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?!
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.