Thanks to Superstorm Sandy, the Bloomberg administration announced Friday that it would shift gears on its much delayed bike-share program yet again, pushing back the launch date by another three months and slashing the total number of bikes by almost 25%.
The Department of Transportation said that the Citi Bike program sponsored by Citigroup Inc. and MasterCard will launch in May 2013 rather than March and with 5,500 bikes rather than 7,000. It will also feature about 100 fewer stations.
"DOT has worked around the clock to restore vital transportation links following the storm, and that includes putting Citi Bike on the road to recovery," said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in a statement. "Despite the damage, New York will have the nation's largest bike share system up and running this spring."
Sandy's storm surge flooded the bike share warehouse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where about two-thirds of the system's equipment had been stored before the Oct. 29 storm. City officials said that many parts of the system containing electrical components still need to be refurbished or replaced. The repair work is being aided through insurance and supplemented by equipment that wasn't stored at the Navy Yard, as well as by additional parts from its supplier and elsewhere in the delivery pipeline.
The revised timeline was agreed to by all parties and will not impact the $41 million in private funding from Citi to underwrite the system or the plan to split profits with the city during the six-year contract.
But the delay marks yet another setback for the program. Originally, the program, operated by Alta Bicycle Share, was to begin with a partial rollout in the summer of 2011, with a full-system launch of 10,000 bikes at 600 stations slated for this summer. But it took longer than expected to select a vendor, find underwriters and figure out where to put the docking stations.
So, the program was pushed back. The city was expected to unveil 7,000 new bikes at 420 stations peppered across the city over the summer, but technical glitches stalled progress. In August, Mayor Michael Bloomberg summed it up in a radio interview: "The software doesn't work. Duh."
Although Citi Bike will launch with fewer bikes, the city said it still intended to meet the goal of putting a total of 7,000 on the streets.
Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said he has not given up on the city to roll out the first bike share system in the world to operate without tax-payer money.
"We're confident the system can go to full strength within the median term," he said. "Even with a fewer number of bikes, it's still the largest system in North America."
Sandy's KO of the city's subway system highlighted the usefulness of bicycles to plug gaps in the city's infrastructure.
"You might call it irony," he said. "With Sandy, bike share is really going to add to the resiliency of our transportation network."