06089 is the Citi bike that I had to return to today … in order to avoid getting bankrupted by the Citi bike company!

As a designer, I remember Don Norman famously said that “it’s not [the user’s] fault, it’s the bad design”. I have never experienced a bad design that frustrates me so badly until today.

What is the story?

Today was the second time I rented Citi bike. I took the bike on a leisure ride for 15 minutes prior to hopping on a train to work. As soon as I got to work, I noticed my Citi bike app still shows my bike is on the trip. Knowing the additional charge would occur after 45-minutes of use, I decided to call customer helpline right away to avoid such charge. The rep I spoke to was not only unhelpful but rude. She told me that I’m at fault for “not returning the bike properly”, so the trip will continue until whenever the bike is returned “properly”. I asked her what my options are and she said I’ll have to return to the station to fix my mistake. I told her that is not possible since I’m at work and I’m worried for the clock continues to tick as I will be billed for the trip that I’m obviously not responsible for. She said there’s nothing she could do and once again stated that it’s my fault. Feeling furious and helpless, I ended the call and decided to chat with an online rep. Same answer from the rep. But only this time, the rep said “everything is stated in the terms and conditions when you signed up, so if it’s your fault, you have to fix it”. Wow, seriously? Since when it’s the user’s fault for “not” docking the bike “properly”? What was the indicator of the bike being docked? Nothing was addressed during what I’d call the “onboading” experience.

Few hours after my chat with the online rep, I received an email from Citi bike saying that it seems like I’ve been out with the bike for awhile. I replied to the email saying that I’m aware of it and I’ve spoken to their reps but no one was being helpful at all.

How did the story end? Well, eventually I went back to the station after work and tried to dock the bike properly but only realized the docking station was broken, so I had to find another dock to return the bike. Oh btw, did I mention it was raining all afternoon today? Also, can you imagine if I’m just a visitor from out of town? What if I am unable to return to the docking station at all?

This experience wasn’t pleasant. It was awful. What went wrong? First, it was the design of dock, the signal of whether the bike is returned “properly” wasn’t obvious. Second, it was the customer service. That attitude from the reps was just unbelievable. I have rented Bycykler in Copenhagen or YouBike in Taiwan. Both certainly could use some improvement on the bike or the dock but it was certain the customer services made the experience phenomenal.  In fact, I once had an issue with returning YouBike and called the helpline. I remember the helpline rep first thanked me for reporting the issue and told me they’ll send someone to take care of it for me. I also recalled I once had to call the helpline of Bycykler because the Bike I rented had a flat tire, they were apologetic and gave me some riding credits for the following trip. So why did the Citi bike experience have to be so disturbing? When will New York City step up on her game to create a wonderful experience for her residence and travelers?

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