Category: CitiBikeNYC

Goodbye Citibike Fob – Hello Official Citibike Card !

It is official, Citibike is now issuing keys in the convenient card format!


To get one, you need to call customer service at 1-855-BIKE-311 and tell them that you need a replacement key. They will only send you one if your current key is not working, but it is not too much of a stretch to say that the fob does not work for most people. Your current key will be deactivated so sadly you’ll be Citibikeless for the 2-5 days until the new card arrives.

Thanks to Stephen for the photo of the first official card in the wild. Ironically, he was the very first victim of a failed fob brain transplant when they started adding the epoxy blob to the fobs.

Marketizing CitiBikeNYC – No more full stations

As of 5/16/2016, this has come true! Well, sort of. Points rather than money and generally much less than what I think is justified- but it is a start!


There is nothing worse than arriving at your destination only to find the station full. 48 docks… and no where to park. You are stuck with the bike and you can’t do anything else until you find a free dock.  The free dock hunt is frustrating and sometimes kills any time saved by taking the bike in the first place.

So many docks and no place to park

They do send around fancy CitiBike vans to move bikes around, but the effort is futile.

DSC03630 DSC03629

Having people driving vans full of bikes around NYC is wrong in so many ways.

I’m guessing that keeping one of those vans on the road costs $100k-$200k per year (think about the salaries, gas, insurance, and depreciation to start). I’d also guess that each van can only move 10-100 bikes per hour. There must be a better way.

I always prefer a distributed, market-based solution. Short term…

New CitiBike Rewards Plan:

  1. Take a bike from a full rack

  2. Return to a different station with at least 2 empty spaces

  3. Get a $5 reward!!!


Simple. The $5 bounty would automatically get applied to your CitiBike account. Do it one every couple of weeks and your annual membership is free. Do it more, and you have a new (fun!) job.

If you don’t have an account, then the trip would just be free. Same checkout procedure as a normal day trip, but when you return the bike to a non-full station you just don’t get charged the normal fee.

First step is a simple software change in the billing system. Quick and straightforward to implement. It could even be done as an offline system that searches for qualifying trips after the fact and then applies a credit to the account.  You could start the new policy immediately and bring up the software later, applying the credits and refunds retroactively when the software is ready.

Immediately the number of frustrated people not able to return a bike drops.  Huge win for almost no work.

Next step would be to add a…

Alert me when I am within [500 feet] of a full station

… feature to the CitiBike app, just to make it even easier for interested people to collect. In the meantime, if CitiBikeNYC says it is ok to use their data, I’ll happily write a Show Me The (Bike) Money app for people to use until the new CitiBike app is ready.

Next step is to add a bounty for returning bikes to empty stations. This is not as important as the full station bounty (real and mandatory costs of not being able to return a bike are worse than the opportunity costs of not being able to borrow one in the first place), but could still be very effective in keeping bikes well distributed throughout the system.

Next step would to be bring some dynamic pricing into the system so that the bounty is high for really valuable moves (apparently downtown Brooklyn to Chelsea on a Sunday night) and low for not so valuable ones (Cliff Street to Fulton Street ever). Update the app with a new option to…

Show me all bike rewards more than [$25] ranked by [nearest to me]

Start using demand prediction to get ahead of the curve and move bikes before stations are empty/full. A predictive/reactive self-balancing system without heavy fixed costs like vans and bike wranglers, and a new class of professional bike riders. Please?

UPDATE 8/24/16

London Citibike could use some marketizing too…

2016-08-22 19.23.16.jpg

Citibike Key Fob Brain Transplant

UPDATE 12/9/2013:

You can now get a key card directly from Citibike!

UPDATE 8/13/13:

Looks like they’ve changed the way the chip is being installed, so this method will not work for newer FOBs. I’ll post back once I figure out a new good way to get the chips out.


I love CitiBikeNYC but the key fob doesn’t fit into my wallet and I don’t carry keys, so I removed the tiny chip from inside the fob and put it inside my credit card. Now I am much happier and don’t  have to carry anything extra around to use CitiBike.

.CitiBike Conversion

It only takes about 5-10 minutes of work.

1. Open your key fob using a mat knife. I just carefully kept running the blade across the seem around the edges of the fob, scraping a little plastic out with each pass. After a minute or two I was able to wedge the blade into the crack and pry the halves apart.

citibike scrape
click for (long) video

2. Carefully take out the square of tape that has the RFID chip stuck to it. Be really careful not to hurt the tiny wires.

citibike remove chip

3. Drill a hole in the bottom right corner of your credit card (so it will still work. A 3/16th bit is perfect. I sandwiched the card between one half of the fob shell (as a template to locate the hole)  and a block of wood. If you also have a larger drill bit too, you can twist it in the hole with your fingers to clean up the sides of the hole.

citibike drill

4. Stick the RFID chip and coil into the hole by sticking the tape to the back of the card.

5. Mix up some epoxy and put a drop of it on top of the RFID chip in the hole to protect it. I used DevCon 5 minute epoxy that I got from the hardware store and it worked great. Mix up more epoxy than you think you’ll need.  I used a disposable chopstick and soy sauce tin that came with dinner last night. Don’t be afraid to use the chopstick to smear the drop of epoxy around to make sure it covers the chip and fills in the hole and even spreads out a little over the lip of the hole.

Click for (long) video

6. Let it sit for maybe an hour to let the epoxy dry, and then go borrow a bike!

You can get all the tools you need for this project at the Seaport Tool Library.

Here is the 6 second version…

CitiBikeNYC Dead Batteries

The batteries are dying. Today I saw a CitiBike van driving around swapping out the batteries in a few dead kiosks in my neighborhood. They use normal 12 volt lead acid batteries, like a big car battery but deigned to be more deeply discharged (sometimes called “marine” because you use them on boats).

Once a kiosk battery is dead, you can’t get or return bikes there. Particularly problematic is that when you try to dock a bike in a dead kiosk, it feels like it locked in- but if you pull hard enough it will come out again.

If you leave your bike is a dead kiosk, best case is that you will not be able to get another bike without calling the 800 number to reset your account. Worst case it that someone will take the bike and it will be a big hassle.

Always wait for a light after you dock a bike. If you don’t see a light, pull really hard on the bike to pull it out and then try another dock or even another kiosk.

I can’t believe that this is how the system is designed to work, so either New York streets are darker than expected (so not enough juice is coming from the solar stalk), or the kiosks are getting much more use than expected (using lots of power), or both.

CitiBike should act fast to solve this problem because goodwill is eroding fast. The system needs to be perceived as reliable to fulfill its goal of being a utility. Once you hit a tipping point where people give up, it is very hard to get them back. We are close to that point.

In the very short term (days), this could just mean raiding every Sears in the tri-state area for deep cycle batteries and wiring 2 or 3 or 4 of them in parallel in each kiosk. There is plenty of room in the box, and this could stretch the operating time long enough that the station would stay up continuously between swap visits.

Distributed systems are usually faster to deploy than centralized ones, so CitiBike could also start deputize local shops or residents to be responsible for swapping and charging the batteries in their nearby stations every day. The total capital investment should be less than $200 per station for a charger. They would have to trust these new deputies with the key to the kiosk cabinet, but dire times call for dire measures. If they cooperated with someone like RPA , I bet they could get this up and running on the worst stations in the next few days.  All it would take is one phone call and key/battery drop to me and all the problem stations in Fidi would be covered (I already have a charger).

Longer term, the station either needs to make more power or use less.

Adding more solar panels could help make more power and I have had especially good results with some of the amazingly cheap and efficient crystalline arrays you can get now on Amazon. These can generate power even in indirect light and adding a couple on the top of the solar stalk could be enough to make some marginal stations stay up continuously.

My guess is that the screens are the big power users in the station. These should be off unless someone is actually interacting with them, rather than running continuously in “attract mode”.

In the short term, you could solve this problem with just a couple of decals and a few lines of code. The decals would instruct people to press any button on the keypad to begin. The software change would involve having the screen sleep after a few minutes of inactivity, and then wake on any keypress. A little extra work could probably sleep the swipe and PayPass readers too for more power savings.


Slightly longer term solution might be to add a physical blinking “start” button to the kiosk to wake the screen. This would involve drilling a single hole, attaching a pair of wires, and sticking on a decal. The blinking light is nice because it attracts attention and advertises that the station is live. Hardware cost less than $25 and probably less than 10 min of labor to install.

Or you could get rid of the screen altogether and replace it with a sign that says “Goto or call 888-RENT-BIKE to rent a bike!”. Heck, put a sticker with the address/number on every dock and now people don’t even need to goto the kiosk at all. Multiple people can rent from the same station simultaneously rather than waiting on line (or, more, likely walking away) while the poor tourists try to figure out the system . If you did this, the system in the station now does nothing but lock and unlock bikes based on a cellular data connection, so you could probably replace the (power hungry and expensive) embedded computer in the station with an off the shelf cellphone that just had a USB interface board to connect the phone to the docks. Something like this would use so little power that it could run for weeks in the dark off a single battery, and almost certainty be cheaper and easier to source than the current embedded system.

Once you got the price of the control system down to less than $500, you could even start deploying “micro” stations with 3 docks and no kiosk. These could be totally mobile since – a flatbed could drop them  into individual parking spaces in a couple of minutes. Great for testing demand in a potential new location, or  just quick response to filling in gaps in suddenly busy areas. These stations would be so mobile that you could even relocate them daily, and each would have a GPS linked cellular connection to the CitiBike system so they would show up the app the moment they hit the ground.

UPDATE 9/5/2016:

This has been implemented with a physical blinking “start” button!

2016-09-03 15.13.49.jpg

NYC CitiBike Token – What’s Inside?

Just got my new CitiBike token… and was wondering why it is so big? (I’m really wondering why I have to carry anything at all. Can’t I use a PIN code or unlock the bike via an SMS or something? Anyway..)

I don’t carry keys, so this giant token is kind of a hassle. Let see what’s in there…



(Yup, I am a founding member!)



Nothing but plastic and a tiny 11.5mmx11.5mm piece of white tape.

Peeling back the tape, we see where the magic happens…


I don’t envy the elves who have to solder those coil connections. I wonder if that extra single small loop near the top connection point is functional, or just an artifact of the construction process.

After a half hour bath in a capfull of alcohol, the tape slid right off…

Alcohol bath

And close-up of the newly liberated chip and coil…


The chip dimensions are 3.5mm x 2.2mm and it is labeled SY2U 272.

Tune in next week for instructions on how to do an RFID chip transplant!