Diving Into Divvy Stats: Bike-Share Trips Spike on the Weekend
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.
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.”
Kubly also noted that about 98 percent of the trips made by annual members are under 30 minutes, averaging about 13 minutes. In contrast, day pass customers are averaging about 35 minutes per trip, although he didn’t speculate about whether this is because most visitors choose to exceed the half-hour time limit and accrue the resulting overtime fees, or because they’re unclear on the 30-minute rule. On weekends, average trips by annual members expand from roughly 13 minutes to about 15 minutes, Kubly said. “So trips are getting about 20 percent longer on the weekends,” he said. “People are using it to get to different types of destinations than their work trips.”
Kubly seemed to acknowledge that overtime fees accrued by day pass customers will help make Divvy financially sustainable. He noted that each daily user spends $7 on the pass, takes an average of three rides and racks up an average of $2 in late charges per ride. “So with every day pass we sell, we’re seeing about $13-15 coming into the system to help support operations,” he said. “And this is actually a financially self-sufficient transportation system, when you take into account operations and [other expenses.]”
The deputy commissioner noted that social media has been key for getting the word out about Divvy and fielding questions from customers, and concluded by arguing that the system is helping to boost the percentage of female cyclists in Chicago. “Women are an indicator species for bicycling,” he said. “Across the country you see about two-thirds of cyclists are men. And looking at who we have as fans on Facebook, about 54 percent are female.”
He noted that the Bixi cycles feel more stable and steady than most bikes, and they have built-in generator lights that flash even in daylight, which may help make them appealing to risk-adverse people. “You’re upright, it’s a more robust, safer bike, and you’re more visible,” he said. “People drive differently around you… I think that this is one of the most exciting things that I’ve seen about Divvy so far, is that it’s really closing that gender gap in cycling.”