$50 million expansion of Divvy program targets under-served neighborhoods

A Divvy station in downtown Chicago, one of the more popular destinations for tourists and Chicagoans alike to grab a bike/Flickr

By Carly Graf
Medill Reports

Divvy will receive a sizeable direct investment to build dock stations in every city ward, modernize its bicycle fleet and create a job training program for youth and ex-offenders, should the City Council green light the proposal.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) recommended these programs as part of an amendment to the existing contract between Divvy and its operator, which was recently purchased by popular ride share company Lyft, Inc., last month.

The $50 million will come directly from Lyft. All new equipment will be purchased directly by the company, but existing infrastructure will remain in city ownership, guaranteeing control over any significant fare pricing changes and fare promotions, according to the statement from the mayor’s office.

By adding 10,500 bikes and 175 stations by 2021, Divvy hopes to connect more disparate transit stations by serving as a convenient first-mile/last-mile connection at these stops and becoming Chicago’s newest transit system.

Today, Divvy offers more than 6,000 bikes for pickup at more than 600 stations around the city, according to the website. Discrepancies in ridership remain, however, with low-income individuals and people of color less likely to sign up as compared to white Chicagoans.

The bike share company received funding from the Better Bike Share Partnership, a Philadelphia-based organization that seeks to understand and eliminate barriers to entry in biking, in 2015 to start the Divvy for Everyone (D4E) program.

D4E offers one-time $5 annual memberships, payable in cash, to qualifying low income Chicagoans for one year. Participants then receive reduced membership prices for years thereafter. Over 3,400 individuals have signed up to date, said Michael Claffey, spokesperson for the CDOT.

“The city is strongly committed to continuing D4E as a key aspect of the Divvy program. Continuation and growth of D4E to cover all 50 wards is a requirement under the newly proposed contract amendment,” Claffey said.

Research from the Evaluating Efforts to Improve the Equity of Bike Share Systems study conducted by Portland State University reveals another part of the problem – low station density in less affluent neighborhoods. In Chicago, that theme played out in real time last summer when Divvy’s plans for new stations were conspicuously concentrated on the North side of the city.

Amara Enyia, whose bid for mayor included a weighty transportation reform platform, lives on the West Side’s Garfield Park, takes multiple 100-mile bike rides per week during warm weather seasons and cycles throughout the neighborhoods where bike commuting is far less prominent. When she talks to neighbors, she says they often credit their reticence to take up cycling to lack of infrastructure—such as bike lanes and appropriate racks—or to the cuts in public transit, where many Chicago bikers travel by Divvy bike to cut down on commute time.
“There’s certainly been more biking infrastructure placed in these neighborhoods over the last eight years, but if you live in a transit desert, you may not be able to ride your bike as far as you need to go, so you just hop in your car,” she said in an interview.

Chicago also stands to receive a significant financial benefit from this proposed biking contract. If approved, the agreement requires Lyft to pay the city a starting annual payment of $6 million, which would increase by four percent each year, and five percent of any revenue stemming from rider costs exceeding $20 million per year. It also promises $1.5 million in minimum guaranteed advertising- and promotion-generated revenue.

Photo at top: A Divvy station in downtown Chicago, one of the more popular destinations for tourists and Chicagoans alike to grab a bike/Flickr