Staten Island, still the only borough without a bike share program as the pandemic spurs a citywide cycling boom, is getting ready to roll after COVID-caused delay.
Dockless bikes, including some e-pedal-assisted models to help ply the borough’s formidable hills, are set to arrive in March — about a year later than originally promised.
Plans call for initially bringing 350 bikes to Staten Island’s North Shore and a sliver of the East Shore near the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, according to a recent city Department of Transportation presentation given to the borough’s Community Board 1. The number of e-pedal-assisted bikes hasn’t been finalized, a DOT spokesperson said.
“I hope to be among the first to try one out next March,” said Councilmember Debi Rose (D-Staten Island).
Even with many New Yorkers working from home, bikes sales are booming and Citi Bike use is growing.
In September, riders took 2,520,044 Citi Bike trips, up 26,075 from the same month last year. Meanwhile, the number of riders using one-day passes doubled to 578,773 in August compared to the same period in 2019.
An Uphill Battle
Staten Islanders have largely missed out since the city Department of Transportation pulled 400 dockless e-bikes off the borough’s streets in December 2019 after users took 111,600 rides over 17 months as part of a pilot program.
London-based firm Beryl had announced last year it would bring 1,000 old-school human-powered bikes to Staten Island. That didn’t please bike fans in the borough, which boasts the city’s highest natural peak and neighborhoods like Dongan Hills and Todt Hill named for the terrain.
Nearly two out of three Staten Islanders get to work by car, but access to motor vehicles varies throughout the borough. While more than 90% of Mid-Island and South Shore residents have at least one car available to them, 12.5% of North Shore residents have none.
Those residents have also been dealing with fewer public transit options due to the pandemic. The Staten Island Ferry is running on a reduced schedule, departing hourly from 11 p.m. through 5 a.m. on weekdays, instead of every half hour. On weekends, the ferry runs hourly for half the day, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The Staten Island Railway is running hourly, rather than twice an hour, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays, and is in sync with the ferry on weekends.
Rose Uscianowski, a Staten Island organizer and advocate for Transportation Alternatives, said a public sharing program offering bikes — especially e-bikes — is key to encouraging cycling in the borough.
“Pedal assist is not only a necessity to a successful bike share program here on Staten Island, given our notorious hills,” Uscianowski told THE CITY. “It evens out the playing field to allow cyclists of expanded ages and abilities enjoy the many benefits of bicycle commuting.”
Staten Island Bay Watch
Beryl has chosen 128 “bays” – designated zones marked with paint to park bikes – to address a common concern that dockless bikes end up scattered around sidewalks when not being used. Beryl prompts riders to park within the bays and charges a $3 penalty for straying.
Of those, 61 spots will be on sidewalks and 67 will be on roadbeds, next to sidewalks. A complete list of all bays can be viewed here.
Beryl will offer three payment options at launch: a “minute bundle” recommended for frequent users, a pay-as-you-ride option for one-time use and a $12 day pass.
The minute bundles range from 100 minutes for $15 to 600 minutes for $60. With bundles, there’s no fee to unlock a regular bike, but e-bikes will cost an extra $1.50 to use.
For single rides, a regular bike can be unlocked for $1, and an e-bike can be unlocked for $1.50. The prices per minute are $0.15 and $0.25, respectively. So a 20-minute trip on a regular bike comes out to $4, and $6.50 for an e-bike.
DOT plans to eventually expand the dockless program to the rest of Mid-Island and the South Shore, but a spokesperson didn’t provide a timeline.
Beryl was initially supposed to launch borough-wide. But in February DOT began presenting a scaled-down launch to community boards where bike-share would be available, in the East and North Shore. None of the bikes materialized as the city went into lockdown.
Bike share has spread across New York City in recent years. Citi Bike launched in Manhattan and Brooklyn in May 2013. The company, now owned by ride-share giant Lyft, recently expanded to Upper Manhattan and The Bronx and is also moving deeper into Queens and Brooklyn.
Staten Islanders were initially supposed to receive access to borough-wide dockless bikes in July 2019, but for months DOT remained locked in negotiations with Uber, which threatened to pull its bikes off the streets. POLITICO New York reported that Uber wanted the de Blasio administration to limit riders’ ability to sue the company.
The DOT ended up choosing Beryl over three other companies: Uber, Gotcha and Lime, which Uber is now a leading investor in.