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.