STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — It’s been nearly a full year since Beryl announced that it had pulled out of operating a new bike share program on Staten Island, and while the Department of Transportation (DOT) has been exploring other options, the city has little to show for its efforts thus far.
Last April, Beryl, the U.K.-based bike share provider that had been slated to operate the borough’s new program, announced that it would no longer launch on Staten Island, citing logistical complications related to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Roseann Caruana, the DOT Borough Commissioner for Staten Island, said at the time that the agency was “disappointed” by the decision, but that the department had already started to consider other options.
“We are deeply disappointed in this news, and would like to assure Staten Islanders that we are actively studying micromobility options for the borough,” Caruana told the Staten Island Advance/SILive.com.
Eight months later, at the end of December 2021, the DOT was still evaluating those options and was unable to provide a list of potential program providers or an estimated timeline for implementation.
“Like many Staten Islanders, we were very disappointed that our plans with Beryl did not work out this year. We are continuing to explore options to provide safe, reliable, and sustainable bike share service to the borough,” DOT spokesman Vin Barone told the Staten Island Advance/SILive.com at the time.
Now, nearly a full year since Beryl pulled the plug, the DOT is still unable to provide an update on the search for a new operator, failing to provide a list of any potential companies or an estimated start date.
“This administration is committed to equity, and everything is on the table in terms of bringing a shared service to Staten Island. We are reviewing our options,” Barone said.
ISSUE OF EQUITY
Rose Uscianowski, the Staten Island organizer for Transportation Alternatives, said that Staten Island’s continued lack of a bike share program is not just a transportation issue, but an issue of borough equity.
“We’re still the only borough in New York City that doesn’t have any sort of a bike share program,” Uscianowski said. “And not only that, but folks in Staten Island have the longest commutes, we’re the most transit-starved and we have no subway system.”
“These are two major transit systems that New Yorkers rely on — the subway system and the bike share system — and we have neither,” she added.
Uscianowski stressed that New York City’s bike share programs have become more than just an added perk, but a necessary means of transportation for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.
In February, Citi Bike provided 1,195,085 total trips, an average of 42,682 each day, according to program data.
And those numbers are significantly higher during the warm weather months.
In July 2021, there were a total of 3,087,910 trips taken on Citi Bike, an average of roughly 99,610 trips each day, data shows.
“If New York City’s bike share were to be called its own transit system, its ridership would be almost as high as the PATH trains. By now, this is just how New Yorkers get around,” Uscianowski said. “This is central to folks who live in transit deserts, it’s central to New York City’s tourism, and it’s central to our recovery from COVID, since there are still a lot of folks out there who feel uncomfortable on buses and trains.”
Although the DOT has previously evaluated dockless bike share programs for Staten Island, Uscianowski said she believes the most logical solution is for the dock-based Citi Bike program to be expanded to Staten Island to ensure that all New Yorkers are receiving equitable service.
“For us to not have Citi Bike, which is by far the easiest to expand to Staten Island, is an insult. Citi Bike is the only way to get bike share in a way where we have access to the same single-payer system that the rest of New York City does,” she said.
“If it’s not Citi Bike, then we are going to be double-taxed, because Staten Islanders who already use Citi Bike but choose to use another potential bike share provider on Staten Island are going to have to pay for two different systems,” Uscianowski added. “Keeping all New York City residents on the same bike share system means that we all have access to the same quality of bike share.”
For Uscianowski, the key to expanding Citi Bike to Staten Island is for the city to commit public funding to subsidize the program, noting that New York City is the only major city that does not subsidize its bike share program with public funds, limiting the possibility of expansion.
She referenced a Siena College poll published last year that showed that 63% of New York City residents, and 65% of Staten Islanders, support the use of public funds to expand existing bike share options.
“Staten Islanders support this. New York City residents as a whole support this. There’s majority support in every single borough for using public funding to expand bike share, even in Manhattan where they already have bike share everywhere,” said Uscianowski. “So New Yorkers support this, Mayor Eric Adams pledged to support this and New Yorkers need this, so the city needs to commit.”
SUPPORT FROM LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIALS
Expanding the Citi Bike program to Staten Island has the support of Borough President Vito Fossella and Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Mid-Island), who penned a letter to the DOT and Con Edison earlier this year calling on the agency and utility company to discontinue discussions of connecting Citi Bike docking stations to the city’s electrical grid until they add Staten Island to the citywide network.
“This is a matter of equity, and it troubles me to s
ee Staten Island excluded from such a positive citywide transportation program,” Fossella said in January. “By requesting that the DOT and Con Edison stop any further conversations with Citi Bike, we hope to trigger an action plan to bring Citi Bike service to this borough.”
Cusick described Staten Island’s exclusion from the Citi Bike program as “nonsensical.”
“Staten Island is just as much a part of this city as every other borough. There is no reason why Staten Island should be excluded from the Citi Bike program while the rest of the city gets to enjoy the benefits,” he said. “As the borough with the least transportation alternatives, the Citi Bike program would be especially beneficial for Staten Island.”
In their letter, Cusick and Fossella noted that the city-built bike lanes throughout Staten Island, “which makes the fact that we do not have Citi Bike all the more objectionable.”
HOW WE GOT HERE
In November 2019, the DOT announced that Beryl would operate Staten Island’s new bike share program, which was initially scheduled to begin in spring 2020.
However, as spring 2020 came to a close, the mint green bicycles had yet to hit Staten Island streets.
“Beryl was scheduled to launch in spring 2020, however, due to the COVID-19 health crisis, the launch was delayed. DOT and Beryl are working closely to launch as soon as operationally and logistically feasible,” the DOT said in June 2020.
Had the program actually launched, it would have only operated within practically the same service area — along portions of the North and East shores — as the previous bike share program, operated by JUMP and Lime, despite DOT initially touting the program as a borough-wide bike share.
On Nov. 13, 2019, the DOT announced via press release that, “A new bike share provider, Beryl, will provide borough-wide service in the spring with over 1,000 new bikes.”
“This next exciting phase of our bike share pilot will allow us to work with a promising company to deliver a great and convenient transportation option to all of Staten Island,” former DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said at the time. “We look forward to sharing more details of Beryl’s plans in the months ahead – and this spring, we look forward to welcoming brand-new and distinctive Beryl bikes to all of ‘The Rock.’”
However, the DOT reneged in February 2020, stating that the new bike share would launch within essentially the same service area as the previous bike share, with plans to expand to the rest of the borough after the initial launch.
“Beryl will launch in an area similar but slightly larger than the service area from the Dockless Bike Share Pilot that JUMP and Lime operated in. Beryl will expand to cover the rest of the island later this year,” a DOT spokesperson said at the time.
When asked why the program was no longer expected to launch borough-wide, as initially planned, the DOT would not provide a specific answer, instead stating that, “as with other bike share systems, Beryl will expand service through a phased rollout to ensure effective operations and comprehensive community outreach.”
Then, in October 2020, the DOT said that, following delays associated with the pandemic, the Beryl bike share program would launch in March 2021.
That, too, turned out not to be the case. Lily Gordon-Koven, DOT director of dockless pilots, told the Staten Island Advance/SILive.com in March that the launch date had been pushed to April 2021.
Finally, a month after that, Beryl announced that it had formally withdrawn from the program, with the DOT spending the past year evaluating other options with little to show as of yet.