Say Goodbye to the E-Bike Red-Light-of-Death

Citi Bike is overhauling its dock-light scheme to keep more bikes out on the streets.

Seen one of these lately? You're not alone. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Seen one of these lately? You're not alone. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Shared e-bike lovers can say goodbye to the ubiquitous red-light-of-death.

In the few months since Citi Bike added 200 pedal-assisted e-bikes to its network, users have grown accustomed to finding those bikes unable to rent, as marked on the dock by a solid red light.

But as of this week, those dead battery bikes will instead be marked by a combination of solid red and yellow lights. Citi Bike is also adding another lighting scheme: blinking red lights to indicate bikes that have been serviced by one of the company’s field mechanics, but need to go back to the company’s Sunset Park home base for further repairs.

Both changes will improve the pace of battery replacements and bike repairs, Citi Bike spokesperson Cory Epstein told Streetsblog.

“With our field team being able to inspect bikes more efficiently, we’re able to more quickly get bikes back on the street for our riders,” Epstein said.

There are currently 200 pedal-assist Citi Bikes in the system, though significantly fewer are available at any given moment. That’s in part because the bikes, whose batteries last an average of just 35 miles, cannot be charged at their docks. Instead, they require Citi Bike staff on-hand with new batteries.

Almost 250 stations have been updated for the new lighting scheme so far, Epstein said. Under the old system, the solid red light could have meant any number of things: a dead battery, a bike in need of field repairs, or a bike that needs to go to the shop. That slowed down Citi Bike’s 31 field mechanics, of which only about 16 are on-duty at any given moment.

Epstein emphasized that the 200 e-bikes currently in rotation are just a test-run for April, when Citi Bike plans to unleash even more of them to help stranded L train riders get across the Williamsburg Bridge during the 15-month shutdown of the Canarsie Tunnel.

In September, Streetsblog reported that the Citi Bike was experiencing a massive repair crisis that took more than 40 percent of its fleet off the road on any given day. That crisis continues, and Citi Bike has not answered questions about when it will recede.

The new lighting schemes are just one of many strategies to keep more bikes out in the field, Epstein said. Citi Bike has also shifted much of its bike maintenance work to the nighttime, when congestion ebbs and crews can get around the city faster.

“We try to triage as many bikes in possible in the field,” Epstein said. “It’s way better for us from an efficiency point of view, an environmental point of view, and service point of view than taking it back to our warehouse to get it fixed.”

Some customers were dubious.

“Who is the main benefactor for this?” tweeted Matt Law. “Like as a customer, what do I do with this info? Or s it good for me because technicians can address things more quickly?”