Citibank spins publicity with NYC bikeshare

Citibank is sponsoring New York City's new bike rental program.

David Brancaccio: Today's the first day of Bike to Work week. But what if you don't own a bike? Well, many cities are launching bikeshare or bike rental programs for commuters to pick up a bike at a nearby location and drop it off closer to where they're going. Citibank has just announced it will spend $41 million to help a bikeshare program in New York.

Andrea Bernstein reports from the Transportation Nation project at WNYC.


Andrea Bernstein: There are bikeshares popping up in U.S. cities. Washington, D.C., has one -- so do Boston, Minneapolis, Denver. You pay a membership fee, then you can borrow a bike for a short one-way trip.

But New York's bikeshare will be so large it will dwarf the others. That's a risk, but also a big marketing opportunity. At the roll-out of the new bikes, Mayor Michael Bloomberg kept saying Citibank instead of Citibike.

Michael Bloomberg: The Citibank program will have all the essential safety features cyclists and drivers need -- Citibank handlebars.

And then he mocked himself.

Bloomberg: The person who I have the pleasure of introducing next hopes everyone confuses Citibike with Citibank.

That person is Vikram Pandit, Citibank's CEO. For Pandit, it's all about getting his bank's name out there in connection with something urban, hip, environmentally friendly.

Vikram Pandit: We think this is a very innovative program that makes people's lives easier, and that's what we do, that's what we do as a bank.

New Balance shoes sponsored Boston's program. But in London, another bank did: Barclays. Londoner Lisa Lipshaw, who worked on London's bikeshare, says Barclay's bet paid off.

Lisa Lipshaw: Definitely they did really well out of the sponsorship, because it was a bit of a risk for them to sponsor.

Even though there won't be any bikes until July, Citibank's sponsorship already seems pretty well known on the streets of New York.

Voices: Did you hear Citibank was sponsoring it? Yes very familiar. Isn't it Citibank that's now sponsoring it?

But web designer Antonio Ortiz says he's skeptical in light of the big bank's role in the financial crisis.

Antonio Ortiz: That's like some kind of subversive way of 'Hey we're buying PR, we're being good and we care about the environment and the people of the community.' Like if it was Patagonia, I'm sure I'd feel a different way.

But then he added, bikeshare's probably good for the city. The one with the Y -- and the one with the I.

In New York, I'm Andrea Bernstein for Marketplace.

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