Citi Bike Rings in the New Year With a Price Hike

New York City and New Jersey residents who are already exasperated by periodic increases in MTA subway fares are going to lack even more options for cheap public transit. Out of the blue on Thursday, Citi Bike suddenly announced its bike share program was raising prices across the board, impacting annual paying members and non-members alike.

Citi Bike riders received emails alerting them to the cost increases, impacting Citi Bike and Lyft Pink subscribers, daily riders, and Reduced Fare Bike Share members as well. All annual memberships will increase by $15 to $220 per year. Not only that, but any extra time spent on bikes beyond the expected 45 minutes will incur an extra charge of $0.20 for every additional minute spent riding, up from $0.17. Want to take an ebike instead? That’s now going to cost an extra $0.20 per ride, capped at a total of $4. Membership prices will go up Jan. 29, while other fare increases will take effect Jan. 4.

It’s also getting more expensive for non-members. Unlock fees are going up by $0.20 to $4.79. Any extra time above 30 minutes spent riding will now be $0.30 per minute, same as the new ebike fee. Citi Bike declared the increases would help “improve bikesharing” in NYC to “support our growing operations and continued expansion.” The Lyft-owned company said users will see “next-gen ebikes” and more stations around the five boroughs and New Jersey. Lyft has previously announced plans to “double” its fleet of electric bikes.

The Reduced Fare option is meant to offer a more affordable public transit option for SNAP beneficiaries or those who live in New York affordable housing, and while there are no changes to the $5 monthly costs for those subscribers, their monthly costs for regular bikes will increase to $0.37 per minute over the allotted 45 minutes. Ebike fees are also going up to $0.16 per minute, though still capped at $3 as long as you end your ride after the standard time frame.

The Lyft-owned Citi Bike has been routinely criticized for the substandard maintenance of its large-scale bike-sharing program in New York City. The program doesn’t get any money from the city. Instead, it’s meant to pay for itself through corporate sponsorships (hence the “Citi” in the name) and user subscriptions, but since its dawn of operation in 2013 it’s proved a complicated infrastructure endeavor that’s resulted in the service steadily raising prices over time. An annual pass once cost just $95 a year, but that’s increased by more than 100% over the past decade.

Although more stations sound nice, it’s hard to take any promises too seriously at face value. The New York City Comptroller’s office released a scathing report of Lyft’s Citi Bike last month claiming the company has failed to meet standards of reliability under its ongoing contract. The comptroller’s office said that while ridership is high, Citi Bike hasn’t provided nearly enough bikes and docks in the Bronx and upper Manhattan to meet demand. The report also noted Black, Latino, and low-income neighborhoods had far more empty stations than others. For its part, Lyft tried to refute some of the claims, telling Gothamist its rate of bike maintenance has not decreased.

Currently, the Lyft-owned service maintains a virtual monopoly on New York public bike share programs that won’t end until the contract expires in 2029. The company has run New York’s bike system since 2018 when it purchased the company Motivate, and it now operates bike share programs in many of the U.S.’ other major cities like San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington D.C.

If it seems weird that the company known for its contract ride-hailing service wants to run a system where it has to own and maintain a fleet of vehicles, Lyft’s CEO thinks so too, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that Lyft had considered selling Citi Bike as a way to refocus the company and fight back against its competition from Uber, despite revenue growth at the start of the year. Right now, the ride-hailing company may be devoting its attention to attempts to enforce minimum wage laws on its contract drivers. Last month, Lyft was forced to grant drivers paid sick leave and other benefits after agreeing to a $328 million settlement with the state of New York.

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