Category: ideas

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

OrsonObject – Google for your lost keys

A combination of hardware and software that would keep track of all your belongs inside your home. If you wanted to find (say) your scissors, you would just search for them on the system and it would tell you where they were last seen.

right with object detection

There have been a spate of systems that try to solve this problem by attaching a piece of hardware to each object to be tracked, but this would be impractical and expensive for more than a few objects.

OrsonObject would be pervasive and, once set up, would automatically keep track of everything by tracking objects by their appearance. To set up the system, all you would need to do is install a bunch of tiny cameras around your home such that they had a pretty good view of almost everywhere. This is not expensive or as much of a hassle as it sounds- there are systems like VueZone with tiny wireless cameras that you stick onto the wall with double sided tape.

wire-free battery power gives you instant mobility

I am not a big fan of the VueZone system specifically, but it shows that this technology is nearly ready. Since the OrsonObjects system doesn’t need to stream video, it would be possible to make the cameras even smaller and cheaper.

The cameras would automatically take pictures whenever anything happened in front of them- typically you moving stuff. These images would get uploaded to cloud-based servers in the background. These servers would use continuous recognition to find and any objects and track their movement throughout the space.

This is hard, but possible (or almost possible). People have made a lot of progress in automated object recognizers lately. Since the processing is all done off-line, you could bring to bear huge, cheap computational resources to do the recognition and tracking.

The user interface to the system would look a lot like Piccassa’s face view, showing a list of all recognized objects. You could sort the list by things like object size, most recently moved, or most often moved. You’d click on the object you are looking for and it would bring up the last time that object was moved – directing you to the object’s current location.

These system could be extended to recognize objects that are often used together and group them logically into sets. It could keep track of most used objects and predict when you might need an object based on what other objects you are currently gathering (he has the coffee grinder…. and the sugar… which usually means that next he will need the filters also- which I last saw in the top drawer) and suggest their location to you when it seams like you are looking.

Looking ahead into the future, the system could be expanded to also manage the location of objects for you. You’d have a piece of furniture that looked like a large bureau. It would have a large, easily accessible shelf top in front. Anytime you were done using an object, you would drop it on the shelf and the system would automatically store it inside. Objects would be stored much very efficiently than you could in normal drawers and cabinets since the system could put every object where it fit best. Objects would be retrieved in seconds any time you needed them. This would save users both time and space.

UPDATE 5/24/15-

UPDATE 12/31/2016 –