How Divvy Stacks Up Against Bike-Share in the Netherlands and Spain

Riding Sevici bike-share on the riverfront bike path in Seville
Two women ride Sevici bike-share along the Guadalquivir river in Seville, Spain.

Last month, I had the chance to use bike-share systems in two Dutch cities and Seville, Spain. The systems – OV-fiets in Rotterdam and Nijmegen and Sevici in Seville – differ from one another and from Chicago’s Divvy system in several key ways. Together, they make for an instructive comparison about how our friends in other countries get around. 

While most of the 400 bike-share systems around the world are primarily used for residents’ brief, one-way trips around town, OV-fiets provides local transportation for short-term city visitors and workers, rather like an airport car rental service. It’s run by the Dutch intercity train network, which largely restricts passengers from bringing their own bikes on board due to crowding. Members can get 72-hour rentals for about $4.70 per day, from about 250 locations across the small nation. The single-speed bikes include a built-in lock so you can use it all day, anywhere in the city. (OV-fiets requires a Dutch bank account, but I was able to try it thanks to a local friend who lent a membership.)

OV-fiets bike-share bikes at Rotterdam Centraal
OV-fietsen are parked underground at the Rotterdam central train station, waiting to be checked out.

OV-fiets membership are most often linked to Dutch transit smartcards to check out bikes. It would be convenient to check out Divvy bikes in Chicago with your Ventra card, and it’s technically possible because the two systems use similar RFID technology. It would be even better if you could travel around the country using the same membership, which B-Cycle and Zipcar both allow.

Sevici in Seville launched seven years ago, and was timed with the installation of dozens of miles of separated bike paths snaking through the city. It’s run by JCDecaux, the outdoor advertising company that also manages Vélib’ in Paris and CTA’s bus shelters. Sevici is also cheap: they offer inexpensive weekly passes for $18.

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The Sevici kiosk is easier and faster to use because you don’t have to “stab” the touch screen or wait as long to advance screens.

Like Divvy, stations in Seville are a few blocks apart, with the highest density in the city center, but the bicycles themselves were in poor mechanical condition. Additionally, I frequently ran into problems with empty or full docks around the city, and had to pedal or walk to further stations on a couple occasions. Divvy excels at redistributing bikes, and their new sponsorship deal will hopefully sustain good maintenance and continued high availability.

Maintenance issues aside, I preferred the method Sevici has for casual users to check out bikes: users type a six-digit access number, a PIN, and the bike ID onto a metal keypad, which unlocks the bike. Divvy, on the other hand, has cumbersome kiosk software that requires users to repeatedly jab a touch screen, after which it prints out a new three-digit code every time.

Each of the three systems has its own key strengths. The bikes were a high point for OV-fiets, as they were well built and have a riding position style even more upright than Divvy. A reliable kiosk design and simple software are a key feature for Sevici. Divvy has a good rebalancing strategy, which has run into few of the challenges encountered by New York City and others.

  • The Divvy kiosks are a problem for non-members. I used the Miami bike share, and it has a very easy kiosk system with an old-fashioned matrix screen and keypad (like on an old pay phone). Works flawlessly. Sometimes technology innovation is for the worse if done poorly.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    A bicycle sharing system typically only allows you to use a bicycle in spurts of 30 to 60 minutes at a time and then returned to a docking station for someone else to then use–that’s where the sharing part comes in. The term rentals usually refers to all day, weekly or monthly use of the product. Hertz or Avis car rentals are example of that and also OV-fiets–which should be considered a rental system and not a bicycle sharing system.

  • In a colloquial sense, both involve sharing, one by the day and one by the hour.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Using your definition, then Hertz, Avis, Car2Go and Zipcar are all car sharing services. Renting a bicycle from a bike shop would also be a bicycle sharing service.

  • Alex_H

    I used the Indianapolis bike share this past weekend (the downtown protected cycle track is AWESOME), and I found the kiosk interface confusing. I was glad there was no line behind me. It may just be a tough thing to design, although I’d like to see the Miami version.

  • I used the Vélo system in Antwerp in February. A weekly pass runs €8, and then it’s roughly the same deal as Divvy – 30 minutes for free, incremental charges beyond that. One annoying thing about the system is that you have to wait 5 minutes after docking to check another bike out – probably not an issue for commuters, or for those using Vélo for errands, but frustrating if you’re tooling around for an afternoon, or taking a longer trip, or if you pull a bike that needs maintenance, as was the case with about 1/3 of the bikes we used. The docking mechanism was also a little odd – a two prong thing flipped down from the handlebars and had to be inserted into a slot on the dock, which wasn’t the easiest to do if you had stuff in the rack. But! on the whole, a cheap, well-supported system that we’ll definitely use next time we’re there.

  • 5 minutes? Wow! The Sevici system had a two minute break. I’m not sure what the minimum break is for Divvy but I presume it’s identical to Citibike in New York City (two minutes). For members the break between checking out bikes on Divvy is a few seconds.

    I thought the docking system in Sevici had an equal level of ease/difficulty (cup half empty/half full). In Sevici there’s a little “hand” that juts out of the bike horizontally and you have to slide this into the dock just right. It beeps twice to signal a successful dock.

    In Divvy you have to slam the bike in and sometimes the lock doesn’t always catch. It has a green light to signal a successful dock. Both systems should blink and make a second when docking.

  • I think the sharing aspect comes in when you buy a membership. You collectively support the company with your membership in addition to your fees. Like how REI is a cooperative company?

  • It seems like the minimum break on Divvy is entirely dependent on how long the kiosk takes to spit out a new receipt. I’m guessing it could reach 5 minutes on a busy day at a popular location!

    Another thing Divvy does better than Vélo is the on-dock problem reporting. Dock your bike, press the button, and walk away! With Vélo, I had to make a several minute (international for me) phone call and get transferred twice to report a problem with a bike and dock. I’ve had to call Divvy customer service before, but have never had it take as long as my call to Vélo.

  • Divvy, based on Bixi, really does make it easy to report problems. I wanted to report all the problematic Sevici bikes I rode but things that looked like buttons on the bike and on the dock were not buttons. I don’t know if the kiosk has the option.

    Since you must select your bike from the Sevici kiosk and not from the bike dock, I noticed people checking over the bikes in the docks before they made their selection on the kiosk. I started doing this, too, and I looked for bikes with high IDs, which I believe indicated their relative age.

  • Oh! That was another oddity about Vélo: your bike was randomly assigned by the kiosk. After keying in your code, the kiosk would assign you a bike number seemingly at random – we’d almost always pull two bikes at once, and they were often at opposite ends of the kiosk. The bike unlocks, and you have a certain amount of time (1 minute?) to pull the bike before it is locked again.

  • All of this is reminding me that I wanted to write a blog post about biking in Antwerp. One of these days…

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