December 29, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – Whether out on the streets or inside the shop, the bicycle mechanics of TWU Local 100 spend every day of the year working hard to keep Citi Bikes rolling through New York City’s concrete canyons. But turning wrenches and patching tires, isn’t the only way these cycling devotees are helping to grow and maintain the popular bike share program. And the blacktop vantage point they have just might be the key to taking the whoe enterprise to the next level.
Inside NYC Bike Share’s Sunset Park repair shop there’s an unusual space that only seems to be getting weirder by the day. Stocked with fanciful artifacts left behind by riders either by accident or design, the lovingly curated space brims with spectacularly twisted wrecks, as well as a wonderfully odd assortment of handcrafted doodads and stickers. It currently features as its penultimate prize, a tall bike fashioned out of two Citi Bikes welded one on top of the other, and unceremoniously left at a docking station one day.
“Another person made these cute little pieces of art, little monsters cut from paper with different colors that were stuck in the spokes of a lot of the bikes in one of the docks,” says Laurel Leckert, a 32-year-old Local 100 bike mechanic who is enjoying more input in NYC Bike Share’s future now that the union is representing workers. “We collected them all. We often save the cooler stuff we find on the bikes and stick it on the wall.”
The repair shop’s impromptu art gallery speaks to the special affinity Local 100 mechanics have with riders. Currently in contract negotiations after successfully organizing last fall, TWU Local 100 members have already secured the kind of rapport with management where they can “popcorn ideas" with bosses on issues ranging from scheduling to seniority.
“We’re trying to help management see the benefit of prioritizing the lives and needs of the workers because, if the workers have a good quality of life, and are treated well by the company, everything will be better for all of us,” Leckert says.
After suffering a two-month layoff, fellow bike mechanic Amos Fisher, 34, recently returned to his Citi Bike troubleshooting duties just as committed to the bike share program as he was before.
“It’s understandable to think that this is a seasonal business, or that the profits are seasonal – but you cannot run the business without people to regularly check the bikes,” the Bushwick resident says.
In addition to improving their own lot, Local 100 mechanics now hope to push NYC Bike Share to further expand and democratize the entire Citi Bike program, so that it is both more accessible to lower income people and attractive to hardcore cyclists.
“People suggest that to me all the time,” Leckert says. “It would be great to ride with a MetroCard. I wish there was better access, especially for people who don’t have a credit card, or of a lower income.”
Improved software, greater connectivity with other bike shares around the country, as well as providing more docking stations throughout New York City itself, are all ways Citi Bikes could be even more popular with cyclists, workers insist.
“Because there is a bank logo all over [the bikes], it is difficult for people to see [the program] as a community-oriented thing,” Fisher says. “There is a huge divide between the bike culture and Citi Bike. I really wish there was more community outreach.”
In addition to the aforementioned art, Citi Bikes routinely come in for repairs bearing self-promotional stickers of one sort or another, as well as some very pointed editorials aimed directly at Citi Bank itself. The financial giant’s involvement in the bike share program is actually nominal, however, and its current advertising contract is set to expire after five years.
“I really look forward to the end of those five years when advertising space can be opened up to mom and pop shops around the city,” Leckert says. “It’s an amazing resource for the city. It would be great if there were more opportunities to organize events, conduct tours and promote safety education.”
Despite the "haters" who can’t get past the Citi Bike logos, the mechanics who keep the two-wheelers roadworthy through all kinds of weather, steadfastly maintain that New York City’s public bike share program is making the urban environment safer for all riders.
“Some people love it, and some people hate it,” Leckert says. “And the ones that hate it are wrong – and I tell them so.”