Citi Bike Watching

Citi Bike Watching

For PComp this past week we were asked to pick a piece of interactive technology in public and observe it in use (be sneaky!). I initially wanted to watch Chloe, what seems to be a giant vending machine for dvds and headphones being tested at the Best Buy on 23rd. I’d had no clue that it existed (how often am I even in a Best Buy?) before my roommate mentioned it and it sounded interesting. Unfortunately all I found out was that Chloe was down for repairs…


So that left me with my second choice, Citi bikes. I’d never used one of those either and I Wanted to go with something I didn’t already know how to use intuitively. I went to the rack on 6th and Central Park S., right on the bottom edge of the park. Being a Sunday afternoon with decent weather, I figured there would be a pretty good turn over as well as people just learning to use them for the first time.  What I didn’t expect was for their to also be a helpful Citi bike attendant to answer their questions and get them signed up beforehand. However, with a pretty steady flow of people, he was constantly busy, leaving most others to figure it out on their own (perfect for me!)


From where I was sitting I couldn’t see the screen of the kiosk, just the line of tourists forming behind it, all trying to watch the person in front of them make it work. They would stand and read for a bit (the representative spent most of his time signing people up online I assume and answering questions from the line) and then eventually come away with a receipt with a code on it. This code was then entered on a keypad next to whichever bike the customer chose (many would go down the row sitting on each bike until they found one more or less the right height). Occasionally the code wouldn’t work, there’s no screen to see the number entered so I can’t know whether it was user error or a faulty keypad. But they’d just move on to the next bike. One couple couldn’t get their code to work multiple times but it turned out they had a card key! They were the only ones to try a key at this rack and once they switched over, the bikes came free just fine. I think they’d just picked it up from the kiosk but I had to wonder if using one method nullifies the other.

Honestly, getting the bike free once someone had made it past the kiosk seemed like the easy part. Customers appeared to have the most trouble not with the actual technology itself, but with adjusting the seat. So the system must be pretty intuitive.

imageI did notice however that more people had some trouble on the return. They would wheel their bike in only for it not to lock properly. Most would notice and try a couple times, then move on to a different slot if they weren’t successful. But one man wheeled his bike in and just started to walk away. The security attendant hanging around kindly stopped him and walked him back over to correct it and have the return actually register, but what if he hadn’t been there? I initially thought a successful return was only signaled by a beep (and wondered about any deaf riders) but did later notice that a green light also comes on at the same time. Maybe this gentleman didn’t know to wait for certain signs.

When activity started to slow down, I moved to a rack on Broadway hoping to get a look at the screen without holding up a long line, and to watch people figure it out with no possible representative to jump in and answer questions.

Instead they just started asking ME questions.

That wasn’t really my intent but it did give me a chance to figure it out with someone else without needing to rent the bike myself. Getting through the actual process is pretty easy (though the buy a day pass, but only rent for 30 minute intervals part is a little convoluted, especially if English isn’t your fist language) and you can actually pick up a key at the kiosk if  you’ve registered beforehand. I think I may have seen more of these if I’d chosen to observe from a not so tourist heavy part of the city. There’s also an option for a map to find nearby racks to plan your route or find another place to return (if the current rack is full).

There are printed instruction above in English with pictures but there is an option to change the language on the actual screen. You’re apparently supposed to lift the tail end of the bike to make sure it locks in properly on return and I did remember seeing a few people do this at the other location, but not very many.

I think if you’re able to slow down and read the printed directions, the entire process should go pretty smoothly. Pictures are always helpful (especially when there’s the possibility of a language barrier) and no one seemed to have TOO much trouble. I’ve still never rented a bike though (and now I know NYU offers them for free!), but if anyone stops me again I at least know how to help!