Take a Free Ride: No Charge for Divvy on Three Days in September

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Every Divvy kiosk now has a sticker advertising the free ride days. Photo: CDOT

Back in July, the Chicago Department of Transportation launched the “Divvy for Everyone” equity program, offering $5 bike-share memberships to low-income Chicagoans. Now they’re trying a social experiment that will answer the question, what if Divvy was, almost literally, for everyone?

Thanks to sponsorship from T-Mobile, Divvy will be offering free rides for 24-periods on three Saturdays in September: the 5th, 12th, and 19th, available to anyone 16 or older with a credit card. Taking advantage of the promotion works just like buying a regular day pass, which usually costs $9.95.

One those days, residents and visitors will be able to simply walk up to a Divvy kiosk, swipe a credit card, go through the sign-process, and check out a bike – minus the normal fee. They can take as many 30-minute rides as they like during the 24-hour period. The usual late fees will apply.

A similar concept has already been tried in New York City, where the Divvy concessionaire Motivate also operates the Citi Bike system. On Thursday, May 14, free Citi bike rides were bankrolled by, curiously, Switzerland Tourism. Motivate talked with T-Mobile about doing a Chicago sponsorship and put them in touch with CDOT.

As part of the deal, the telecommunications company will pay an undisclosed sum, which should cover the projected cost of the three days of complimentary Divvy use, as well as the expenses for beefed-up Divvy valet parking services – more on that later. “We expect we’ll wind up with some additional funds that will help subsidize operations of the system, over and above the three days,” said CDOT Assistant Commissioner Sean Wiedel.

Wiedel is confident that, weather permitting, ridership on each of these free days will shatter the previous Divvy record set last July 4, when about 25,000 trips were taken. On a typical summer Saturday, between 16,000 and 18,000 rides are taken. “This is a grand experiment, so we’re not really sure how many rides we’ll get,” he said.

Having a large percentage of locals and tourists all using the system on the same day poses two obvious potential problems: the possibility of too many full docking stations, and too many empty ones. To address the first issue, Divvy staffers will provide valet service at 13 of the most popular stations between 12 and 6 p.m. on each Saturday. That will guarantee that users can check in their bikes at these hotspots.

As for empty stations, that’s a bigger challenge. “We’ll have our full rebalancing team working,” Wiedel said. “I expect we’ll have some issues on the first Saturday, but we’ll use that experience to provide better service on the following weekends.”

Wiedel says he’s excited about giving Chicagoans from all over the city the opportunity to try out the system risk-free. “Hopefully some of them will decide to become members, and they’ll tell their friends and family about it,” he said. As an added enticement to join, people who sign up for a yearly membership during the month of September at the regular $75 price will receive a thirteenth month for free. That’s a baker’s dozen months of bike-share.

CDOT would like to offer more Divvy free days in the future, Widel said. “We hope that T-Mobile is the first of many sponsors to do this.”

Here’s a full list of the stations that will feature valet service on the free days:

  • Millennium Park
  • Theater on the Lake
  • Lake Shore Drive & Monroe St.
  • Streeter Drive & Illinois St.
  • Lake Shore Drive & North Ave.
  • Michigan Ave. & Oak St.
  • Montrose Harbor
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Indiana Ave. & Roosevelt Road
  • Adler Planetarium
  • Clark St. & Armitage Ave.
  • Lake Shore Drive & Ohio St.
  • Buckingham Fountain

Streetsblog Chicago will resume publication on Tuesday. Have a great Labor Day!

  • Brianbobcat

    Wow, thanks for the one day advance notice. Usually a phrase like “weekend is September” would be using in July or August to give people time to plan, not 24 hours before the event. At least there’s two other weekends for me to finally try Divvy.

  • Yeah, it would have been been nice if CDOT/Divvy didn’t announce this two days before the first free day. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that the T-Mobile deal didn’t gel until recently, and they didn’t want to wait until the weather gets colder to try this. Still, I don’t see why a person would need more than a few day’s notice to plan for using bike-share.

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