Monday, December 15, 2014

HUB Cycles

VANISHING

George Bliss has lived in New York City for 37 years and, for much of that time, he’s been a passionate bike advocate, credited with coining the term “critical mass.” Since 1995, he has designed, built, repaired, rented, and sold bicycles of all kinds. For the past decade, he’s run a shop in Greenwich Village, currently known as HUB Cycles on Charles Street.

I talked to George a couple of weeks ago when I learned from a reader that HUB will soon be closing, another victim of the city's corporatization.

Bliss blames Citibike.

*UPDATE: There will be a press conference today:

"PRESS CONFERENCE at the HUB 1 PM TUESDAY, Dec 15
139 Charles St., btwn Charles & Washington St., The West Village
Contact George Bliss: 212- 965-9334 • Please Come and support the HUB"




photo credit: Emilie Ross

“I can’t do it anymore,” says Bliss. “Citibike is surrounding us and cutting into our revenues.”

Surrounded is right. There are five Citibike stations within five blocks of HUB, Bliss explains. And since Citibike came to town just a year and a half ago, the shop’s income has dropped by 50 percent.

Locals who used to rent the bikes at HUB now ride Citibikes, and there’s no trickle-down effect. It’s not just the rental business that has been severely impacted, HUB’s sales and repair services have also been hurt.

“It’s a monopoly,” says Bliss. “The city government has installed a monopoly. I can’t compete.”

“The New Yorker in me is affronted by this. It’s okay to have people carrying a corporate ad through the streets? It would be like having Walmart Avenue or McDonald’s Bridge or Google Park. What’s the difference?”

Bliss would like to see the corporate logos come off the bike share program and for the costs to be paid by fees, not by corporate subsidies that can rent the bikes at far below market value, making it impossible for locals to compete.

He says, “The small local businesses that built the bike culture should not be forced out by this weed. Citibike is an invasive species.”

HUB will close shop this month. From there, Bliss plans to put his energy into organizing the city’s local bike shops—to put an end to the rolling blue billboards.

Bliss also spoke to The Villager newspaper--read there for more.

30 comments:

Scout said...

As a New Yorker who uses Citibike as a healthy, clean, and economical way to commute (and who also wears a helmet and obeys traffic laws), I hate seeing the program, which can be an enormous boon for any urban center, take the blame for putting a bike shop out of business. I find it hard to believe that bike rental was such a significant part of Hub's income, that they will fold without it. And it's been proven by several parties (including Citibike itself,as well as Citibike's enemies) that tourists and day-users are not the ones using Citibike the most.

Most people seem to have great difficulty accepting any change, even change that's ultimately good for the community and themselves - I wish that old stodges would quit kvetching about Citibike and embrace it for what it is - a way to get fat lazy commuters into better shape, clear some congestion from NYC streets, and clean up some carbon emissions from our air.

Scout said...

I should add that many of us don't have the ability to easily keep our own bikes; our apartments are too small to store one, and our offices don't provide a safe place to park them. This makes a bike-share (rather than bike rental) program the best possible option for us who ride on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Scout's comment about old stodges and lazy commuters, just a reminder of a few things... that NYC is home to many disabled people and older people who cannot bike and who depend on bus mass transit and to a lesser extent, subway mass transit. Similarly, as housing costs have surged over the past decaded, with the significant influx affluent people (many young from the suburbs), lower-income people, long-time New Yorkers, are forced to live further and further away and have longer and longer commutes, again largely via mass transit.
And people who have difficult physical jobs (and perhaps multiple jobs) - let's say a worker at a nursing home or food delivery person - are probably pretty tired at the end of their shift to hop on a bike.

(BTW a perusal of the NY Times "Neediest" cases illustrates the hardships of many New Yorkers...)

James said...

It could be argued that Walmart offers towns the convenience of a department store - in some cases even an affordable one. The chain is famous for eating up small businesses by sheer force of volume. Citibike is fine as a convenience, but bike shops will sell fewer bikes to those who just want transportation. I'm sure many jitney and transfer companies went bust when the Subway opened in 1904. The curses must be factored in with the blessings. It wouldn't matter if there were five sponsors, or fifty, for the public bikes. They'd still be out there in vast numbers. There was a need, and change often hurts as well as aids. Frankly, I'd be more likely to consume this product if the bikes were setup anywhere near my home in Hudson Heights, AKA Washington Heights. They are not.

Scout said...

Regarding Anonymous's comment about people for whom biking isn't possible... stating the obvious negative isn't an argument for scrapping an entire program. Of course there will always be people for whom a new way to commute isn't feasible. But that in no way negates tat there are thousands for whom the program IS feasible.

It's amazingly easy to nitpick; what's hard is to create positive change.

CLAJR said...

As far as I know, Citibike isn't breaking even at all, either through local or tourist usage. It's kept afloat by Citibank, which has signaled its unwillingness to continue subsidizing the program ad infinitum.

Anonymous said...

Scout - Respectfully...my 10:16 comment did not discuss Citibike or its use/usage. Rather, my comment related to your mention of "old stodges" and "lazy commuters." This was the context.

Reed said...

First off, I agree with the fact that the it's good to have a system of bikes like this, but I also agree that the system is fundamentally flawed in several ways. #1 the commenter who mentioned the word monopoly is absolutely right. I hate monopolies, and so should we all. The system should be maintained/administrated by the city, NOT Citibank. #2 The city should be contracting (for example) HUB cycles, and others, whose businesses have been put in the crosshairs of this, to supply and maintain the bikes, instead of being adversarial to them. This just like the subway system, or city buildings, use (or hopefully use) appropriate contractors from the city/area's available pool of talent. Let's support our own people! #3 They should sell advertising to lots of companies. Not just Citibank. Yes I wish there were no advertising on them at all, but I understand the need to raise funds, and I'm tired of ever higher taxes.

Dave - Everywhere said...

I commute in from Long Island for work and use the Citibike as an alternative to walking or being stuffed into the subway during the summer months when I would rather be outdoors. I enjoy the convenience of being able to get in a bike ride in the morning (it's short but it's still a bike ride) and not have to worry about where to store a bike during the day or at night (sorry but no bikes are allowed on the LIRR during peak hours).

I'm always sad when a local business has to close up shop but I find it hard to believe that its all the fault of the bikeshare program (regardless who is sponsoring it).

Anonymous said...

@Scout, if you want create positive change, maybe you should start by not labeling people who don't bike as "fat lazy commuters". People who can't or don't use Citibike are not automatically opposed to it. Keep up the smug attitude and they will be.

chris flash said...

Reed has it right: this should have been an INclusive program that invited NYC bike shops that rent out bikes to participate, not an EXclusive program (with NO competing bids) that favors a huge bankster corporation that can afford to subsidize a money-losing system indefinitely, as ShitiBikes is merely one of a zillion tax write-offs for them.

This thing was not created and has not been running on a level playing field. DeBlaz could change this, but like Bloombucks before him, this administration demonstrates its contempt for small business owners every day....

Richard Federico said...

Thank you Reed and Chris flash! my sentiments exactly! It's been stated in the news recently that "Shitibikes" (I love it!) has been losing money, hence the recent sizable membership increase. Citibank knew it was not profitable from the get-go, but when you are a bloated multi-billion dollar Corporation in a win win situation where the worst that can happen is a tax write off and some brand exposure, you take a gamble. More proof that the bank bail-outs only served to embolden these corporations even further as they are unfairly and unethically protected under the "too big to fail" clause.

Anonymous said...

See Crain's article 5/28/13 which discusses that Bloomberg DOT Commissioner Sadik Khan reached out to Ed Skyler (former Bloomberg Deputy Mayor) at Citibank and Citibank wanted to improve its image from financial crisis of 2008.

Anonymous said...

Those who think NYC could run the bike program more effectively ought to look at NYCHA to get a sense of how it would play out - moldy bikes, union pensions, deep corruption, higher taxes...

Likewise, that they are subsidized at a loss by Citibank truly is a product of the financial crash, each set of wheels essentially a bailout from the taxpayers for shady mortgage dealings...

In short: Citibikes a a sort of unsustainable fairy dust created by a fed bent on defying reality thru massive financial bailouts.

Don't expect them, or any system like them, to be around in 5 years.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Scout's comment about old stodges and lazy commuters, just a reminder of a few things... that NYC is home to many disabled people and older people who cannot bike and who depend on bus mass transit and to a lesser extent, subway mass transit.

@10:16 Either you don't know what a non sequitur is, or else YOU are the one saying that disabled and older people unable to bike, are "old stodges" and "lazy".

Anonymous said...

@6:45

Funny comment coming from a google+ product. (that product would be you)

Scout said...

There's an amazing amount of complacent ignorance about Citibike in this thread - folks, don't express something as fact if it's just an uninformed reactioanry opinion. In our electornic age, research is amazingly easy.

Citibike is NOT run by Citibank; it was run by Alta Bike Share until recently; now it's being run by Bike Share Holdings LLC. Citibank is merely a sponsor.

Citibike is only a "monopoly" because no one else has tried to start a rival bike share business - in other cities where bike share systems are in place, there is also only 1 system. Calling Citibike a monopoly is the equivalent to calling the MTA a monopoly; although the MTA may not be privately owned, they also don't answer to the city government.

If anyone was offended by my tongue-in-cheek reference to "fat lazy commuters," that may say more about them than anyone else; it would take someone who is searching diligently for ways to be offended to read that as a statement that ALL commuters are fat and lazy. I don't think any rational person would disagree that some fat and lazy commuters would benefit enormously from riding a bike to work.

Anonymous said...

@Scout: And equally, I don't think any rational person would disagree that some slender & VERY self-congratulatory bike commuters would benefit enormously from developing some civility (as in not dissing those who are older or out of shape).

As far as I know, we're ALL getting older, and some day those of you who are now skinny hyper-fit bike riders who enjoy trashing older, less-fit people are likely to find that YOU are very much in the category you're currently vilifying!

Anonymous said...

Anyone who considers themselves a true New Yorker would not be using Citibikes. They are a disgusting display of a city living off it's own greed. They are hideous to look at, people who ride them are idiots and you would save more money if you just bought a bike like a lot of New Yorkers did for decades.

Pat said...

Excuse me for having an opinion as I am just a fat and lazy commuter who does not ride a bicycle, but I have read the following article:

http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2014/10/8555544/citi-bikes-new-leadership-we-will-overhaul-every-bike

If it is true that Citibank "will invest up to $70.5 million through 2024 in the effort" (to rejuvenate Citi Bike) is it not safe to assume that Citibank would want to know how their funds are being spent and have some say in the operation of Bikeshare Holdings LLC?

Additionally, I find it amusing that "Harvey Spevak, the C.E.O. of Equinox" is, along with others, an investor. Perhaps the Citibike riders will, with effort, attain the physical perfection that I observed when I looked at the models in advertisements for Equinox Health Club. Never mind that they were posed to look like sex workers, hey, this is New York City, we move with the dollar here.

Johnnie Walker said...


Scout: with your ageist (Is your mother a fat old stodge too?) and obnoxiously presumptive hateful comments, like assuming everyone who doesn't drink Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan's Citi Bank Kool-Aid Scheme is fat and lazy, represents all that is wrong with your "changing" NY and cycling zealots.

I've known George Bliss for years and he is the true bike pioneer, not your little wannabes like Sadik-Khan, who get chauffeured around in city limousines that we taxpayers must fork the bill for but tells us plebes to walk or bike or take the subway.

You seem to know so much about the CitiBike scheme, yet are so ignorant. In truth, CitiBank's Ed Skyler approached Sadik-Khan to have DOT sponsor the scheme, in order to improve CitiBank's image in the wake of its horrible role in the financial debacle that saw millions lose their savings and their homes.

And your arrogance in basically calling George a liar for his reasons why his bike biz went out of business bespeaks the reason why so many New Yorkers disdain the cycling zealots. You overweeningly deign yourselves to know more than anyone else who disagrees with your myopic city view.

In reality, you are a tool, a corporate tool, and some day, like George's HUB, your ilk too will disappear from our city - but not soon enough.

In the meantime, please restrict your comments to streetsblog, where such inanities have a more receptive audience.

Scout said...

The reactionary fear of change continues...

To the 2 Anonymous posters above:

1) I am not young, skinny, nor hyper-fit. I'm in my late 50s, and a bit heavier than need be; but I'm actively working to develop a healthier life, both for myself and the environment. I acknowledge that some are unable to do the same; I also acknowledge that many are able, but just unwilling to make the effort.

2) Many, many, many Citibike users are "true New Yorkers." No matter what your limited and subjective aesthetic opinion about the bikes may be, the users are only idiots in your closed mind. As has been pointed out above, owning a bike isn't feasible for everyone - parking at home or at work is often not possible. This is why bike-share programs are taking off in urban centers around the world. It's the way forward, and enlightened people are realizing that shared resources are the best resources - it's the TRUE community-based attitude (compared to change-fearing, conservative resistance).

Scout said...

Oh, Johnnie Walker... that's such a hate-blinded, nasty-spirited, name-calling post, no response could possibly have any purpose. It's like one of those lunatics who line up at public meetings and rant incoherently, the spittle hanging from their grey lips, shaking with impotent rage against a world that they believe does nothing but work to take things away from them.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the development of Citibikes or bikesharing in NYC, it is worth noting that former Mayor Bloomberg was very clear about his interest in "attracting" the "young" college graduate demographic to NYC. Biking/biking expansion (infrastructure, policy, etc) was one example. (This is also why Bloomberg did not require helmets for cyclists - only required helmets for delivery workers)

There was also rumor that the Bloomberg administration considered whether in the long-term, cycling could grow and eventually reduce mass transit needs, especially buses, and thus reduce funding for mass transit. The MTA is a State entity but NYC contributes.

Scout said...

Also for those who think biking is for the entitled young - remember that beloved photographer and man-about-town Bill Cunningham (currently 85 years old) still uses a bike as his primary mode of transportation.

Johnnie Walker said...

@Scout: "that's such a hate-blinded, nasty-spirited, name-calling post, no response could possibly have any purpose."

Pot, meet kettle.

Seriously, streetsblog beckons you.
If we ever need any more shit out of you, we'll squeeze your head.





Anonymous said...

@Scout: " I acknowledge that some are unable to do the same; I also acknowledge that many are able, but just unwilling to make the effort."

You don't get, b/c you're STILL being very judgmental - you have NO way of knowing who can or cannot make the effort nor why. You might see a perfectly "normal" looking person and not know that person has a seizure disorder, or is blind in one eye and thus has problems with depth perception, or is "fat" b/c of medication they must take.

You are judging on a very "look-ist" basis, but in reality you have no valid information about the vast majority of those lazy commuters you are busy castigating.

Scout said...

johnnie walker, keep up the loony ranting - it's good for entertainment value. Sadly, it has no value at all as intelligent information.

Scout said...

Anonymous, your defensiveness is making you miss the point; you seem to think I'm pointing a finger st specific individuals, which is your issue.

If you want to deny that there are people in this city who are ABLE to use a healthier and cleaner mode of commuting, but who CHOOSE not to, then you're just not interested in discussing the real world.

John Perry said...

I'm very sorry to see George and HUB go, and not just because I sold bikes through George. HUB was an interesting place, beyond being just a place to buy a bike or have one serviced. HUB used to put on cycling fashion shows, and was a place for the local riding public to meet and it served as a sort of social center for a certain segment of the riding public. If you saw someone riding a cool vintage bike, and it turned out they had bought it from George, it said more about them than just that they had cool taste in bikes. With George, and the somewhat eccentric rotating sales staff, and the dogs, first Scout (the dog, not the commenter on here) and Moxie, HUB was a sort of community center of its own kind. I doubt I will ever feel that way about one of those CitiBike racks.