Bike czar wanted
Ugly news keeps pouring in for Citi Bike, the lovely idea, terribly executed, that brought bike sharing to New York City.
The program is going broke. Its chief executive has quit. The company that’s in charge is thinking about hitting up the taxpayers for money. And the de Blasio City Hall is struggling with a mess inherited from the Bloomberg administration.
Fearing that the blue bicycles could wind up permanently locked in their stanchions, city transportation officials and bicycling advocates are for the first time talking publicly about the failings of NYC Bike Share.
Until now, they had engaged in relentless cheerleading while painting anyone who questioned the program’s financial viability or quality of service as anti-bike. Among those who now recognize the disaster is top booster Paul Steely White of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. (See his Op-Ed in the adjoining space.)
White remains optimistic, but his fixes are too small. NYC Bike Share’s customers and city officials must get far tougher with the operator.
Riders must serve notice that they will refuse to renew annual memberships as they come up in May. Transportation officials must move credibly toward revoking NYC Bike Share’s contract. Mayor de Blasio must confirm that he ruled out a bailout when he said, “At this point, city budget money is not on the table.”
Then the city must demand a complete management overhaul. Former Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn erred badly in awarding control over a mode of transit to a two-bit outfit from Portland.
NYC Bike Share is a subsidiary of Oregon-based Alta Bicycle Share. For starters, Alta must hire a tough, seasoned New York professional who is well versed in management, finance, transportation, customer service and rough-and-tumble politics.
De Blasio must insist NYC Bike Share be led by someone fit to be entrusted with operating a major transportation business on the streets. Someone like, oh, former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief and mayoral candidate Joe Lhota.
The new leader must have the management chops to straighten out operational matters, like getting bikes into the right spots and introducing a user-friendly credit card payment system.
He or she must also have the smarts to set a pricing structure that raises revenue while maintaining memberships and attracting use by tourists, as well as to raise sponsorship funding. The mission must be to make bike sharing both flawless and self-sustaining — without taxpayer help.
The new leader must accomplish all of that, perhaps by reconfiguring or shrinking the program, or shut it down.