The $12.5 Million Blue Cross/Divvy Deal Is Good News for Cyclists

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Emanuel unveils the new ads this morning at the company’s headquarters. Photo: Divvy

Were you dismayed in 2006, when the city sold the naming rights to the Millennium Park bike station to McDonald’s? Then you’ll be glad to hear that Divvy’s new sponsor is a company that promotes health, rather than undermines it. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the state’s largest health insurer, has inked a five-year, $12.5 million sponsorship contract to support the bike-share system, as well as other cycling initiatives.

As well as being a boon for local cycling, the deal is a win for the company. They get to place their logo on the bicycles’ front racks and skirt guards, as well as the rebalancing vans. The city retains the ability to sell the sponsorship of the docking stations and kiosks to other companies. By facilitating cycling, Blue Cross will be helping to improve the health of Chicagoans, which will contribute to fewer insurance claims. And the deal includes $30 Divvy memberships for BCBSI employees, $45 off the usual price, which will contribute to better health for their workers, which means fewer sick days. The company may also offer discounted memberships to people who sign up for their healthcare plans.

“Rarely do you have an opportunity to improve public health, protect our environment and boost productivity for individuals and businesses in a single, effective way,” said Karen Atwood, President of BCBSI, in a statement. “As the state’s largest health insurer, we are committed to fostering healthy, active lifestyles, and our support of the Divvy program is directly in keeping with that philosophy.”

“Our partnership with Blue Cross helps us to expand the bike-share system, improve and maintain bike lanes and encourage cycling in all neighborhoods across Chicago,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “This investment from Blue Cross will help us continue to encourage Chicagoans to get around this great city in more active ways.”

Chicago joins several other cities where health care companies sponsor bike sharing. Blue Cross has sponsored a handful of U.S. systems over the past five years, starting with the Twin Cities’ Nice Ride program. Kaiser Permanente Colorado is the founding funder of Denver’s B-Cycle, and several hospitals sponsor Boston’s Hubway.  Divvy is an especially fitting ad platform for Blue Cross, since the sky-blue bikes match the corporate logo.

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Emanuel and Atwood with the branded bikes and rebalancing van. Photo: Divvy

The infusion of cash, which will be paid in $2.5 million installments over five years, virtually guarantees the expansion of the Chicago program. The first 400 stations are being bankrolled by $27.5 million in federal and local funds. 300 of these were installed last year, and the remaining 100 will be installed this year and this year, along with another 75 this year paid for by $3 million in federal grant money, bringing the total to 475. However, the state of Illinois recently turned down another $3 million grant application for an additional 75 stations — about 20 of these would have been used to expand the system into Evanston and Oak Park.

While Divvy’s financial future now looks brighter, Montreal-based Bixi, which supplies the bikes, docks, and software to Alta Bicycle Share, the contractor that runs the program for the city of Chicago, recently went through bankruptcy proceedings. This could delay the rollout of new stations.

Even local cyclists who never use bike-share should be happy about the sponsorship. The money will also be used to bankroll bike lane striping, bollards, and signs, as well as new equipment for sweeping and plowing the lanes. That should be music to the ears of West Side commuters who’ve complained that the Lake Street protected lanes are useless because they’re been filled with snow during the winter and broken glass during the summer. The cash will also allow the city to hire more Bicycling Ambassadors and print copies of the Chicago Bike Map.

  • Definitely good news. I’m assuming the system will still be known as “Divvy”?

    Regarding Bixi, could another company build bikes that are compatible with the existing docks? Or is that design proprietary? It’d be kind of interesting if the system was “open source” so that any company could build and sell bikes to Divvy, Citibike, … In general, i like biki’s bikes but the gearing could be tweaked a bit and the seat height adjustment mechanism sucks. (the seat tube is often too hard to lift and people over-tighten the tension ring.)

  • Did anyone else read that headline in a Professor Farnsworth voice?

    “By facilitating cycling, Blue Cross will be helping to improve the health of Chicagoans, which will contribute to fewer insurance claims.” I and whoever processed my claim back in January are laughing so hard right now.

    Regarding the Chicago Bike Map, will it be the same company that printed it last year? Because if it is, then they may as well not bother. The 2013 map was far inferior to all previous versions.

  • Mishellie

    Yes! I usually just pick a bike with a seat that’s already set ok-ish for me, instead of adjusting, if at all possible.

  • Fred

    I would assume the design is proprietary and patented. Why incentive do they have to open source it? Why would they give up the monopoly?

  • Jason Marshall

    Big fan of Divvy but if we are riffing on design WTF is up with the front rack thing? None of the functionality of a flat rack or an enclosed basket.

  • J

    It’s to keep the baskets from becoming public trash cans.

  • Jason Marshall

    Ahh,

    I guess that makes sense but it is kind of ends up being a baby/bathwater thing.

  • Fred

    Its just designed to be bag storage; purse, messenger bag, briefcase, etc. Not really meant for real transportation of goods/groceries.

  • Jason Marshall

    which begs the question – why not?

    :)

  • Fred

    Well, not being in the actual design meetings, I can only speculate. I know the open basket was chosen specifically to prevent people from leaving trash in it. Beyond that I can only guess there isn’t a rear rack area due to center of gravity changes. The higher the center of gravity, the harder a bike is to ride. They are designed as lowest-common-denominator, anyone-can-ride, even-people-who-haven’t-been-on-a-bike-in-20-years bike. Enabling someone who isn’t a very skilled rider to strap 30lbs of groceries on the back is not safe for anyone.

  • Jason Marshall

    I agree with everything you say. Front load is way better than rear.

    My point is that sometimes we need to carry things (like groceries). By forgoing a usable front basket Divvy has compromised the bike’s utility. It would be nice to be able to spontaneously stop at a store, grab a few items, and grab a Divvy without having to plan ahead.

    Perhaps a solution to the potential garbage in the basket menace would be to have garbage receptacles at the Divvy stations.

  • Fred

    What’s preventing you from doing that now? I don’t see why you couldn’t put a single bag of groceries in the basket as long as you pack it right. A paper bag would probably work best.

  • Guest

    Has anyone else noticed how amateur the graphic design on the front basket is? The front basket mostly seen when the bikes are in IN MOTION, so the simplest think should be there: i.e. one the BC BS logo, not a tagline of “ENJOY THE RIDE” with all the legalese underneath.

  • Ross Guthrie

    Has anyone else noticed how amateur the graphic design on the front basket looks? The front basket mostly seen when the bikes are in IN MOTION, so the simplest think should be there: i.e. only the BC BS logo, not a tagline of “ENJOY THE RIDE” with all the legalese underneath.

  • Fibinaccignocchi

    Because Bike Share is not intended for transporting goods, only users. It’s for the “last mile” trip, from the train station to your office, etc. Not for grocery shopping or those types of errands about town.

  • Guest

    I suppose you’re right. Better for us to drive on these short errands :/

    – relax I’m just kidding.

  • Stay tuned for a guest post on this topic soon!

  • Fibinaccignocchi

    Or if someone finds that they’re going to be running lots of errands and want to use a bike for more of them after their experience using bike share, then maybe it’s time to buy one. This is how bike share creates new cyclists and helps change peoples primary mode of transportation.
    http://www.wnyc.org/story/286182-dc-bike-shop-owners-see-big-returns-from-bike-share/

  • SP_Disqus

    I saw a lot of discussion re: transporting cargo with Divvy and Chicago’s own Po Campo is working to address that with a new bag specifically made to maximize the carrying potential of the front basket

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pocampo/ultimate-bike-share-bag

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