NEW YORK CITY — The operators of Citi Bike left their bikes and docking stations in disrepair and dirty, skipped regular maintenance and left their customers in the lurch with a broken credit card system, according to an audit of the program released Thursday by Comptroller Scott Stringer.
The Department of Transportation also provided poor oversight of the program by failing to monitor maintenance of the equipment or perform checks of the company's self-reported data. Stringer says the DOT even failed to respond to reports about poor maintenance and cleanliness issues by its own inspectors.
The deficiencies "left too many New Yorkers in the lurch," said Stringer. “While Citi Bike has become part of our urban landscape, auditors found that the bike sharing program’s spotty maintenance, poorly cleaned bikes and substandard docking stations inconvenienced riders and discouraged growth in the system."
Citi Bike operator New York City Bike Share also failed to make sure that its credit card payment systems maintained an online connection and that its mobile app gave riders a reliable readout of available, working docking stations.
The audit examined maintenance of the bike program from May 2013 to May 2014.
According to New York City Bike Share's contract with DOT, all bikes were supposed to receive a maintenance check once per month. But NYCBS' own records show that between Nov. 2013 and Jan. 2014 only 28 to 38 percent of bikes received maintenance checks.
Stringer says NYCBS blamed the layoff of 16 bike maintenance workers but when the workers were rehired in March of 2014 maintenance check rates climbed only to 73 percent, meaning more than a quarter of the bikes remained uninspected each month.
“With every missed maintenance check, the safety risk of undisclosed bike defects increases,” Stringer said.
The decision of NYCBS to lay off its workers, making it difficult to provide contractually required inspections, is why city agencies must closely examine public-private partnerships, said Stringer.
Other findings include that NYCBS failed to quickly respond to complaints about the cleanliness of its docking stations and bikes.
Complaints about the cleanliness of docking stations were to be addressed within 48 hours and 96 hours for bikes. NYCBS complied with that time frame only 60 percent of the time and 83 percent of cleanliness complaints remained open for an average of 79 days.
Fixing the issues is especially important as Citi Bike prepares to double in size to 12,000 bikes and 770 docking stations while boosting the yearly fee to $149 from $95 after Bikeshare Holdings LLC, acquired Alta Bicycle Share, the parent company of NYCBS, earlier this year.
Approximately $30 million in private money will be invested in the project and Citi Bike will expand to Harlem, Long Island City and the Upper West and Upper East sides of Manhattan starting early next year.
Mayor Bill de Blasio's office referred comment to the DOT.
DOT says there's nothing new in Stringer's audit because it covers a period before the changes were announced.
"Bike share is headed in the right direction because the de Blasio administration worked throughout this year to bring in a new operator, fresh leadership, and concrete fixes to address Citi Bike’s financial and operational challenges," DOT spokesman Scott Gastel said in a statement.