The Trib’s Jon Hilkevitch Changes His Tune, Reports Divvy Is a Success

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Former Divvy skeptic William Choslovsky, now a convert. Photo: Chris Walker, Tribune

Back in May, a month before the Divvy bike-share system launched, transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch published the first of three Tribune articles characterizing Divvy as a rip-off, dysfunctional and racist. In that first piece, a faux exposé entitled “Overtime fees, legal potholes dot city bike-share program,” Hilkevitch portrayed the rules and charges associated with the new system as an unreasonable burden, even though they’re similar to those in other successful bike-share cities.

Worse, Hilkevitch’s expert witness on why Divvy would be a flop was random “bicycle-riding lawyer” William Choslovsky, who was totally clueless about how bike-share works. “Nobody is going to pay $75 — plus daily overtime fees — to ride a bike a few times,” Choslovsky said. “And if you ride a lot, you will ride your own bike.”

When the system launched on June 28, the reporter spent a few hours interviewing Divvy riders and published the article “Opening day woes greet Divvy bike sharing roll-out,” with quotes from several disgruntled users but not a single satisfied customer. That was odd, because I spoke to a number of people that day who were happy with their bike-share experiences, and when I visited all 68 existing stations by Divvy later that weekend I talked with many more, and all but two of the stations were functioning just fine.

I left a comment on the first anti-Divvy article, “After the bike-share system proves to be wildly successful, the naysayers will eat their words.” Sorry to gloat, but I’m delighted to see my prediction was correct. This morning Hilkevitch ran a column entitled “Divvy bike-sharing program catching on in Chicago,” which finally gave credit to the bike-share system’s impressive early achievements, and all but admitted that the reporter’s earlier hatchet pieces were off-base.

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Cruising the lakefront on Divvy bikes. Photo: John Greenfield

In this article Hilkevitch takes off his pundit hat and does what he does best: using numbers to tell a story. He shares Chicago Department of Transportation stats that more than 150,000 Divvy trips have been taken as of Friday, about 5,000 people have bought annual memberships and more than 37,000 day passes have been sold. Over 458,000 miles have been ridden, with an average of more than 11,000 miles pedaled each day recently, with trips averaging 18 minutes in recent days. The station at Lincoln and Armitage, near the Park West music theater, was used an impressive average of 119 times per day last week, he reports.

Hilkevitch notes that some of the busiest docking stations are located near Metra and CTA stations, which indicates that the system has caught on with daily commuters, not just tourists and recreational riders. High commuter demand for docks in the morning and bikes in the evening led the city to increase the number of bike spaces at the Daley Plaza Divvy station, he reports.

“The numbers indicate the service seems to be building a steady following, in some cases even among hard-core disbelievers who originally criticized Divvy as being an expensive government boondoggle that would generate little public support beyond tourists,” Hilkevitch writes. Of course, he should count himself as being one of those hard-core Divvy disbelievers.

It was particularly heartening to read that Choslovsky has done a 180 on Divvy. As Hilkevitch reports, the former skeptic needed to travel from his law offices to a birthday party last Tuesday during the evening rush and decided to give the system a spin. “I was late,” he said. “I could have jumped in a taxi and that would be a slow crawl. It was about 2 miles — too far for a walk if I’m in a hurry.” The bicycling lawyer, who had claimed no one who owns their own ride would bother renting a Divvy, admits that he had a blast pedaling the comfy, upright cycle to his destination, used bike-share two more times that week, and is now considering buying a membership.

Choslovsky essentially concedes that he had absolutely no idea what he was talking about when he trashed Divvy back in May. While his turnaround makes for a compelling endorsement of the bike-share system, it still raises the question: why was he treated as an expert source in the first place? In the future, I respectfully suggest that Choslovsky and Hilkevitch take some advice from Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’”: don’t criticize what you don’t understand.