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Citi Bike Says Weekend ShutDown was for fixing Software Issues


A Citi Bike user on Monday. The bike share operation was suspended over the weekend to replace the system’s software.

    Bear with us — Citi Bike is getting better.

    That was the message on Monday from Jay H. Walder, the chief executive of Motivate, the company that runs New York City’s bike share program, after it abruptly shut down for part of the weekend. He apologized for giving riders little notice, but said the company had to “freeze the system” to replace its software.

    Mr. Walder said Citi Bike had taken responsibility for the suspended service by extending annual memberships by three days.

    “In the end, I’m just very happy that we actually got it done,” he told reporters at a news conference at the company’s headquarters in Brooklyn. “We got it done a day earlier than we expected, people were able to ride again, and I think we’re going to have a much better system.”

    On Friday evening, Citi Bike said it was closing for maintenance and would reopen by Monday morning. It finished the work early, and most of the stations were running by Sunday morning.

    For a company with a history of customer service problems, the handling of the disruption struck some as flat-footed since Citi Bike did not give riders advance warning or explain the reason for it.

    In an email to members on Monday, Mr. Walder explained that the new software was the first step in a series of improvements to the system in the next few months. The change had already allowed the website and the app to provide more accurate information about bike availability and empty docks, he said.

    Mr. Walder, a former leader of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, acknowledged that riders have been frustrated with the bike share program. The company, which was bought by a team of investors last fall, is working to address their concerns, he said.

    “Things were broken when we came in,” Mr. Walder said.

    Riders have criticized the reliability of the app. They have had problems docking bikes at stations and complained of wet and cracked bicycle seats. By the summer, the company will improve kiosk screens, make repairs to the city’s 6,000 bikes and install new docking technology at stations, Mr. Walder said. It will also add more valets at busy stations so that staff members can accept bikes when there are no empty docks.

    Citi Bike has long promised to expand to more neighborhoods. It plans to open 92 new stations this year in Long Island City, Queens, and in the Bedford-Stuyvesant, Greenpoint and Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn. The Upper East Side, the Upper West Side and Harlem in Manhattan; Red Hook, Brooklyn; and Astoria, Queens, will follow by 2017.

    At the same time, Citi Bike is currently in contract negotiations with workers, who joined a union, Transportation Workers United Local 100, last fall. On Monday, Mr. Walder described their discussions as a “rigorous process.”

    Mitchell Moss, the director of the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University, praised Mr. Walder’s decision to reset the system over a cold weekend and argued that riders at least received some notice.

    “This was a genuine effort to make sure the system is up and running as the demand increases,” he said.

    Mr. Walder’s honesty was an important step, said Caroline Samponaro, the deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, a pedestrian and bicycle advocacy group. The bike share program had problems from the start, but people were not talking about them, she said.

    “The fact that we’re talking frankly about some of those challenges means we can seriously address them,” she said.

    Most of the Citi Bike members she talked to over the weekend did not mind the shutdown, Ms. Samponaro said, and were “ generally excited that there was a renewed investment in the service.”

    But one annual member, Joanna Oltman Smith, 45, who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, said that while she was excited about the technology upgrades, especially plans for a better interface for kiosks, Citi Bike could have given riders a more thorough explanation on Friday. The company did not seem to understand how much people depend on the system, she said.

    “There was something in the tone of the closure that the weekends are no big deal,” she said. “Lots of New Yorkers work on the weekend and need to get places.”

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