934, so look for even poorer numbers to surface.

Then on top of the cold, there’s the snow. Citi Bike doesn’t report operational expenses, but the manpower costs of shoveling out every plowed-in bicycle, a job that can only be done by hand, must be staggering. It took seven days for the system to recover from the big Jan 26-27 snow.

Much has been made of Citi Bike’s struggle to make money. Conceding to Mother Nature in January and February might help that goal considerably.

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