Central Park Bicycle Shops Hurting as Tourists Opt for Citi Bikes

By James Fanelli on July 1, 2013 6:59am 

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 Bicyle shops around Central Park say they're losing business as tourists are opting for Citi Bikes.
Citi Bike Cuts Into Central Park Bicycle Shop's Business
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UPPER EAST SIDE — They're circling the Citi Bikes to stay in business.

Central Park South bike shops are intercepting tourists as they belly up to Citi Bike docking stations to give them the hard sell on their rental deals.

Workers at the shops said that since the bike-sharing program rolled into town a month ago, their profits have gone south as their usual customers opt to hop on the royal blue cruisers.

Some workers have taken to sitting at the Citi Bike bank at Central Park South and Sixth Avenue, explaining to tourists why their wheels are a better bargain for the park.

"This year is slower than the last year," said Abdullah, 37, a bicycle shop worker who did not want to give his last name. "They just put the [Citi] bikes right there in front of us." 

With a sign in hand, Abdullah canvasses Columbus Circle and 59th Street trying to rent bicycles at $20 for two hours. His pitch is that, while Citi Bike charges $10 for an all-day pass, you only get it for 30-minute intervals and there are no stations in the park or north of 59th Street in Manhattan.

"It takes two hours to see the park non-stop," he said. "There's a lot of stops that tourists do."

Abdullah said many tourists don't realize Citi Bike has overtime fees. After the first half-hour, the program tacks on $4 to the customer's bill. If a customer is an hour over the time limit, Citi Bike charges a $13 fee.

"First they damage our business, and then they are scamming the tourists," Abdullah said.

Since starting a month ago, Citi Bike has signed up more than 100,000 members, according to the city Department of Transportation. The program has garnered heaps of praise for getting New Yorkers to pedal around town. It has also drawn criticism — ranging from residents angry about the location of docking stations to technical glitches.

Central Park bike shop owners gripe that the program cuts into their business.

"Everybody is hurting," said Savas Sevil, who owns Central Park Bicycle Shop on West 58th Street.

Sevil said last summer he would rent 300 to 500 bikes on a weekend day. Now he does just a fraction of that amount.

"If it hits 150, I think it's a good day," he said. "There has to be a volume. Citi Bike is draining that volume."

The area around Central Park South and Columbus Circle is already a crowded field of businesses competing for tourist dollars. Scores of horse carriages and pedicabs line 59th Street, vying for sight-seers.

Rental firm Bike and Roll also has a city concession in Central Park. A manager at the Bike and Roll stand declined to comment on Citi Bike's effect on business.

The area is home to about five bike shops who depend on tourist rentals. Each day scores of their workers carrying rental signs fan out along the park's southern edge, trying to wrangle tourists. The workers receive commissions for steering tourists to the shops.

Two days last week, a DNAinfo New York reporter observed a half-dozen workers buttonhole people who approached the Citi Bike kiosk at a Central Park South entrance. 

"Sometimes, they come here. They don't like the prices, they go with us," said a worker who declined to give his name.

DOT spokesman Nicholas Mosquera said the Citi Bike program isn't intended to take away business from the local shops.

"As Citi Bike’s site says, bike share is meant for short trips and provides links to rental locations for riders that wish to keep bikes for an extended period of time," he said.

Mosquera added that some bike shop owners have praised Citi Bike, pointing to a recent post on transit news site Streetblog.org in which a downtown bike shop said the program is spurring new interest in cycling.

"Other cities have also seen an increase in bike shop sales and interest in biking in general after implementation of bike share," he said.

But Sevil fears that as the program expands north, the Central Park bicycle shops will fold.

"If they put stations inside the park next year, they'll kill business for sure," he said. "Once they add those stations, everybody's out."

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