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Citigroup Is In The Bike Sharing Business. Is It Now Responsible For Any Of The Program’s Shortcomings?

In many ways, New York’s Citi Bike bicycle sharing program has been a success. In the weeks that the program has been in place, the Department of Transportation says more than a quarter of a million rides have been taken. There’s no doubt that, just looking around the city and seeing people pedaling about on their blue bikes, the program has been largely embraced.

Quibbles about bike stands and parking aside, there have been other issues with the bike program that are now being aired publicly. And ultimately, there’s the question of whether the program will ultimately be the PR positive that Citigroup certainly wanted when they signed up.

New York magazine reports on some new YouGov BrandIndex numbers showing an increase in Citigroup’s favorability last month as the program kicked off. While the article says the two could be coincidental, chances are it isn’t. And, good for them, it’s better than the publicity results Barclays got after it started a bike sharing program in London. However, that launch was quickly followed by a scandal. And rather than being closely associated with the program, Barclays’ two-wheelers are called “Boris Bikes,” named after London’s mayor.

Citi’s spokesman Ed Skyler told New York, “You get very few opportunities to cut through the noise and make an impression in the fabric of a city like New York, which is our hometown.”

Indeed, the article adds, “[A]s long as the Citi Bike program stays popular, some of that positive association might well rub off on the bank.” So about that…

The New York Times says the program has had its fair share of issues, including docking stations that don’t want to take bike returns or credit cards, and complaint hotlines that have a 45-minute wait. The issues with the bike stations, the Times says, could have a lot to do with the software, which has had issues in other cities around the country.

And while the article says that longstanding problems could leave on tarnish on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s legacy, it’s Citigroup that really has more to lose. After all, it’s their name on those bikes and it’s their namesake program that will be blamed for issues that customers have.

There are hopes that these issues are part of the process of getting the program started. And it’s likely that many of the kinks can get worked out. But it would be in Citigroup’s best interest to have a PR response ready for any other issues that may come up. That means keeping in touch with the city to stay aware of problems and how they’re being resolved. Even if they’re ultimately not responsible for the problems that arise, the impression that spokesman Skyler is happy about now can turn sour if the program doesn’t start running more smoothly.

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