This pilot can’t get off the ground.
Two companies are competing in the city’s dockless bike share pilot program in Staten Island, which began about a month ago when bright green Lime and bright red Jump bikes were deployed in the northern part of the forgotten borough.
I gave both companies a chance to work out the kinks before heading to The Rock on Saturday for a day of rentable riding. My finding: Both companies have disastrous, deal-breaking problems that remind me anew that Citi Bike is still the best system.
But that’s getting ahead of myself. Here’s my report:
Not Lime But LAME
Lime bikes are low-quality, single-gear two-wheelers whose electric assist system is simply underpowered for Staten Island hills.
But wait, there’s more: The Lime system is expensive, and the unlocking system so flawed that it frequently double-charged us. And the app lies about how much power is left on the bike.
Let’s unpack all of that.
Upon arrival on Staten Island, my girlfriend and I were pleased to discover many Lime bikes at the Staten Island ferry terminal.
I unlocked one without problem. My girlfriend unlocked one — the app said as much — but the rear wheel did not physically unlock, forcing her to unlock it a second time. This also happened on a different bike later in the day. These four “rides” showed up in her ride history as $0 or $.15 charges — but at the end of the day, all of the rides in her ride history added up to $11.75, yet $16.20 was deducted from her Lime wallet.
Most important, on our first ride — an attempt to get up Grymes Hill so we could be like Thoreau — my Lime bike, which had shown up on the app as having a full charge, lost power and turned into a very heavy regular one-speed bike. Maybe I could have made it up Longview Road if I could have shifted to a lower gear, but without that option, I had to walk the last part of the hill. Here is a photo of how I felt about that:
Even when I had full power, the Lime bike system only gives you a strong push right when you’re starting out — and are the least likely to need it. Going up hills is a challenge, even with the pedal assist.
Also, Lime’s e-bikes are expensive: $1 to unlock them, plus 15 cents per minute. So if you live 20 minutes from the ferry terminal — which would be the ideal use for a Lime bike — you’ll pay $4 for a ride home. That’s hardly going to convert people from the bus, cab or private car ownership.
And, the Lime bikes are rickety. Several bikes we tried had bent pedal cranks, one had misaligned handle-bars and two had broken kick-stands (which explains why so many bikes we saw were lying on their sides). On the downhill run on Victory Boulevard from Silver Lake Park to Bay Street, I felt several times as if the bike was going to skid out from under me.
Overall grade: D
A Big ‘Jump’ Backwards
I had problems with the Jump bike system even before I got to Staten Island.
Streetsblog reported earlier in the pilot that Jump’s app was having problems. But on Saturday, when I fired up the Jump app to register with my credit card, the app told me I could only rent Jump bikes through Uber, which bought Jump earlier this year.
Sure enough, when I fired up the Uber app, I was offered the option to rent a Jump bike. But my girlfriend’s Uber app did not give her that option, casting a pall over our romantic plans for tandem exploration of Staten Island.
Uber’s app told us to call Jump, which we did. A customer service rep told us that many people were experiencing the problem and that it was being worked on. Apparently, it wasn’t being worked on quickly enough, because when I got to Staten Island, my Uber app stopped offering the option to rent a bike.
Oddly, the option returned later in the day and I got a chance to rent a Jump bike, which cost $2 for 30 minutes (no initial fee).
Oh. My. God.
The Jump bike is comparable to the Lime bike in the way that a Harley-Davidson Iron 833 compares to your kid’s Big Wheel tricycle. Similar to the Citi Bike e-bike, which earned my glowing review last month, the Jump e-bike’s pedal-assist power is formidable, making Staten Island mountains feel like flat straightaways. Plus, the power boost doesn’t kick in too early, so you don’t go flying into the intersection if you’re just trying to inch into an intersection to get ahead of a car with a turn signal on.
And the pricing was fair. I paid $2.17 (including tax) for a 29-minute ride. The same ride on a Lime bike would have cost $5.35 — nearly two-and-a-half-times more.
But until the Jump/Uber app is flawless, the system is unreliable. And transit systems that are unreliable are, effectively, useless for getting around.
Overall grade: D
Despite major letdowns by both Jump and Lime, my girlfriend and I had a great day on Staten Island — although we ended up walking miles because bikes were unavailable and her Uber app didn’t list “bikes” as an option until we were already back on the ferry. We did treat ourselves to a beer at the Flagship Brewery (motto: “Unforgettable Beer Brewed in the Forgotten Borough”) and devoured the copious Sri Lankan buffet with King of the Rock Vince DiMiceli at Lakruwana. But our mission to spend the entire day biking around Staten Island failed.
Even beyond the failures of Lime and Jump, I have serious reservations about any dockless system that does not include many more bikes per capita than the current pilot program. Without docks, or without a massive number of dockless bikes, the bikes disperse to the oddest places, such as in front of people’s houses, rendering them pretty useless to everyone else but him and his closest neighbors.
Clearly, there’s one way forward: the city must subsidize Citi Bike, as it does for all forms of mass transit, so that Citi Bike can expand to become a true utility — a basic municipal service like tap water or the subway. The pilot programs running in Staten Island, the Bronx and the Rockaways prove that only Citi Bike — which will soon be owned by Lyft — has the equipment, the technology and the experience to succeed…with a little more help from government.