Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Threats Escalate In Central Park's Long-Simmering Illegal Bike Rental Trade In Columbus Circle

Bike and Roll - a Parks Department licensed concession has three locations in Central Park including two in Columbus Circle where the company has been forced to hire security.  They pay a minimum of $17,000 per year, vs. up to 15 percent of its revenue to rent bikes there. They are in their 5th year of a seven-year deal with the city Parks Department to provide rental bikes on parkland. (Photos:  Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) click on images to enlarge.

For years swarms of unlicensed vendors have operated openly in and around Columbus Circle trying to lure the public to rent thier bikes with little intervention from the authorities.  

Bike and Roll - a concession licensed by the Parks Department with three locations in Central Park and 11 city-wide - have tried to get the City to step up enforcement but their complaints have for the most part fallen on deaf ears.

A company employee says they can lose between 40-60% to illegal vendors who brazenly attempt to pick off unsuspecting tourists and New Yorkers alike. 

This issue has played out in the media in years past however It appears the threats and intimidation on concession employees have stepped up recently. 

"We effectively pushed them away from the perimeter of the park," Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said in 2012 in yet another laughable interview.  "You know, if somebody wants to rent a bicycle on a street corner, I guess it's their option."

That's not accurate either when the street corner in question is under Parks jurisdiction as is the case here.    

  - Geoffrey Croft


Bike and Roll New York City, the only contractor sanctioned by the city to rent out bikes in Central Park, told the Post that the illegal hawkers are so vicious that they have threatened to decapitate their employees.

“They’ve made threats to follow our staff home, to cut them, to cut their heads off. To hurt them,” said marketing manager Nicole Mylonas. In the past month, staff members have had to call the police at least  20 times on the unruly bike hucksters.
Bike and Roll's two locations in Columbus Circle are located on either side of the park's  entrance at Merchants Gate.

Bike and Roll has even had to put up one worker in a hotel — where he’s been staying for more than a week — after vendors threatened to kill him and then showed up in his neighborhood.
The illegal vendors also circulated his photo around to the other shady bike renters. Since then, the worker has been too terrified to return home.
The harassment has gotten so bad that Bike and Roll has spent $100,000 on security guards to protect their staff.
“They show pictures of knives, or show pictures of them on a shooting range and say, ‘this is what’s going to happen to you’,” said Chris Wogas, the company’s president.
On a warm day, there can be as many as 50 illegal vendors menacing workers and tourists, employees said.
Sometimes they even steal bikes from Bike and Roll and try to rent those illegally, Wogas added.
Last year, the Parks Department did an informal survey on how much business Bike and Roll is losing to the illegal vendors — and it estimated they lost $500,000 a year, according to Wogas.
Virtually every person who goes through the area is asked to rent a bike by a mob of illegal vendors. The vendors harass — whether they work for Bike and Roll, are dressed in a suit, or even have their own bike.
The illegal sellers often create disorder in Columbus Circle by fighting and cursing among each other for business.
“It’s awkward and uncomfortable,” said Yvonne Norton, 51, a tourist from Canada who didn’t want to rent a bike from the group. “I understand people have to make a living, but no should mean no.”
One man trying to rent out a bike told a Post reporter that money for bike rentals will be used to help people in West Africa.
“My company is to help the poor,” he said, flashing a laminated card with a picture of a horse carriage, pedicab and bicycle.
Tourists told the Post the aggressive vendors take away from the city’s friendly vibe.
“You’re taking away from what makes the city great, the camaraderie,” said Cathie Smythe, 50, also of Canada.

Read More:

New York Post - July 21, 2014  - By Larry Celona, Kevin Fasick and Rebecca Harshbarger

WPIX - July 22, 2014 - By Narmeen Choudhury

Bike War Brewing In Columbus Circle
WCBS - July 21,  2014

Wall Street Journal - July 4,  2012 - By Ted Mann 

New York Times - September 29, 2009 - By J. David Goodman   

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