Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bike Angels: Will Incentivizing Its Membership to Rebalance Solve Hell's Kitchen's CitiBike Shortage?

After enduring another year of empty CitiBike stations in Hell's Kitchen (particularly during the morning commute), it's heartening to see Motivate try something new: gamifying their rebalancing operations with a program called Bike Angels. CitiBike is basically bribing users to move bikes out of full stations and park them in empty stations.

This is how CitiBike members earn points:

Full Station  → Empty Station  = +2 pts
Full Station  → Any Other Station  = +1 pts
Any Other Station  → Empty Station  = +1 pts

And here are the prizes, with your points tally resetting every 2 weeks:

10 Points = Raffle entry for chance to win $500 Gift Card
15 Points = 1 week membership extension + Raffle entry
20 Points = 2 week membership extension + Raffle entry
25 Points = 3 week membership extension + Raffle entry

On the Bike Angels site is a guide to empty and full stations in the AM and PM and the Hell's Kitchen stations are notably empty during both periods.

Maybe an enterprising Hell's Kitchen resident will realize he/she can earn 2 points every morning by moving a bike just a couple of blocks.

How Much will Bike Angels Cost CitiBike in Lost Membership Fees?

An annual CitiBike membership is $155/per year, working out to $155/52 = $2.98/week (a great bargain)!  A 1-week membership extension is 15 points, earned by removing a bike from a full station or docking into an empty station 15 times during a 2-week period, or basically $2.98/15 for 20¢ per Angel "act."  More zealous Angels earning 25 points get a relatively more generous 3-week extension which works out to 36¢ per Angel act. (I'm leaving out the cost of administering the $500 gift card raffle.)

But CitiBike will be paying less than 36¢ per rebalance since a lot of users won't rack up the minimum 15 points in 2 weeks, and will have their point tally zeroed out without claiming any benefit.

It's Probably Cheaper Than Paying Employees to Rebalance

So far this year I haven't seen any CitiBike employees biking with those trailers holding 4 CitiBikes, but let's say CitiBike still employs these people.  Say that one employee makes 2 runs in an hour - that would mean rebalancing 8 bikes in total.  If we were being generous and consider each removal equivalent to one Angel "act" (1 point), even though only the first bike removed per trailer run would qualify for 1 point, and each docking was an Angel "act" as well, 1 hour of work would yield 16 points or Angel "acts".  At 36¢ per act (on the high range of what it actually costs CitiBike in lost membership dues), that comes out to only $5.76 worth of "work" performed by a dedicated bicycle-riding rebalancer.  A faster rebalancer doing 3 runs in an hour accomplishes only $8.64 worth of rebalancing.  So CitiBike saves money by turning its riders into employees earning below minimum wage.  Of course, dedicated rebalancers are going to rebalance more deliberately and strategically, but based on how poorly they perform in Hell's Kitchen, I suspect Bike Angels might fare better at solving the CitiBike shortage problem here.

I remember seeing a comment on a site over a year ago - probably on Streetsblog - suggesting that CitiBike leverage its users to rebalance its system so I applaud Motivate for trying something innovative.  Here's hoping for some improvement in the lack of CitiBikes in Hell's Kitchen.

1 comment:

  1. I pitched this idea to the DOT last October after hearing a WNYC story on "CitiBike Deserts" (my letter is posted as a comment to that story, here: ).

    They never acknowledged my letter, but appear to have implemented my proposal very closely. One of the main differences is the raffle item, and the points expiring after two weeks.

    I don't think point expiration is a good idea and will discourage people from participating.

    Rewards should simply accumulate and be exchangeable for extensions and other perks in the way any points program works.

    I have no problem with there being a time limit for entry into the raffle, but otherwise, they should simply let people cash in on their bike-moving mitzvahs.

    I also proposed a way to include day- and week-riders to participate, which would be beneficial to tourists. Mo' participants = mo' bikes moved at negligible cost to CitiBike.

    As you note: The math is simple.