NEW YORK CITY — The city's much-anticipated new bike share program rolled out on Big Apple streets Monday after months of delays, allowing about 10,000 founding Citi Bike members to use thousands of bikes across Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The program's preview week kicked off at 11 a.m., and members who paid a $95 annual fee and received their keys in the mail flocked to the stations to unlock the bikes and take them for test rides throughout the city.
Travis Eby, 30, a Clinton Hill resident, was excited to try one of the first City Bikes and said he hoped to use it for quick trips to Downtown Brooklyn or to get to the A train when the G isn't running.
"They are great at filling in gaps in the transportation system," Eby said. "They are great to ride — people complain that they're too heavy, but that's not true at all."
In Union Square, Mike and Melissa McLaughlin, 28-year-old East Village residents, took a spin on the new 45-pound bikes, which light up as cyclists pedal them. Mike McLaughlin called the ride "smooth" and said he planned to use the bike share to commute and run errands.
"We don't really bike in the city, so we are getting over that 'are we going to get killed' fear," he said.
Members who received their bike share key in advance had to log in on the Citi Bike website and activate it before they could unlock the rides.
After an initial 45-minute ride, customers will either need to return their bike to a docking station or be charged a fee. Riders must be 16 or older.
Starting next week, non-members will be able to sign up for a $9.95 24-hour pass or $25 7-day pass that will allow them to take out bikes for 30 minutes before extra fees kick in. Citi Bike riders are not required to wear helmets, but some riders chose to bring their own.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the program at a Union Square press conference Monday morning.
“The Citi Bike program is a big win for New York, and it’s already the largest bike share system in the nation,” Bloomberg said.
The launch was not without its problems: Even before the bikes were activated Monday, several members complained on social media that they did not receive their keys in time for the program's launch. Staff for the program set up on the south end of Union Square starting at 9 a.m. to hand out replacements to those missing a key.
The program's interactive online map, which shows the locations of Citi Bike stations, was also not showing the locations on Monday, and some cyclists said they were confused about how to remove and dock the bikes.
The program, which was originally set to debut last summer, was delayed because of software problems, and then again when equipment was damaged during Hurricane Sandy.
Some, including an East Village NYPD sergeant, feared that the thousands of extra bikes on the street because of Citi Bike would lead to more collisions between pedestrians and cars.
There were no initial reports of injuries Monday afternoon, but there was a report that one of the Citi Bikes was stolen off a truck in Kips Bay.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the NYPD was monitoring the situation.
"It has been [a problem in] some cities, others it hasn't been," he said.
"The bike itself is pretty easily identified. It's certainly not a racing bike. It's pretty solid and chunky, if you will. So we don't know how desirable the bikes will be as far as theft is concerned. But we'll have to wait and see."
The hotly anticipated bike share program was cheered on by cycling advocates, and many excited fans gathered near the stations to check out the bikes on Monday morning.
Jennifer Fremon, 37, runs a karate school and lives in Williamsburg, close to the Citi Bike dock at Metropolitan and Bedford avenues.
"It's fantastic. I think it's a great way to get people active, a great way to get people out there moving," she said of the program.
Her daughter, 5-and-a-half-year-old Maya, said she too likes the bike share and would want to participate if her mom let her.
"It's nice," she said. "It's fun to try out."
Maya, who has a pink bike with streamers and a heart on one of the wheels, explained that cycling was among her favorite activities because "it goes fast when they pedal fast."
Her mother added: "That would be one thing to add — children's bikes. I haven't seen that yet."
With reporting from Serena Solomon, Victoria Bekiempis, Janet Upadhye, Patrick Wall and Mathew Katz.