OK, I try my best to remain enthusiastic about New York's new bike share system despite the issues that came up in my first effort to use it yesterday, a hot, sticky June Sunday in Manhattan that felt like August dog days.
My husband and I decided to check out the new CitiBike system by inaugurating his year's membership in CitiBike and using the freebie gift card that came with his membership to get me a bike as well. We had talked about the New York Post's coverage of the new system and how much I disliked what I called their pessimistic, cynical reporting on the startup problems that are inevitable in launching a citywide program like this one.
But I started talking a little differently about halfway into our effort yesterday. First of all, we learned that although there are hundreds of docking stations for the thousands of bikes included in the program, not a single one of them is located north of East 60th Street on the East Side. Since we live at 96th Street, we realized that meant a haul down thirty blocks to get to the bikes but hey, not to worry, we knew we would love the bike ride once it starts.
So we get to the first station, at 58th and Third Avenue and there are lots of bikes. But there are also five people standing there swearing at them because they are unable to get the bikes to "undock." Even though they paid their money and inserted the code they were given at the kiosk, the bikes would not budge.
So, not willing to wait around for the explanation from the CitiBike people (four of the would-be bikers were trying to get through to the CitiBike phone line) we walked over to 58th and 2nd. Only two bikes left. Wow! Quick! We'd better hurry. John inserted his CitiBike key into the docking station and voila! no problem, he has his bike. So I quickly went to the kiosk and tried to arrange for my freebie bike. It takes a bit of entry steps and finally I inserted--as directed--my credit card to be charge $101 as a deposit on the bike that would, at the end of the ride, cost me nothing. But no little slip came out with the code number I needed in order to unlock the bike. We tried everything, finally trying John's credit card and yes, it charged him $101 also but never coughed up the needed code for unlocking the bike.
So we decided to call the CitiBike people. Trouble is, the number plastered all over their materials and the kiosk as well, was not working. Probably because other frustrated would-be cyclists were calling to complain about something or other. Finally, on the 14th (!) try I got through on the line, only to be told that "there must be something wrong at that installation...would you mind trying another station elsewhere in the City?
My husband had had enough. That's it, no bike ride, says he. I cajoled him into trying one more location, this one at elsewhere in the 50's. Lots of bikes, a good sign we thought. But not so fast. It would not accept John's key. So he couldn't get his bike. We never got around to checking to see whether I could get my freebie.
So we left the CitiBike experiment for another day, preferable a cooler one and one on which they have ironed out the many kinks. While the woman on the phone at CitiBike was attempting to cancel our credit card charges (yes, you are right...somehow they didn't get cancelled and were on our on-line statement when we checked later last night) she acknowledged that there were a host of problems, but added enthusiastically that she is "optimistic they will soon all be resolved."
I'm optimistic, too. I'm sure they will clear up the first-time hiccups. But I guess I'll wait a while before I try it again. And I know my husband is more than willing to leave CitiBike riding for another day.