(Photo by Flickr user Brian D. Luster, used under a Creative Commons license)
Since launching in May, New York’s Citi Bike Share is generating more than 40,000 rides on its busiest days, meaning its system is covering more miles than any other system in the world. To help it do that, the Citi system is depending a lot on the use of mobile technology.
That’s because managing such a large system is at its core a data management problem.
Understanding and predicting cyclists needs and behaviors is key to making the system work because riders need both available bikes and available spaces to return them. By giving users as much information as possible about the system, Citibike enlists users in making the system work. So, for example, if a user knows that there are two docking stations near their destination, but one of them has very few docks open and one of them has lots, they can go to the one with more room. This helps all users.
Citi Bike launched with a mobile app to make that possible.
Technically Brooklyn reached out to the bike share program multiple times to discuss their tech work, but met with no response. So, here’s our take on the pro’s and con’s of the app:
- The map. See all the stations in New York on an interactive map, and how south of Atlantic Avenue is a Citibike no man’s land. Fun fact: you can’t easily ride Citibike to NYC Bike Share’s offices at 52nd and 3rd Ave — no pod anywhere in sight.
- Each pod shown on the map can be touched to show how many bikes are at the station and how many docks are open at any moment.
- After selecting a pod, users can also click on “Directions to here” or “Directions from here.” So, for example, if you know where you’re going, before you set out you can go find the closest docking station to where you’re headed, and the system will show you the best route to that pod.
- Favorites: rather than hunt around on a map to check the status of a station you often visit, you can simply favorite it. In some parts of town, there’s a lot of stations, and it can be hard to find just one quickly on the map.
- It has a built in Contact page that gives you three methods to get access to Citibike, including dialing your phone for you.
- The first con of the app is visible as soon as you open it — it doesn’t seem focused on speed. Other than for the purposes of this review, this reporter has never opened the Citibike app when he wasn’t in a hurry. It’s a transit app, after all. Nevertheless, when it opens, it has to show you a screen with a picture of a bike and no functionality.
- Timer. It’s just a timer that you stop and start on your own. It underscores one of the biggest shortcomings of the app. You’d think that the main purpose of the app is to tell you how close you are to the time limit on a given ride, since you’re charged for going over time on a bicycle. The Citibike app does not link to your Citibike account at all, though. So to check the time, you have to remember to start the timer at the start of a ride, manually. And also remember to stop it when you dock. Technically Brooklyn has never successfully closed both loops.
- “Get Started.” Strangely, Citibike does not answer its most perplexing question for those looking to get started with the service on its kiosks, site or app: how to get the bike out of a dock. After you get the green light by activating a dock, you lift up the back wheel by the seat, drop it and then guide the bike out once it comes free. Other bike share systems do it other ways. It’s counter intuitive. So one might think it would be explained under “Get Started > How it Works > Unlock” or “Get Started > How it Works > Ride,” but it’s not. It’s also not in the app’s FAQ.
As the second point illustrates, without access to your account, you can’t look at fun data, like miles traveled, or less fun data, like any charges you might have had for going over. In the open data environment of today, it’s a give and take: we give Citibike data about our usage, and we want some back.
The app also can’t remind you of your Customer ID if you need that in a pinch, or your bike key’s, for that matter. Arguably, that is really a user’s most important information.
For that kind of info, like Aaron Shapiro said, users need to go to the mobile web, which is probably where all of the app’s functionality will be before long, anyway.-30-
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