Editor's note: An update has been added at the end of this story
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is well known for pushing his aggressive agenda to create a healthier New York (no smoking, no trans-fats, soda bans, etc.). But his latest initiative, Citi Bike, seems to be at odds with the mayor's thinking that New Yorkers need more exercise.
The new program pushing people to use bicycles in order to get around the city's five boroughs excludes a significant portion of the population -- those who weigh more than 260 pounds (including your clothes, briefcase, backpack and anything else you might have with you).
What is Citi Bike? From the privately-owned company's website:
Citi Bike is New York City's bike sharing system. Intended to provide New Yorkers and visitors with an additional transportation option for getting around the city, bike sharing is fun, efficient and convenient.
What's missing in company's statement is the fact that the program is intended to provide only SOME of the people with "additional transportation." Despite the company's claim that they have "a fleet of specially designed, sturdy, very durable bikes that are locked into a network of docking stations sited at regular intervals around a city."
"Sturdy" is the word they use to describe the bikes being used, but that sturdiness stops at 260 pounds.
The New York Post explains the program's restriction:
It is “prohibited” for any rider who weighs more than 260 pounds to sign up for the soon-to-launch initiative — prompting backlash from riders who say the fat-shaming rule is enough to make them fly off the handle. Everyone who signs up for the program has to agree to a contract, which states users “must not exceed maximum weight limit (260 pounds)” because the bikes can’t hold that much heft.
The Post's story also claims that the city won't be "strictly enforce the weight limit."“I think people will be self-selecting, practical and safe," New York City Department of Transportation Policy Director Jon Orcutt told the newspaper.
Orcutt's office did not immediately answer questions from TheBlaze about how the department decides which restrictions to enforce
Combing through the lengthy Citi Bike user agreement, it was difficult to find the 260-pound weight restriction. A call to the Citi Bike customer service line was made by TheBlaze to ask about the program's anticipated start date and if reports of a weight limit were correct. We were told that the bikes would be available "the end of May." And after spending a few minutes on hold, the representative returned and confirmed that the "user agreement" states riders cannot weigh more than 260 pounds. However, that news was followed with an offer, "if you want to give us your name and phone number, we'll be happy to check with the manufacturer and get back to you when we have an update."
We took it upon ourselves to reach out to Canada-based PBSC Urban Solutions, the bike's manufacturer. Several attempts to connect with a live person were unsuccessful. One can only speculate that this does not bode well should any of Citi Bike's "1,000s of bikes" have a problem and need technical support. Yes, we said technical support. These bikes have a high tech system with an on-board tablet computer that monitors who is using the bikes and for how long. The bicycles are also tracked with GPS in order to be able to let users know where their next ride might be.
For the record, we also contacted Worksman Cycles, a manufacturer in Queens, N.Y., to find out if a bicycle can be made reasonably manufactured to support people who might weigh more than 260 pounds. Worksman is a New York-based company with more than 100 years in building industrial strength bicycles and its bikes have been used in share programs for more than five years. The company's president Wayne Sosin told us this his company was one of those who responded to the city's "request for proposal" to build 10,000 bikes per year, with a goal of putting 50,000 bikes on the streets of New York City in five years.
Image: Worksman Cycles
Sosin said without hesitation that his company's bikes would have easily been rated at 300 pounds. During our conversation about the bike share program we also learned a few nuggets of knowledge not often seen in stories about Citi Bike.
- Despite being based in NYC for more than a century, already having bikes in use on the streets of Tulsa, Okla. for five years, and having a connection to the successful Miami Bike Sharing program, Worksman Cycles was not invited into the second round of bidding/pitching.
- The program was slated to roll out last May (based on what we were told by a Citi Bike customer service rep, it should officially start the end of this month).
- As registration started, Alison Cohen, the CEO of Alta Bicycle Share, the company that oversees Citi Bike, abruptly left the company to take on a new job at a design firm.
- No helmets are required by users of the bike sharing program. New York City just enacted a law that requires all bicycle messengers and "professional" delivery people who use bikes to be licensed, wear a vest that displays a number issued by the city, and they must wear a helmet.
- Installation of the 600+ docking stations was happening with no notice to the businesses in the areas.
- Cars towed without without notice, owners forced to pay in cash to liberate their cars, against city codes.
Will Citi Bike be a success? That's yet to be seen. The official launch is still a few weeks away and the installation bike docking stations and delivery of the first 6,000 bikes is not completed. Even though his company was overlooked by the city, Wayne Sosin says that he is actually hoping it's a success...but he would have been happier if his company was part of the program instead of seeing those manufacturing jobs go to Canada to build a bike that he considers inferior to his product.
UPDATE: The City of New York's DOT responded to our inquiry about there being no plans to "strictly enforce the weight limit." DOT Spokesman Seth Solomonow told TheBlaze; "These technical specs are established by the equipment manufacturer and are the same as other bike share cities around the world and standard on commercially available bikes and components. We expect people will use the bikes safely."
Follow Mike Opelka on Twitter @stuntbrain