Observation: Citi Bike

This week we were tasked with observing a piece of interactive tech in public, then commenting on its design. I picked Citi Bike, specifically the docking function.

I observed for about 40 minutes in two locations. I must have had bad luck with my timing, because in that time I only observed five people using the docking mechanism.

The Citi Bike dock.
The Citi Bike dock.

Everyone that I watched use the dock, though, had similar behavior. Each was there to return their bike, not pick one up. They rode to the dock. Tried to push the bike in the dock, then tried again. Usually they got it on the second or third try.

It seems like the locking mechanism on the dock is a bit hard to get the bike into, so people really have to push a few times with force to get it to lock. This could likely be designed a bit better with an easier docking mechanism.

Each dock has an indicator that tells the user if they’ve docked the bike correctly. This user feedback seems to work really well, as people tend to dock their bike, then grab their stuff and walk away confidently within a minute or less of docking.

The designers made a smart decision in making the dock indicator with graphics and colors, and therefore not language dependent.

Closeup of indicator.
Closeup of indicator.

Although I didn’t see anyone take a bike, I did see someone ride up to a full Citi Bike station. There had been two spots, but then a couple pulled up and took the remaining spots right before this person rolled up.

The limit of space at the docking stations creates another design issue. Citi Bike does have an app that lets users know the status of docks, but if there are just a few spots left in a dock, it really does come down to chance, which could be nervewracking if you are in a rush (which New Yorkers usually are!). It would be interesting if you could “reserve a dock” or, if that would cause too many problems, maybe get an alert during your ride if the station you indicated you are going to just filled up. In addition, the alert could tell you the next closest docking station assuming it knows your route. Since not everyone bikes with their phone out, this could be a great use of a smartwatch app.

Cover photo by Rob Young.