A bicycle sharing system is a service in which bicycles are made available for share use to individuals on a short term basis for a fee. The Chicagoland system is called Divvy, and it allows people to borrow a bike from a “dock” and return it at another dock belonging to the same system. Docks are special bike racks that release a bike via computer control, when the user enters payment information or if a member, by entering a code. A smartphone app shows the locations of docks, how many bikes are currently parked and available to rent, and how many open positions.
I had the opportunity to tour the single Divvy warehouse that serves Chicagoland on Hubbard St. between Western Ave and Damen Ave. in Chicago to learn more about their operations. Divvy has 6000 bikes and 175 employees at maximum and 75 in the winter. Some of the mechanics repair bikes in the field rather than transporting the broken bike to the warehouse. They offer bike valet service at Cub games and other popular events.
Vans patrol the streets removing bikes from racks that are full and adding to racks that are empty from 6am to midnight. Experienced van drivers know which racks traditionally need balancing or they are directed to make adjustments using a smartphone app. They also have a setup to rebalance and pickup broken bikes with a bike pulling 3 trailers. I was relieved to learn it was outfitted with an electric bike because that is some heavy load to pedal!
Besides the traditional light blue color, Divvy has had artists create commemorations in solid red, yellow, or other color schemes and unique designs such as the Chicago Hot Dog (hotdogdivvy - no ketchup!), deep dish pizza, American flag, gift wrap (holidivvy), and the Black Hawks.
The Divvy system is one of the largest bike share systems in the world. Bike sharing is growing in popularity due to the many positive impacts to communities. If you are a Divvy subscriber you get a periodic report of how much pollution you avoided based on the miles your pedaled, so they are comparing a trip on a bike to one that might have been made with an environment polluting auto. Besides the reduction in pollution, benefits are reduction of traffic congestion, the positive health effects as a result of exercise, both mentally and physically, and a way to bridge “the last mile”, the distance from the bus or train stop or parking garage and your final destination.
There are critics:
Chicago conduced a pilot of dockless bike sharing last year and the results are currently being evaluated to determine the future. Also known as Call a Bike, free floating bike, or fourth generation, the dockless bike hire system consists of a bicycle with a lock integrated onto the frame that is unlocked via an app, so it does not require a docking station and the bike can be picked up and left anywhere. Other options for micro mobility, a new category of vehicles that are thought to become an alternative to traditional modes of transportation, are electric assist bicycles, scooters, and electric scooters. Micro mobility will be the topic of the Feb. 19 Evanston Bicycle Club meeting at 7:30 pm at the Evanston Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd, Evanston, with a presentation from the Active Transportation Alliance so if you are curious about the future of transportation in urban environments, you are invited to join us.