TIPS ON HOW TO NAV­I­GATE NEW YORK

What hap­pens when two Fin­week writ­ers test out the new Citi Bike pro­gramme...

Finweek English Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Kelly Berold

Very few peo­ple have had the priv­i­lege of watch­ing Si­mon Din­gle strug­gle with what most dig­i­tal na­tives con­sider rel­a­tively straight­for­ward new tech­nol­ogy. For years, 5fm and Fin­week have been duped into giv­ing the ‘tech ex­pert’ cov­eted air play and col­umn inches ded­i­cated to his gadget re­views, and you must ad­mit, for a man of his age, he has feigned an im­pres­sive un­der­stand­ing of the dig­i­tal age and fooled the masses with re­mark­able adroit­ness. But here, right now, on a hot July day in New York’s Meat­pack­ing Dis­trict, six weeks af­ter the launch of the largest and most am­bi­tious bike-shar­ing sys­tem in the US, Si­mon Din­gle is strug­gling to get his Citi Bike out of the dock­ing sta­tion, and it is hi­lar­i­ous to watch.

In his de­fense, this ap­peared to be a prob­lem across the board. Stonewalled by Hur­ri­cane Sandy and plagued by soft­ware glitches, the $41m Cit­i­group-spon­sored ini­tia­tive had en­dured its fair share of birthing pains when it launched back in May. From the be­gin­ning, users com­plained of testy pass sys­tems, faulty key ac­cess and un­re­spon­sive bike racks. Crit­i­cism then shifted to the lo­gis­ti­cal is­sue of unequal bike dis­tri­bu­tion, or ‘dock­block­ing’ as one web­site put it, as nine-to-fivers flocked to busy com­mer- cial hubs dur­ing the week, leav­ing sta­tions ei­ther con­stantly booked up or largely un­der­stocked for most of the day. And then of course there was the in­evitable not-in-my-back­yard (nimby) in­cur­sion mar­shalled by el­derly and elite lud­dites who spent the weeks fol­low­ing the roll-out shout­ing “Bah, Hum­bug!” on ev­ery city soap­box they could find.

“Do not ask me to en­ter the mind of the to­tal­i­tar­i­ans run­ning this city,” Wall

Street Jour­nal vet­eran Dorothy Rabi­nowitz said quite se­ri­ously, dur­ing an in­ter­view back in May. “Look, I rep­re­sent the ma­jor­ity of cit­i­zens of this city and the ma­jor­ity of th­ese cit­i­zens are ap­palled by what has hap­pened! We now look at a city whose best neig­bour­hoods are absolutely be­grimed by th­ese blaz­ing blue Citibank bikes! It is shock­ing.”

Please note that Rabi­nowitz, who I’d wa­ger is well into her 70s and hasn’t used pub­lic trans­port since 1993, does not rep­re­sent the ma­jor­ity of New York­ers. Stats show that the real cit­i­zens of New York, like Leonardo DiCaprio, Seth Mey­ers and Kevin Ba­con, have com­pletely em­braced the new pro­gramme. Fast Com­pany re­ported that that within 10 days of its launch, the Citi Bikes (6 000 of them to be ex­act) had been used over 100 000 times and cov­ered 270 000 miles of ground. That’s the equiv­a­lent of one in 16 Man­hat­tan­ites cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing the world 11 times over. That’s also 100 000 peo­ple who are more qual­i­fied to write Si­mon Din­gle’s tech col­umn than Si­mon Din­gle. Within two weeks, over 36 000 of them had signed up for the an­nual mem­ber­ship, which, at $95 for a year’s worth of un­lim­ited 45-minute rides, is a steal con­sid­er­ing that lo­cals pay $112 for a 30-day un­lim­ited sub­way pass. You sign up on­line and get an ac­cess key that makes it

quicker and eas­ier to un­lock a bi­cy­cle on the go, by­pass­ing the chance of re­ceiv­ing un­war­ranted de­duc­tions on your credit card fur­ther down the line (I got a fairly sour text about it from you-know-who a few weeks later.)

So it seems New York­ers can’t get enough of th­ese lit­tle blue Cit­i­group bill­boards. “The re­sponse has been over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive,” said Ben, 24, a po­lit­i­cal or­gan­iser who has worked on cam­paigns f or Cory Booker and Pres­i­dent Obama. “I have yet to spend a sum­mer in the city with the bikes, but as a large Jew with a propen­sity for per­spi­ra­tion, I look for­ward to us­ing the ser­vice as a far more ef­fi­cient and re­lax­ing mode of trans­porta­tion. At least un­til [New York may­oral can­di­date] Bill De Bla­sio fixes global warm­ing.”

City Notes founder Dan From­mer raved about the pro­gramme on the com­pany web­site: “Since I moved here in 2005, I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a few flash­bulb mo­ments of unity with other New York­ers, where it re­ally feels like we’re all in this to­gether. I can’t re­mem­ber some­thing that’s made so many peo­ple so happy here in such a short time since the iPhone launched.”

Two dock­ing sta­tions, three swipes of a credit card, four de­funct pass­words and 14 ex­ple­tives later, Si­mon and I man­aged to re­lease two bi­cy­cles from cap­tiv­ity (hint: you have to lift the seat up to get them out), and, in do­ing so, joined thou­sands of New York na­tives in savour­ing the city’s first new pub­lic trans­port ven­ture in 75 years, AKA the best thing to hap­pen to New York City since the iPhone. The bikes are truly fan­tas­tic. They aren’t as sleek or as pretty as your neigh­bour­hood fixie, but they are ro­bust and re­li­able and get you quickly from A to B, which is ob­vi­ously the whole point of the sys­tem. Des­ig­nated bike lanes have made it eas­ier for tourists and ner­vous com­muters to nav­i­gate through the city, and as Si­mon and I veered up from the High­line through the Chelsea streets and deep into the heart of the big smoke, I was mo­men­tar­ily grate­ful that I wasn’t stuck in a train un­der­ground. New York is a city that is meant to be seen.

While Si­mon po­litely de­clined my of­fer of a sec­ond ex­cur­sion and headed back to Jo­han­nes­burg to test drive the city’s new lux­ury taxi ser­vice Uber (you can read his re­view on fin­week.com) I stayed on to wit­ness the Citi Bike’s 100day mile­stone. By that time, rid­ers had clocked in over 3m trips and burned a com­bined 150m calo­ries. If you’re young and tech-savvy like me, you can check out all the stats, as well as bike avail­abil­ity, route plan­ning, nearby sta­tions and other up­dates us­ing the Citi Bike app. You can also take great plea­sure in know­ing that the next time you’re in New York, you could find your­self rid­ing the same seat that Daniel Craig strad­dled dur­ing a leisurely ride to the Bar­ry­more Theatre ear­lier that day. Al­ter­na­tively it could be one of the bikes used in Fabrizio Gold­stein’s drive to turn the bike sta­tions into free spin class des­ti­na­tions for the home­less. Ei­ther way, ev­ery­one wins.

Citi Bikes of­fer a cheaper, al­ter­nate, re­li­able mode of trans­porta­tion

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