The New York City classic public bike-sharing system Citi Bike has pioneered public transportation in the metropolitan landscape. Alongside the automobile, car-sharing companies like Uber, and the MTA subway system, bike riding is a comparatively eco-friendly approach to transit throughout New York City. CitiBike offers thousands of bikes in thousands of stations to users with 24/7 service throughout Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens.
The convenience, popularity, and general accessibility of Citi Bike has also increased with the recent COVID-19 pandemic because of the single user experience leading consumers to view biking as a protective method against transmission of the virus. As of July 2020, more than 100 million rides have been facilitated through Citi Bike with more than 150,000 members. The sheer environmental impact of riding millions of miles on a bike is positively supportive of sustainable development goals that emphasize the reduction of carbon emissions.
In June 2021, Citi Bike reported over 3 million pounds of carbon offset by Citi Bike riding from the monthly report. Since there is a lack of many other competing bike-sharing programs in NYC, Citi Bike’s mass reach over the city currently provides an immediate option for consumers looking for a bike-riding service. However, consumers looking to weigh their eco-conscious public transit options should look out for discrepancies in past social and governance actions by the companies behind this popular bike-sharing program.
There are two types of Citi Bikes: electric e-bikes and conventional non-electric bikes offered at every Citi Bike dock station. Citi Bike’s dock stations have power supplied by solar panel charging placed next to every Citi Bike station. The dock stations are also what help charge the e-bikes. A solar panel also helps power the Citi Bike kiosk, allowing customers to purchase a pass or unlock a Citi Bike. Solar power utilizes photovoltaic panels to help turn sunlight radiation into electrical energy that ends up charging Citi Bikes. Compared to traditional energy derived from fossil fuels, sunlight energy is a more environmentally friendly power source and helps this bike-sharing system reach net-zero carbon operations closer than riding cars or trains.
The physical elements of the bikes all help to construct the model of a utility bicycle. There are components like an aluminum frame, rubber tires, and LED lights. The e-bikes are different from the classic Citi Bikes because of its pedal-assist technology through the motor on the bike rear which helps riders go up to 18 miles per hour. The environmental cycle in bike-riding and choosing bikes over other transportation vehicles is very convincing for those who want to reduce their carbon footprint. Citi Bike makes it much easier to achieve this particular sustainability goal for individuals living in NYC.
Since the Citi Bike headquarters and warehouses are in NYC, the supply of incoming bikes can be locally fulfilled depending on which stations need new bikes or need repair. With bikes, the use-value of each Citi Bike is higher since the bike repair of a dysfunctional part can easily be swapped out to allow the bike to work again. This allows each Citi Bike to be used for many miles before there needs to be a replacement, saving environmental and financial costs.
Citi Bikes are domestically assembled in the United States (e.g. Denver) but the sourcing of the bike components is not listed on their website anywhere. There should be more transparency on the full supply cycle of Citi Bike materials since consumers can only find where the components of the bikes are put together. The lack of information in Citi Bike’s supply chain and sourcing makes it harder to visualize the full sustainability cycle of the bike-sharing system.
Also, while there are thousands of Citi Bike stations, not all stations are geographically diversified throughout the three boroughs it is available in. Citi Bike stations are generally located in a higher proportion in places that have demographics of those who are low-poverty and not majority people-of-color. With ethnic and class disparities, the question of who can have access to Citi Bikes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic becomes problematic in terms of health equity. Overall, the large amount of Citi Bikes available in NYC has helped prevent excessive contact with other people compared to the subway system and has increased the general public health of NYC residents. However, Citi Bike and the Department of Transportation need to further collaborate and expand Citi Bikes in under-represented communities that have faced higher risk exposure to COVID-19.
Citigroup, the investment banking multi-billion dollar corporation, mostly sponsors Citi Bike. Citigroup mainly has businesses in asset management, banking, and other financial services as seen through their consumer division of CitiBank. In public cooperation with the NYC Department of Transportation, CitiBank became the lead sponsor of Citi Bike in May 2012. In October 2014, Citigroup expanded its sponsorship for Citi Bike along with expanded credit facilities from the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group. Now, the ride-sharing app Lyft offers Citi Bike on their app since they acquired the company that operated Citi Bike. Since Lyft currently owns Citi Bike, there are also labor equity implications from Lyft’s past with driver treatment in the ride-sharing economy.
The socio-environmental effects of private-sector products like Citi Bike do help to further incentivize public policy and green infrastructure as seen through the installation of more bike lanes throughout the city. However, past controversies of financial scandals and internal labor equity within both companies stifle the efforts made in carbon emissions offset by riding bikes. With such financial influence and power, issues like labor equity should not be associated with brand actions and images.
While the creation of Citi Bike has brought positive environmental impacts to the urban transportation world, it is hard to separate these benefits from the past actions of the larger figureheads behind the bike-sharing system. There have been big environmental efforts made by both companies trying to reach net-zero carbon emissions but Citigroup’s and Lyft’s environmental actions need to expand beyond the SDG promises stated in their ESG reports.