What Does It Take to Keep a City’s E-Bike Fleet Running?

Most docks don't offer a charging option, which ups the challenges

Electric bikes
Keeping electric bikes operational is no easy task.
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Twenty years ago, bicycle shares were much less common in cities in the United States. Nowadays, they’re widespread — and a growing number of the bikes available there run on electricity. As an analysis from the National Association of City Transportation Officials from 2018 revealed, what was once limited to bicycles has grown to encompass bikes, e-bikes and even scooters. But keeping dozens or hundreds electrically-powered vehicles up and running is no easy task.

In a new article for Curbed, John Surico provided an inside look at the effort it takes to keep New York City’s Citi Bike fleet operational. A few relevant numbers here: 15,000 bikes in the Citi Bike fleet have pedal-assist systems, and 1,000 people are part of the on-call system to respond when a docking station reports a mechanical issue with an e-bike. Among those issues are depleted batteries; as Surico notes, virtually all Citi Bike docking stations don’t have charging capabilities.

The infrastructure to recharge e-bike batteries includes different setups for the two different varieties of e-bikes available to Citi Bike customers. Curbed reports that an increase in the number of electrified charging stations could reduce the downtime involved in the process — a good thing, for sure — but that not every existing Citi Bike station is located somewhere where a connection to the municipal power supply is convenient.

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E-bikes represent a new generation of urban bike share programs; still, as with electric vehicle charging stations, the different needs of an e-bike also represent a new set of challenges. New York’s bike share program isn’t the only one navigating this new terrain; a 2022 message from its counterpart in Toronto pointed to the existence of similar concerns there. It’s not hard to see why people opting in for a bike share would want a bike that makes pedaling easier, but those expanded options come with new challenges of their own.

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