Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New Citibike owners stumble on day one with price hike lie

It's a new day for the Alta Bicycle Share company, under new ownership, and new management. Sadly, it seems like the new boss is a lot like the old boss when it comes to making promises and then not following through with them. Alta became quite well known for never delivering on their promises, and on day 1, the new Alt, now owned by Related Companies and Equinox, has kept up the tradition.

For months now, there have been rumors that Citibike, Alta's flagship system, would see a price hike for annual memberships under the new ownership. The official announcement yesterday confirmed the hike, but included a disclaimer.

On the official announcement and in the email they sent to all existing subscribers last night:

At this time, you may still sign up for a new membership or renew an existing subscription at the current $95 rate. We will let you know in the coming days when the rates will increase.

And yet mere hours later, the price was secretly hiked before people could take advantage of starting a new account or extending the existing membership under the previous (already high) rate. 

Today at 1pm, this was posted on their website:

Yesterday we announced that a new membership price would allow us to provide better service to all of our members, and instituted that new price last night. We truly appreciate your membership and look forward to improving and expanding the Citi Bike system.

So much for letting people know in the coming days!

What's especially troubling is that it shows a complete failure of understanding on how to conduct public relations.

Citibike found themselves in every major newspaper yesterday. That's great free press! They've been losing thousands of members over the past few months due to the broken docks and bikes, but the new owners marched in promising they would fix it all and save the day.

Mr. Walder said that the immediate priority was rebuilding the system, and riders’ trust, and that every bike and dock in service would get a complete overhaul this winter. The hope is to end to the glitch-filled and empty docks that have made Citi Bike a frustrating experience for its most loyal riders.

Seems like an excellent opportunity to build up the user base and lock in existing members! Citibike could combine the renewed press, build on the excitements of improved maintenance and future expansion, and then seal the deal with a limited time offer to lock in existing rates. Nothing gets the credit cards out faster than a clock counting down to a 60% price increase.

Instead, they've taken all the attention and generated angry subscribers who were told to expect one thing, and then had the rug pulled out from under them hours later. That sure is one way to thank the subscribers that have pushed through all the technical problems and broken promises.

From their Facebook:
You didn't even give us 24 hours to renew the membership at the current rate. As a result, I am going to take a long winter break... Bye!
I don't mind the new price but Citi Bike should be ashamed for telling us it was coming and they'd let us know when and that, in the mean time, we could still renew at the current price only to jack up the price without warning. SHAME ON YOU, CITI BIKE.
Strange way of communicating with your customers. You said you would give advance warning for price hike and then you didnt. Will you be as good to your word about improving services?!
Citibike Facebook

Combine that with the seasonal timing: Winter is about to get rolling...and well, what the hell were they thinking? Why would anyone sign up for a membership now before next spring? Higher price and uncomfortable weather? No thanks!

Incidentally, Citibike was already one of the most expensive systems in the world. Paris, the global gold standard charges just 29 euros for a year. Montreal, the North American standard, charges $82 (Canadian).

It will be interesting to see if the management tries the same price hike approach in their other US cities. Boston, for example, has an $85 rate, and DC is $75.

It will also be interesting to see if this time around, they can keep their expansion promises. After all, the lack of expansion wasn't a funding issue, or a problem with Alta, it was because the supplier went out of business and since has been sold off (to a furniture company). Can the new Alta get more Bixi bikes, or will they have to pull the system and start fresh with a new model? Time will tell. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

No Central Valley Colleges on Bicycle Friendly Awards List

Last week, the League of American Bicyclists released their updated list of "Bicycle Friendly Universities." The list ranks universities with a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum award for being bike friendly.

The Bicycle Friendly University (BFU) program recognizes institutions of higher education for promoting and providing a more bikeable campus for students, staff and visitors. The BFU program provides the roadmap and technical assistance to create great campuses for cycling.

The Bicycle Friendly University program evaluates applicants’ efforts to promote bicycling in five primary areas: engineering, encouragement, education, enforcement and evaluation/planning, known as the Five E's. Applications must be submitted online.

Here are the list of California colleges that made the cut:

University of California, Davis
Stanford University 

University of California, Santa Barbara 

University of La Verne
University of California, Irvine
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Santa Cruz
California State University, Long Beach 

University of San Diego
University of California, Los Angeles
California Institute of Technology
Pomona College
Santa Monica College

 How about the local favorites?

Fresno State?
Fresno Pacific?
Fresno City?
UC Merced?

Nope. Not one Central Valley college made the list!

Maybe a map makes it more obvious (the green stars mean platinum)

 photo bikefriendly_zps5e0a86ab.png

I understand that there are MANY (many!) flaws with this kind of ranking system, especially one that requires the college to submit a form.

However, it does show a serious cultural issue, when the colleges are clustered in the way they are. Being bicycle friendly isn't on the radar of Central Valley colleges, and it shows.

I've posted a lot about the problems at Fresno State in the past, including at their new developments

Fresno City is also disappointing, because it is located in one the best parts of town for biking, and attracts many low income students. And yet their front door is an enormous surface parking lot for cars. 

However, to me the saddest is UC Merced. The university was built from scratch in the middle of nowhere in 2005. Thanks to every building being brand new, they talked a lot about energy efficiency and LEED. Problem is, they ignored the whole transportation side of energy use.

The University of California, Merced, will get 75 percent of its power from renewable sources by the end of 2016, and is on its way to being 100 percent renewably powered by then.
That's all very well, except I doubt any of the students drive electric cars.It's also noteable that almost every other UC is on the list, aside from Riverside.

How long will it take for the Central Valley Colleges to catch up with the rest of California and start being bike friendly?

You can see the full list here:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Work underway at GV Urban's Met Block development

Way back in February of 2013, GV Urban went before the city with their newest apartment proposal. The plan involved building up the Met Block, named after the old Met Museum. The block is between Van Ness and Fulton, and between Calaveras and Stanislaus.

The plan involved keeping the Met (top corner) and restoring the only other building left standing, on the left.

Problem was, the plan sucked. GV Urban proposed sticking in the exact same template they've built five other times downtown, but this time with a hideous façade.

For quite possibly the first time ever, the city pushed back against GV Urban. Aside from the ugly façade, the city was concerned that such a prominent block should break GV's 3-story barrier, as to match the height of the Met.

 photo met1_zpsf76044a8.png

So the project went quiet for over a year, at least in the public eye.

Two weeks ago, the Downtown Fresno Blog posted that work had begun, and included this picture:

 photo met1_zps5fcd6cdb.jpg

That caught me off guard. I had expected to see a new proposal go through the planning board...

And indeed one had, back in May (massive PDF). Looks like I missed that meeting.

So what changed?

Almost nothing. Looks like GV Urban gets their way, again. The site plan is almost identical to what was presented in 2013. That plan included destroying a public park to replace it with private parking and an indoor courtyard. Classic Fresno. The public alley will also be privatized.

The diagram above is from last year, but is easier to see than the updated version, which to my eyes, is identical. It includes:

12 two-story triplex buildings
4 three-story fiveplex buildings
3 three-story mixed use

Total = 85 units 

As for the concern about heights? Not addressed. The buildings still top out at 3 stories, except now it looks just a wee bit taller, thanks to slightly more pitch on the roofs. And the hideous façade? Well, it sort of appears slightly less terrible.

 photo met2_zps156799d4.png

 photo met3_zpsf96bb19e.png

I'm assuming Granville pulled the "you let us do what we want or you get nothing at all" card and the city caved.

While it's great to see another 100+ people moving downtown, it's a shame they're doing so in such a mediocre project, especially on such a significant block.

On the plus side, the construction is so cheap that no developer will hesitate to knock it down in 20 years to build something better.

 On a completely different subject...

In May I also missed Brandau killing yet another road diet project, while voting yes on every road widening and traffic signal project possible.