About a month ago, the Better Bike Share Partnership announced a $75,000 grant to the city of Chicago to launch the “Divvy for Everyone” campaign, a strategy to increase bike-share access and ridership among low-income residents. At the time, Chicago Department of Transportation officials declined to discuss the details of the program, but BBSP’s grant program manager provided info about the plan from CDOT’s grant proposal, and I shared it with Streetsblog readers.
Today, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office officially announced the initiative, and it’s almost exactly what I outlined a few weeks ago. To recap: Divvy for Everyone will offer a one-time annual membership to low-income residents for $5 – a deep discount from the normal $75 fee. To make the system accessible to unbanked individuals, the usual requirement of a credit card as collateral will be waived. Instead, the program funding will help cover the replacement costs for any lost or stolen cycles.
The D4E program (CDOT’s abbreviation) is available to Chicagoans with a maximum combined household income of 300 percent of the federal poverty level. For example, a family of four with an income of under $72,750 would be eligible.
Applicants must show up in person at one of five Financial Opportunity Centers operated by the Local Initiatives Support Coalition in Englewood, Bronzeville, East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, and Ravenswood, and provide proof of income and residency. After paying the $5 charge, they’ll be given an activated Divvy key and will be immediately able to check out a bike.
One advantage of the person-to-person approach is that it makes signing up for bike-share a more user-friendly experience. Instead of navigating the potentially confusing sign-up process solo at a Divvy kiosk or a computer in the library, residents will be assisted by a staff member. As an added perk, the first 250 applicants will receive a free bike helmet from Divvy sponsor Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, which is providing matching funds for the grant.
After the first year, D4E members will have to pay the full annual fee, but the city is looking into strategies to make it easier for low-income people to budget accordingly if they choose to renew their memberships. These include payment plans, cash payment options, and a financial literacy program offered by LISC, where participants learn strategies for saving money and building credit.
At a press conference this morning at The Cara Program, Quad Communities Center for Working Families, the Bronzeville headquarters for the D4E campaign, Mayor Emanuel heralded the program as a major step toward bridging Divvy’s economic gap. “This is a great day for the city of Chicago, a day in which we move forward, literally, as one city.”
CDOT commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld told me the equity program compliments this spring’s expansion from 300 to 476 Divvy stations, which brought physical access to the system to many new neighborhoods, including a number of low-income communities. “It’s about providing more options for people to get to the jobs they’re seeking, to get to recreation in other parts of the city, to run errands and more.”
Jennifer McClain, director of financial opportunities at LISC, said the D4E initiative will help clients because bike-share can help fill the gaps in Chicago’s public transportation network. “Since they’ll only have to pay $5 for their membership the first year, this will provide another option for them to get to training sessions or get to work.”
“Sometimes people have to turn down employment opportunities because it’s not practical to get there by the CTA alone,” said Lynnette Washington, site director for the Cara Program. “With bike-share, they can take public transportation and then jump on a Divvy Bike to get to their workplace. As well as providing another means of transportation, it also promotes healthy living.”
Slow Roll Chicago will be assisting CDOT with outreach by promoting the D4E program to residents across the city. “This is going to allow more people of color and more low-to-moderate-income people, especially those who don’t have banking relationships, to have access to the system,” said Oboi Reed, cofounder of the bike group (and a Streetsblog Chicago board member). “We’re excited about getting people in the neighborhoods to consider bike-share as a form of transportation.”
Go Bronzeville, a transportation demand management program in the community of the same name, will be doing more focused D4E outreach in that neighborhood. “Divvy for Everyone is a piece of a grander puzzle, which is to get people to get outdoors and get to walking, biking, and other alternative modes of transportation,” said Ronnie Harris, a Center for Neighborhood technology staffer who runs Go Bronzeville as a volunteer.
“Divvy has needed to provide an equity component to the program,” Harris said. “Bike-share is a public amenity, so it should be accessible not just to those who have the means, but also those who might not have the means. So we’re hopeful.”