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Ex-CDOT Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly Named Head of Seattle DOT

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Kubly with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, right. Photo: City of Seattle

Chicago’s loss is Seattle’s gain. This afternoon, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray named former Chicago Department of Transportation deputy commissioner Scott Kubly the new director of the Seattle DOT. The appointment will require City Council confirmation.

Kubly served as a lieutenant to forward-thinking ex-CDOT chief Gabe Klein, and also worked under Klein when Klein was head of the Washington, D.C., transportation department. When Klein stepped down as CDOT commissioner last November, he told me that Kubly had been crucial to his success in Chicago. “Without Scott, there’s no way that automated enforcement would have happened, no way that the riverwalk would have been funded, and Divvy would not have been as smooth a rollout,” he said.

Although some people, such as 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar, argued that Kubly would make a great CDOT commissioner himself, Kubly announced his resignation a mere three days after Klein left. “I view my career in milestones, and we just hit a ton of them,” he told me. “I’m really happy with what we got done. I’ve been thinking about this since May or June, and this really seems like the right time to step away.” He left the job on December 27. Since then, he has worked as acting president of Alta Bicycle Share, which runs Chicago’s Divvy program and several other bike-share systems.

Kubly is replacing Seattle transportation chief Peter Hahn, who resigned last fall after the newly elected Murray told him that he wouldn’t be retained in the new administration. In polls taken before the election, Seattleites said traffic congestion was one of their biggest concerns. Murray’s campaign platform included a promise to create an integrated, multi-modal transportation system.

In a statement, Murray praised Kubly as a “transportation renaissance man” with a proven track record in Chicago and D.C. “He’s worked on bike issues, car share programs, traffic management and pedestrian safety strategies, rapid transit and street cars,” Murray said. “He’s done long-range budgeting, strategic planning, cost reduction, major capital project development, and performance measurement and accountability. Scott is the transportation leader this city needs to take us to the next level in creating more livable, walkable communities.”

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City Explains Gap in Snow Removal From Protected Bike Lanes This Week

Residual snow in bike lanes was a problem this week, putting cyclists in slippery situations. Twitter messages popped up about snow still in the Kinzie protected bike lane after the area’s first snowfall Sunday night — and Chicago’s second winter with protected bike lanes. The issue was discussed at yesterday’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council, where Chicago transportation officials explained what happened and how they plan to improve snow removal from the growing network of protected bike lanes (now at about 16 miles).

Sara Travis, owner of The Brew Hub bike-coffee cart, brought up the issue at MBAC yesterday afternoon, calling the snow removal in bike lanes “hit or miss.” And it wasn’t just protected bike lanes that weren’t being cleared. Randy Neufeld, director of the SRAM Cycling Fund, asked if more could be done about buffered bike lanes.

“Right now, CDOT’s In-House Construction is clearing protected bike lanes,” said CDOT Bicycle Program project manager Mike Amsden. Since the Department of Streets and Sanitation plows everywhere else, that sometimes means that after CDOT plows the bike lane, Streets and San crews will come by and push the snow back into the bike lane.

Another issue CDOT deals with in clearing Kinzie and other parking-protected bike lanes is that they must truck around the narrower Bombardier-made plows. On the wider lanes – 18th Street and Franklin Boulevard, for example – pickup trucks can be driven directly to plow the bikeway.

Amsden hinted that this wasn’t ideal. “We are continuing to push other departments to do this,” adding that they would love for Streets and San to do this job.

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Like Gabe Klein, Deputy Commish Scott Kubly Is Calling It a Wrap at CDOT

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Kubly with Klein at a conference. Photo: John Greenfield

Last Tuesday was Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein’s last day on the job. Three days later Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly, one of Klein’s key lieutenants, announced his resignation as well.

Kubly, who has been central in implementing many of Klein’s progressive transportation initiatives, had seemed like a strong candidate to serve as the next commissioner. “Scott … is doing a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes to make projects happen,” Klein told Streetsblog in a recent exit interview. “Without Scott, there’s no way that automated enforcement would have happened, no way that the riverwalk would have been funded, and Divvy would not have been as smooth a rollout.” Klein declined to make a statement about whether his deputy should be the next commissioner.

However, 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar endorsed Kubly for the job. “The way to cement [Klein’s] legacy is to make sure his successor carries on Mayor Emanuel’s vision for a globally focused transportation policy,” he told Streetsblog. “Someone like Scott Kubly would be a great choice.”

Kubly will be staying on the job until December 27 to wrap up various projects. These include making sure the speed camera rollout continues to go smoothly, and overseeing the bid process for a contractor to activate 50 underused plazas. First Deputy Commissioner Pat Harney, who has been in charge of in-house construction and infrastructure management, is currently serving as the acting CDOT commissioner.

Kubly said his decision to leave CDOT was not tied to Klein’s departure. “I came in two-and-a-half years ago and was asked to get a bunch of things off the ground,” he said. He noted that Divvy and speed cameras have been launched, the Chicago Riverwalk extension is financed, about 50 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes have been contructed, and another 50 should be designed by next spring. “I view my career in milestones, and we just hit a ton of them. I’m really happy with what we got done. I’ve been thinking about this since May or June, and this really seems like the right time to step away.”

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An Exit Interview With Chicago Transportation Chief Gabe Klein

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Klein tests out the Loop’s first ped scramble. Photo by John Greenfield.

[A shorter version of this article ran in Checkerboard City, John’s column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

Maybe I jinxed things by naming transportation czar Gabe Klein as the city’s best department head in Newcity’s October 31 Best of Chicago issue, because the very next day he announced he was stepping down. Can’t really blame the guy since, two-and-a-half years after he took the job, his wife is still living in his previous hometown of Washington, D.C., where he’ll be returning to launch new transportation technology enterprises in the private sector. Still, it’s a shame that the poster boy for reconfiguring urban streets to serve all road users, not just drivers, is leaving the Windy City in his bicycle taillights. I caught up with Klein at his downtown office for a final chat.

John Greenfield: To ask the classic annoying job interview question, what was your biggest weakness as commissioner?

Gabe Klein: Coming to town and not necessarily understanding all the history of how the city works meant there was a bigger learning curve. I came in with Mayor Emanuel and had this idea that we were going to set the world on fire and change transportation in Chicago. That’s a double-edged sword. If I didn’t think that way, we wouldn’t have been able to get as much done, but you also rub some people the wrong way. So maybe I could have been a little less boisterous? I don’t know.

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Rendering of Central Loop BRT on Washington Street.

JG: Were there any projects that you were disappointed you weren’t able to accomplish or finish?

GK: As a human you’re always going to wish you could have done more, and tied up that one loose end. Like I wish bus rapid transit was already launched instead of kicking off in January [with a route between Union Station to Navy Pier.] When I sat down with the mayor after he hired me, I laid out about a hundred things I wanted to do. He said, “This is great, but shouldn’t we focus on two or three things?” I said, “If we focus on two or three things, in couple of years we’ll have accomplished one or two of those things. But if we shoot for a hundred things and knock out 70, 75 of those things, you’re going to be really happy with how much we accomplished.”

The thing you see in [transportation departments] sometimes is this very slow, incremental approach, where you don’t upset too many people, you don’t push your staff too hard, and you don’t upset the public through too much change at once. The problem is, not much happens. This mayor, my previous boss [former D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty], and me, we embody the urgency of making change: the economic urgency, the safety urgency. I was looking at Chicago’s pedestrian fatality numbers this year and they’re down over 45 percent this year over last year. [2012 was an unusually deadly year for peds with 48 fatalities.] We didn’t have any last month. People ask why we’re doing so many things so fast. It’s because people’s lives depend on it.

And it’s not always about the mega projects. We found funding to do the riverwalk extension. We put together federal money for the Bloomingdale Trail that was completely unfunded when the mayor came in. But it’s the little things that have had the biggest impact. The Divvy program has cost the city about $5.5 million in matching funds [federal funding covered the remaining $22 million]. That’s the cost of maybe one-and-a-half CTA rail cars, and look at the impact it’s had on people’s lives. The bike lanes are really inexpensive, but look at the return. In terms of what we haven’t accomplished, probably nobody’s harder on that than me, but I can’t really complain too much.

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Gabe Klein to Resign at End of Month

Gabe Klein walks across the first pedestrian scramble. Photo: John Greenfield.

Gabe Klein walks across Chicago's first pedestrian scramble. Photo: John Greenfield

With two and a half years of service under his belt as the transportation commissioner — not to mention 300 bike-share stations – Gabe Klein announced that he will be resigning at the end of November.

A lot changed since Klein arrived. He oversaw a major reorganization of the transportation department, the creation of Chicago Forward, a two-year departmental plan, and the release of design guidelines and policies for complete streets and sustainable urban infrastructure. He said the culture that accepts speeding must change, while introducing automated speed enforcement. CDOT’s priorities and practices changed substantially during his tenure, with a strong emphasis on safety, multi-modalism, and livability .

Klein told the Tribune that he will return to the private sector after about five years working for Washington, D.C., and Chicago, to develop business plans “that promote transportation technology.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel hired Klein immediately after the 2011 election to execute the transition plan that called for building 100 miles of protected bike lanes and the Bloomingdale Trail within four years, as well as bus rapid transit. All of those projects are well on their way, though the goal of 100 miles of protected (and now buffered) bike lanes will be tough to reach before the end of Emanuel’s current term.

While it seems like Klein was just getting started, he had the longest tenure of a transportation commissioner in recent memory. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley moved five people into the position within five years.

CDOT spokesperson Pete Scales said that Emanuel will make a succession announcement after Klein leaves the post.

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200,000-Plus Warnings in 40 Days Proves We Have a Speeding Epidemic

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Workers prepare speed camera signs near Gompers Park. Photo: Phil Velsquez, Chicago Tribune

On Friday the Chicago Department of Transportation announced that nine automated speed enforcement cameras near four neighborhood parks have issued warnings to more than 200,000 speeders in the first 40 days of operation. Of those violations, more than 200 involved drivers going over 60 mph, at least twice the 30 mph speed limit. Ten were traveling over 80 mph, and one motorist was driving a terrifying 90 mph on city streets.

You would think that the Tribune would respond to the news with a story about how these numbers indicate that Chicago has a reckless driving epidemic. Perhaps the paper would acknowledge that the cameras represent an appropriate enforcement measure. Instead, the Trib clung to its hypothesis that this safety initiative is merely a money grab by the mayor, with the headline “Emanuel speed cameras may bring in more revenue than expected.”

“Mayor Rahm Emanuel has touted his speed camera program as a way to improve traffic safety for children near the city’s parks and schools,” wrote reporter Bill Ruthhart. “But the early warning violations from Chicago’s first speed cameras are the latest indicator that the fledgling program could be a financial windfall for the city.”

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Foster Avenue near Gompers Park. Photo: Steven Vance

The article, which uses somewhat different figures than Friday’s CDOT press release, focuses on the fact that these nine cameras, which issued 233,000 warnings in 45 days, would have produced $13.8 million in fines had they actually been producing tickets. Ruthhart writes that while Emanuel had predicted the cameras would bring in $15 million in revenue by the end of 2013, these figures suggest the cameras could bring in far more money.

The Trib piece fails to mention that any revenue generated by the speed cameras would be earmarked for traffic safety and violence prevention efforts such as crossing guards and police officers around schools, infrastructure like crosswalks and warning signs, plus after-school, anti-violence and job-training programs. It also leaves out the info about the hundreds of motorists who were clocked going over 60.

Ruthhart did talk to CDOT Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly, who said that while the number of speeders was surprisingly high, data indicates that the 30-day warning period for each camera, in which violators are mailed notices but not tickets, is changing drivers’ behavior. On the first day each of the nine cameras operated, the number of warnings totaled 11,884, but two weeks later that figure had dropped by 43 percent to only 6,724.

“These are warnings and not tickets for a reason,” Kubly told Ruthhart. “We expect behavior to change dramatically, which it already has, and we think it’s going to change even more.”

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Bike Coordinator Ben Gomberg Leaves CDOT After 17 Years

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Gomberg, Klein and CDOT Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton at the Bike to Work Rally. Photo: John Greenfield

It’s the end of an era. After serving as Chicago’s first and only bike program coordinator since 1996, Ben Gomberg says he has left the city’s transportation department for greener pastures. “After 17 years coordinating Chicago’s bike program I felt it was time to move on,” he told me. “I’m proud of establishing the largest and best bike program in the U.S., and helping launch the Divvy bike sharing program. But it was time for new challenges, new things to do, and more time with my kids.”

Chicago Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly declined to comment on Gomberg’s departure, citing CDOT policy against discussing personnel matters. However, the changing of the guard was foreshadowed back in March, when Kubly told me that, as part of a re-shuffling of job responsibilities at the department, Gomberg was no longer managing the day-to-day operations of the bike program, which are now largely supervised by CDOT Project Director Janet Attarian.

By that time, Gomberg was focusing his efforts on establishing the Divvy bike-share system. He was responsible for overseeing the siting of the rental stations, as well as ensuring that the vehicles would be effectively distributed and maintained. At this point, 266 of the 400 planned stations have been installed. When I talked to Kubly in March about the CDOT restructuring, he acknowledged Gomberg’s key role in helping to change the culture of the city to one where biking is taken seriously as a transportation mode. “Ben’s 16-plus years of work on bicycle projects has laid the foundation that got us to this point,” Kubly said.

Bike infrastructure improvements have taken place much more rapidly since 2011, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his bold plan to install 100 miles of protected lanes, establish a large-scale bike-share system and build the Bloomingdale Trail within his first term. When I worked at the city’s bike program on parking projects in the early 2000s, Ben told me his policy was to “under-promise and over-perform.”

This conservative philosophy contrasts with current CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein’s habit of setting big goals, occasionally coming up short, but racking up numerous achievements in the process. Klein’s M.O. seems informed by something Michelangelo supposedly said, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

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Quigley Hosts Roundtable on Sustainable Transportation in Chicago Region

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Quigley with his folder, which was stolen from in front of the Capitol.

Yesterday a number of heavy hitters in the local transportation scene showed up for a roundtable on sustainable transportation issues at the CTA headquarters hosted by U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) and University of Illinois President Robert A. Easter. Quigley, whose district, formerly presided over by Rahm Emanuel, covers a large swath of Chicago’s North Side and a few inner-ring suburbs, sits on the House Appropriations Committee and the Subcommittee for Transportation.

Stephen Schlickman, executive director of the Urban Transportation Center at UIC, moderated the roundtable. In addition to Quigley and Easter, participants included representatives of the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Chicago Department of Transportation, Chicago Area Clean Cities Initiative, the Active Transportation Alliance, the CTA, and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

At the beginning of the meeting, reporters were given a chance to ask questions. I asked Quigley whether he supports the CTA’s plan to repurpose car lanes for bus rapid transit on Ashland Avenue, which runs though his district. While he seemed to support the idea, he said he’s been hearing concerns from residents about the street reconfiguration, which also includes the prohibition of most left turns. “A lot of my constituents aren’t dead-set against it,” he said. “I don’t see adamant opposition, just legitimate concerns that we need to address.”

Schlickman said BRT, along with other local initiatives like the Red Line rehab and the Divvy bike-share system, reflects a shift in priorities from from the car-centric recent past. “The challenge we have in Chicago and in our nation is that since World War II, well into the 1990s, we had a predominance of one mode of transportation policy and that was serving automobiles and truck traffic,” he said. “The tremendous growth that we had in our highway and road infrastructure certainly served our economy well but it really didn’t put us in the most sustainable position in the long run. It’s created a tremendous imbalance for one mode of transportation and we need to address that imbalance.”

Lee Crandell, director of campaigns for Active Trans, argued that infrastructure to make walking and biking safer and more convenient is inexpensive and could have a big influence increase mode share for sustainable transportation. He noted the success of Seville, Spain. In 2006, only 0.6 percent of all trips were made by bike, but after protected lanes were installed and a bike-share system was launched, mode share increased eleven-fold to 6.6 percent. “Shifting six percent might seem small and insignificant but these facilities are incredibly affordable and very often within reach,” he said. “They can have a huge impact on our health, on our environment, and on the congestion and safety of our streets.”

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The roundtable at the CTA headquarters. Photo: John Greenfield

Quigley, who regularly rides a bicycle for transportation, noted that when his Chicago office participated in Active Trans’ Bike Commuter Challenge contest, several of his staffers said they didn’t feel comfortable riding on Chicago streets. “Two of my three trips today will be on a bike, and I don’t feel safe on most of the main streets either,” he said. He added that it’s ironic he and his wife feel more comfortable letting their two young daughters take the ‘L’ downtown by themselves at night than letting them ride bikes in their neighborhood.

Schlickman noted that Chicago is in the process of installing 100 miles of protected and buffered bike lanes by 2015. “The mayor has made a really good case for improving bike safety,” he said. “That’s good, because we really don’t want to lose the congressman to some idiot in a car.”

Quigley said he appreciates the extra security provided by bike lanes that offer physical protection from moving cars. I asked if he’s aware that IDOT has prohibited the installation of protected lanes on state roads in Chicago. Since the department wants three years of “safety data” on existing Chicago protected lanes, that means the very earliest they would lift the ban is 2015. “That I didn’t know but it doesn’t surprise me,” the congressman said. “I feel more comfortable with the protected lanes and I feel IDOT should change that.”

“We do like to rely on data to inform our policy decisions,” responded Mark Copeland from IDOT’s Office of Planning and Programming. “We did just finish the first round of community outreach on the state bicycle plan, which will be added as a chapter to our long-term plan. It will hopefully help the coordination with other state and local agencies regarding bicycle infrastructure. So we’ll see.”

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The Challenge of Making Divvy Accessible to People Without Bank Accounts

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Currently, to unlock 300 bike-share stations, you need a credit card.

To use Divvy you must have a debit or credit card. Currently, there’s no way around that, so even though an annual Divvy pass is a bargain at $75, the system is unavailable for many Chicagoans. A significant share of city households — 12.7 percent — don’t have bank accounts, according to graduate research by Michael Carney at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. That translates to at least 135,000 people and perhaps more than twice that number, Carney’s demographic research indicates.

The Chicago Department of Transportation has set out to make Divvy more accessible to “unbanked” residents. CDOT’s strategy is to partner with organizations that can take on the liability of the membership and replacement bike costs, and to promote Bank On Chicago, a program run by the city treasurer in which banks reduce the barriers to opening a checking account.

CDOT Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly says the agency has “talked to a few nonprofits and talked to a few churches” but that interest has been light so far. Making Divvy accessible to unbanked Chicagoans, he said, has been the department’s biggest challenge in rolling out the bike-share system. (The second biggest challenge: siting stations.)

One issue the organizations have had with the proposed arrangement, Kubly said, is the perceived risk involved. “I think it’s a question from shared liability standpoint, I think there’s some concern about that,” he said. “I think there’s a desire to see how it rolls out a little further.” Kubly pointed out that the department can focus more intently on the issue after the rollout of the first 300 stations this year.

After interning at CDOT in 2012 and helping to site bike-share stations, Carney looked into how other bike-share programs in the United States were engaging unbanked residents as part of his graduate studies. Carney reviewed the efforts of seven current and planned bike-share programs across the continent and produced a report [PDF] including strategies that CDOT has adopted.

Here’s how Carney summarized the three major recommendations to Streetsblog:

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Diving Into Divvy Stats: Bike-Share Trips Spike on the Weekend

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Divvy use by daily pass holders peaks sharply on weekends, while annual member ridership dips slightly.

Steven Vance is the self-described “data geek” at Streetsblog Chicago, but even a right-brained type like myself couldn’t help but be intrigued by some recently revealed stats and charts about Divvy bike-share use patterns. Chicago Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly shared them during a talk at last week’s Complete Streets Symposium, hosted by CDOT, the CTA and the professional group the Intelligent Transportation Society, which kind of sounds like an ’80s synth-pop band.

After outlining how Divvy works for the audience of transportation planners, engineers and advocates, Kubly discussed some of the issues involved in keeping the system running smoothly, such as “rebalancing,” moving bikes between docking stations. “I like to think about a full or empty station like you think about a late or an early airplane,” he said. “An empty station is a late airplane. It’s inconvenient. You walk up and you can’t get a bike. A full station is like your plane left early… That’s absolutely unacceptable, just like you show up at a bike station with a 50-pound bike and there’s nowhere to put it.”

To address these problems, the company monitors use trends, and Divvy employees in a dozen or so vans circulate the city, filling stations up and emptying them out. Kubly said on weekday evenings, workers stock stations on the periphery of the coverage area with bikes and empty downtown docks in anticipation of the morning rush. In the afternoons, they fill up the downtown stations and empty out the neighborhood stations so that people have a bike to grab and a place to go to.

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Divvy ridership on Wednesday, July 24, was highest in the Loop and near the lakefront.

Next Kubly displayed a map showing the web of trips between different stations, which showed that stations in the Loop and near the lakefront are getting the highest use. “What you can see is, right in the center of this network there’s an incredible density of trips and stations being used,” he said. “And then, as you get out to the periphery, the stations are still getting used, but nowhere to the degree that those stations in the middle are. So what we can see is that, as we grow the system out, those stations [currently] on the periphery are going to get more useful.”

Kubly, who helped CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein launch Washington, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare back when they both worked for that city’s transportation department, argued that the District’s system is much more commuter-oriented than Chicago’s. However, that’s likely because Divvy has not yet branched into many residential neighborhoods, so many of its customers are visitors using the bikes for sightseeing downtown or spins on the lakefront. This trend will probably reverse as the network expands.

Currently, Divvy is seeing more use later in the week, with spikes on the weekend, Kubly said. “And there’s almost a six-to-one ratio of one-day pass users to annual users,” he added. “That’s a very positive thing, because it means we can offer bike-share to Chicagoans for twenty cents a day because folks from Iowa or Wisconsin or wherever are visiting our city and getting a great way to travel around it, but for a little more money.”

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