Hiccups in NYC’s new CitiBike bike share scheme

You may remember that NYC launched their huge (and long overdue) CitiBike bike share over the Memorial Day weekend. Mostly, good things are being said about it. However, all is not rosy in the Big Apple, as Felix Salmon reports for Reuters that there appears to be a sizeable software issue:

The answer, it seems, is that it does work; it just doesn’t work very well. Or, to be a bit more precise, when it works, it works fabulously. But when it doesn’t work — which is all too often — it doesn’t work at all.

He goes on to state:

I’m not certain, however, that Alta and PBSC [the contract holders] are on top of this problem and know how they’re going to fix it. They’ve had an extra year to get this right, but if the app doesn’t know when a station isn’t working, my guess is that the system as a whole doesn’t know that either. And that’s going to be hard to fix. What’s more, if there’s some kind of failsafe mechanism which shuts down an entire station when some reasonably common thing happens, that mechanism is likely baked into the system and will also be hard to patch with some kind of simple software update.

Read the full article by visiting the Reuters page.

At least one group is doing something about the outages…not to fix them, but to at least monitor them and alert users which docks are working. WNYC reports that:

Ten months ago, when Mayor Bloomberg announced Citi Bike would be delayed, he explained why: “The software doesn’t work. Duh,” he said on his weekly radio show. “Until it works, we’re not going to put it out until it does work.” Two weeks after the system launched, complaints of software failures are rife. And though the city refuses to release specific information on outages, a WNYC analysis indicates on any given day, about ten percent of docks have been failing.

Moreover, the city had ample warning the software was buggy — and launched anyway.

Luckily, they got the data on those stations and developed a real-time map that shows the stations and outages:

We love the idea of bikeshare schemes, and hope that CitiBike figures out the problems in a timely fashion. New York City can really use this bike share, and the system there is expected to grow rapidly over the next years — if they can get over their teething pains and straighten things out.


3 Comments

  1. BluesCat June 19, 2013 9:25 am 

    Just shooting from the hip here, as a guy with 35+ years in the IT field, but a “software glitch” as the primary problem “does not commute” with me.
    .
    When I first read your article, GR, my immediate reaction — albeit totally devoid of any technical knowledge of the situation — was “Huh, sounds like a power problem to me.”
    .
    I don’t know why I thought that, whether it was some arcane knowledge I dredged up from a long hidden file folder in a dusty corner of my brain, or just a presumptuous hunch of an old fart who thinks he knows it all, but when I followed your link to the full Reuters article, and read one comment about these stations being solar powered in the canyons of NYC … I sez to myself, I sez “AHA!”

  2. Ghost Rider June 19, 2013 9:35 am 

    @BluesCat,

    If you’ll read the articles, particularly the one from WNYC, you’ll note that a) Chattanooga, the other city using the Alta-developed software, is having similar problems (and solar issues probably NOT a problem “down South”) and b) the whole bit about developing software on their own, a year or more late, after firing their original developer.

    It all sounds awfully softwarey to me — inability to register the bikes as being turned in, the way the stations shut down when there’s a problem, etc. Both the Reuters writer and the WNYC folks are hip to some of the insider info, which we are not. I tend to trust their judgements on this situation.

  3. BluesCat June 19, 2013 10:37 am 

    GR – Yeah, not to say I’m completely off base about it, but (chuckle) from past reports from friends in the neighborhood, the reliability of the general infrastructure in Chattanooga is really pretty suspect.
    .
    Another thing: I remember two jobs where the Owner of a particular software/hardware project called a different firm in to consult because the project was going on-and-on and starting to look like it would never end. In both instances, even before the final report was submitted, the Owner decided the developer WAS really milking the job and cancelled the contract, brought in another developer, and had the thing up and running in short order.
    .
    And 2012 was a banner year for the U.S. Government to discover worthless ERP jobs burning through billions of dollars to the original contractor.
    .
    Sometimes, even really late in game, a new software geek is the best answer.

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