Unless you’ve been wasting away inside the past week and a half, snuggling with your A/C and bingeing on the new season of Arrested Development, you’ve seen the lines and lines of metallic blue Citi Bikes stationed across New York City, begging, as the slogan goes, you to hop on and “explore your city.” With point-counterpoints and usage mounting, the rollout of the program has become a metropolitan talking point. Except little room has been left to discuss the battle between bike share and bike shop.
We’ve already seen cases of burglary; fist-waving pedestrian and conservative critics have begun to label the corporate-sponsored wheels “totalitarian;” the Observer has published an editorial, demanding users to “just buy a bike.” Upon the program’s inauguration, 8,000 New Yorkers had already signed up for daily or monthly memberships. That number is now over 32,000.
Landmark Vintage Bicycles has two locations–one on East 3rd Street and Avenue A in the East Village, and another on South 5th Street and Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. Both locations are in close vicinity of Citi Bike stations. Tyler Crawford, the manager of the East Village shop, about the potential of losing 8,000 customers for local bike shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn, is waiting to see the effects of the program. “A lot of the shops are holding their breath right now,” he tells the Voice. “We don’t know really what to expect. We just hope more people will be buying bikes in the future from us or coming to us for repairs. But, for now, it’s a bit too early to say anything or worry.”
In parallel with Citi Bike, Landmark has a rental program of its own, in which customers pay a much lower fee for a day-long ride. Crawford argues that Citi Bike serves as an alternative for public transportation, whereas his bike rentals are more for leisure. Even so, he says he’s noticed a small dip in rental sales since Memorial Day, but this could have an alternative explanation.
At Bicycle Habitat–a shop found in Park Slope, Chelsea, and SoHo–Lara Lebeiko says that other municipalities provide success stories. “It’s too soon to tell how this will impact our bicycle sales,” she says. “Our research with other dealers who are in cities with bike share is that we might see a slight dip in sales for the short term, but longer-term, bike share is good for business.”
And, in less than two weeks, that’s become clear. With 30,000 new bikes on the road, local bike shops become necessary shopping supplements: “Anecdotally, since Citibike started, we’ve actually had a significant increase in requests for our ‘Learn to Ride’ bike classes,” Lebeiko says. “In terms of impact in our store products, we definitely saw a lot of the new Citibike riders stop in to buy helmets. We don’t consider Citibike a loss, we consider it an expansion to the broader base of cyclists in our community.”
George Supra, the owner of Bikes by George on East 4th Street between avenues A and B, shares Lebeiko’s enthusiasm. “I don’t think Citi Bike is a bad thing for us–more bikes, no matter what they are, are better for business,” Supra says. “More bikes on the streets is a good thing for everyone.”
And, in his opinion, time will take its toll on the Citi Bike users, who will grow out of the $95 a year membership once they’re comfortable riding on the streets. “I think most people, in the end, would like to own their own bikes rather than the Citi Bikes. They’re expensive, anyway,” Supra says. “And it’s hard to park now; all I see are these blue bikes in parking spots.”
We’re only two weeks into this experiment–one that will expand in coming months with more stations in downtown Brooklyn and Queens. Although it’s too soon to analyze the real-time economic impact of Citi Bike, it’s apparently been enough time for local bike shops to start noticing that there’s another competitor on the streets. But, if capitalism teaches us anything these days, it’s that rivalry isn’t necessarily a bad thing for business because, in the end, two people can share the same bike lane.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 6, 2013