Could Longer Rental Times Help Divvy Appeal to More Chicagoans?

Vienna’s CityBike Wien system givers users twice as much rental time as Divvy. Photo: Michael Podgers

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While visiting Vienna, Austria, I gave their CityBike Wien bike-share system a spin and found it has a couple of advantages over Chicago’s Divvy system. CityBike Wien is dirt cheap, with a one-time registration fee of only one euro, about a dollar, compared to $9.95 for a Divvy day pass. And the first hour of every ride on CityBike Wien is free, while Divvy users start racking up late fees after the first 30 minutes. That means you can practically ride across the entire city of Vienna without having to re-dock your bike.

My experience with CityBike Wien made me think about what Divvy could do to improve user experience and encourage more ridership. Offering a longer period before late fees kick in might make the system more convenient to use, and there are several other possibilities for making the system more user-friendly.

Bike-share is generally designed for short trips and errands, especially “last-mile trips” between transit stations and other destinations. When Divvy bikes are used this way, 30 minutes is plenty of time. Moreover, customers can take longer rides without accruing late fees by “dock surfing,” briefly checking in the bike at a station every half hour. If you have a membership key, this usually adds only a dozen seconds or so to your trip time.

On the other hand, there are other systems besides Vienna’s that offer a longer free rental period than Divvy. For example, New York’s Citi Bike and Paris’ Vélib’ allow annual members to use bikes for 45 minutes without late fees, although day pass holders can only use them for 30 minutes without extra fees.

So would it make sense to extend the Divvy rental period? Michelle Stenzel, co-leader of the grassroots group Bike Walk Lincoln Park, isn’t convinced that’s necessary.

“Although I don’t want to diminish the needs of users who truly want to ride a Divvy for 45 minutes…I have to ask whether those people have actually tried riding a Divvy for that long,” Stenzel said. “Those bikes are heavy!” She added that she avoids using Divvy for more than 20-25 minutes at a time, but that’s plenty of time for the kind of trips the system is intended for.

However, as the Divvy coverage area grows, customer may wish to take longer rides. This year the network expanded to 476 stations, covering 476 stations and 33 of Chicago’s 50 wards, making it the largest system in North America based on the number of stations and the geographic area served. Next year, Divvy is adding 70 new stations in Chicago, Evanston and Oak Park next year, so the the coverage area will grow significantly.

But Jim Merrell, a campaign director at the Active Transportation Alliance doesn’t think the larger service area will lead to a demand for a longer rental period. “Divvy’s great for the shorter trips, but I have a hard time seeing people using Divvy [for longer trips],” he said. He added that Divvy seems to be most useful for rides within neighborhoods, or when combined with transit. Still, longer rental times could make using Divvy a more relaxing experience by reducing the need to watch the clock and dock surf.

Velib obsession
The cycles in Paris’ bike-share system come with a small lock, which is useful if you need to duck into a store for a few minutes. Photo: Evan Bench

While you’re supposed to only park Divvy bikes at the docking stations, that can detract from the usual “door-to-door” convenience of cycling. Stenzel mentioned seeing unlocked Divvy bikes outside of ATMs and retail establishments, which suggests that bike-share users didn’t feel like docking the bikes and walking to their destinations while running errands. However, leaving a Divvy cycle unlocked is risky, because there’s a $1,200 replacement fee for stolen or lost bikes.

Stenzel noted that Paris’ Vélib’ provides bike locks customers, which makes it more convenient to run errands. Perhaps this approach, combined with an extra 15 minutes of rental time, would broaden the appeal of Divvy.

Another improvement that could make Chicago’s system more popular would be to outfit the bikes with more functional baskets, Stenzel said. The existing front racks aren’t very useful for anything larger than a purse or a briefcase. Adding child seats to some bikes might be a nice addition as well, she said.

But Merrell said Divvy’s top priority’s should be expanding the system to neighborhoods that don’t have bikes yet, and eventually increasing station density citywide, should be top priorities. “Alderman who don’t have Divvy in their wards yet want to know when the next round of expansion will be.”

Stenzel and Merrell agreed that for Divvy to appeal to a broader demographic, the city needs to install more low-stress bikeways such as protected bike lanes, so that people don’t have to pedal next to fast car traffic. “The most important thing that needs to be done to increase Divvy ridership is to make it less scary to bike in the city,” Stenzel said. “We need to get beyond the set of bike riders who are ‘brave’ enough.” 

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago’s own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

  • BlueFairlane

    Considering the exchanges I’ve gotten into over previous discussions of Divvy pricing, I find this article kind of funny.

    But let me just say that yes, extending the rental time to 45 minutes before the late fee kicks in would make me far more likely to use Divvy.

  • Daniel Comeaux

    As a current Divvy annual member, I’d love for it to be extended to 45 minutes – I often take a Divvy from Logan Square toward the lakefront, and depending on traffic / my ultimate destination, 30 minutes can be a bit tight. Even over longer trips, if I’m going somewhere that would otherwise take 2 buses, Divvy is often (by far) the fastest option, and I’d love not to have to be racing against the clock, or docking halfway through the trip.

  • A longer rental period would encourage those users who want to use Divvy to REPLACE a bus trip instead of EXTEND a bus/train transit trip to their doorstep.

    Assuming you’ve got Divvy closer to your doorstep than a transit option, of course.

    Especially in the parts of the city where there aren’t trains, and the bus options are spread out or don’t go in the exact direction you wanted to go, a 40min Divvy trip can replace waiting for two busses.

    Long rental periods encourage transportational Divvy use; short rental periods encourage short shuttling trips. Which means you have to have a lifestyle (and embedded Divvy network near you) that cause short shuttling trips to make any sense at all for you.

  • Pat

    More function baskets: please god yes!

  • The ability to bring home, say, two standard paper grocery bags’ worth of cargo on a Divvy would also add a lot of trips, because the number of places I go with just a backpack or carrying almost nothing BOTH ways is small.

    It would give Divvy a real appeal for practical transportation, not just recreational use.

    The trick is adding affordances for reasonable cargo use without encouraging vandalism or misuse. I know sturdy back panniers would encourage people to engage in the common Amsterdam practice of a second rider sideways in pillion, which I think would give Divvy’s lawyers screaming fits.

  • Dear Divvy, I’ve been turned off to Divvy for the reasons mentioned here. First the day cost to just try it out, no thank you. I’m not going to pay for a full year as I wouldn’t use it enough but there has been many times where a buck for a ride would have been perfect. I don’t need a day pass either as its a one time use, maybe twice. Second, the thirty minute window is ridiculous. We have enough fees in the world to not add to the list. No thank you and if you think people won’t ride them more than 20-25 minutes because of their weight then keeping rides short normally takes care of themselves. However I still don’t want to get basically raped on a charge for going over 30 minutes or doing any time consuming bike docking. Which is wear and tear on your equipment as well. Think if CTA only had monthly passes and day passes. I use CTA a few days a week at most and usually for one ride, I’d never use it if they only did day passes and monthly. The pay per use is best suited for me. So your pricing plan prevents occasional users from ever considering it. Thats revenue left on the table and is a major no no in business.

  • Pat

    I wouldn’t call $1.50 for going over the 30 minute limit being “raped” and redocking maybe takes about 30 seconds.

    I will say though that a monthly plan priced at $15, with a $15 discount if you renew for the other 11 months could bring in people who want to try it out and see if it fits their lifestyle, without putting $75 up front.

  • geriatricgretch

    Yes yes yes! I’ve been saying this since it started! My commute from home to work on a bike is right around 40 minutes – having divvy as an option would be marvelous but I’m not going to do it if I need to dock halfway through. Also a fuller basket would entice me more – I often have my bag with my wallet, emergency bike stuff, a book, etc and a second lunch bag and those pseudo-baskets aren’t going to cut it. I normally just use my road bike, but would definitely use divvy if I only wanted to bike one way, got a flat, etc.

  • Cameron Puetz

    I would love more functional baskets. I know the current design was intended to prevent Divvy baskets from becoming trash cans, but I wish that the baskets could hold small items like a thermos, or sack lunch.

  • Your monthly price plan suggestion is worse than the $75 as that is the cost for 5 months! Pay per use option is better. I might use it a hand full of times a year. Lets say 10. For me a pay per month wouldn’t be good and paying $75 a year not so good, most likely ride sharing would be cheaper. However if you took a cost $1-$1.50 for a 45-60 minute max use (and once you dock you have to re pay for another and it could be credits on an account like CTA ventra) you would get some poeple that would use it like me that isnt’ going to pay for a monthly or yearly fee (i have my own bikes live by trains and buses) to use it and provide money and who knows maybe we would pay a higher overall cost per use than the yearly people and actually be profitable. If a yearly member uses it twice every week day during 25 weeks of the year that comes to $0.30 per ride (however go over 30 minutes and they ding you for $1.50). So Divvy would make a higher cost per wear on pay per use users. Its a win win for everyone. What would be CTA’s revenue if they removed pay per use users? I bet it makes up a large portion of income. So again to Divvy not having a reasonable pay per use is leaving money on the table. And think reasonable as being what is it worth to that person who has that one odd place once every blue moon that takes 20 min from a train / bus to walk to vs just grabbing a DIVY and paying a buck to maybe get there in 6 minutes. Sure its not a lot of money but they could add up over the year as it stands now its lost revenue.

  • Pat

    The $15 would be rolled into the $75 annual plan. So if you decide to go for the full year, you just pay an extra $60. Also not sure where you got 5 months from as $15 is about 2 1/2 months of an annual membership.

    As for you pay per ride idea, I know of only two major bike shares that do currently do it. LA: $3.50 a ride and Philly: $4 a ride. I cannot personally speak as to why those are the prices, but I’m willing to bet someone crunched the numbers and going after people who would use bikeshare like you would didn’t make sense.

  • Cincy Red Bike actually allows for 60-minute rental times. So far it has seemed to appeal to users as ridership for its first year far surpassed projections.

  • Alex

    Divvy had 3 free weekends where you could’ve tried the system out

  • $4 for a half an hour is just begging to never get used but “someone crunched the numbers” well if thats the case then the number crunchers didn’t look at the number of unused bikes. A bike not used is lost revenue. Also its sort of a public transit (they are using public property for the program) addition thus should be open to a reasonable pay per use. Again what if CTA didn’t have pay per use just monthly passes?

  • Yea I missed those but thats all it is though, try it out. I’m still never going to make enough use to justify a year membership and would never pay $9.99 a day!

  • And by “more Chicagoans” you mean “women,” right?

  • Neil Clingerman

    Having experience with both systems, it totally changes the dynamics of how its used – in Chicago its usually used as a way to rush between gaps in the transit system, in Cincy you can use it more for leisurely trips or going between neighborhoods.

  • Neil Clingerman

    The yearly pass though is cheaper per month than netflix… quite a good deal ;)

  • Neil Clingerman

    Though one downside of having more functional baskets is watch out when you hit bumpy roads, I’ve had experiences in other cities of loosing a meal I was transporting in a basket because I hit a bump in the road :(

  • Neil Clingerman

    I would love the longer time at least as an option for those times when I want to use one for the lakeshore path or the 606.

  • Its only a good deal if you use it regularly. CTA monthly passes is a good deal if you use it 2-3 times a day every day. Cars are a good deal if you use it every day 2-3 times a day, they are not if you might only use it once a week. A good deal is all relative to use. If someone might use Divy 5-10 times a year it is a terrible deal. Divvy might be wish that everyone in the whole city would just pay them $75 a year but that is not the way the market works, not everyone has the same needs for it. The point you are missing Neil is not everyone wants to pay $75 a year or $10 a day to use it occasionally (aka once, maybe twice a month). And when did being cheaper than Netflix become the measure of a good deal? It seems silly to compare Divvy prices to Netflix. And to be honest I don’t think Netflix is a great deal as I can never find much to watch on there, Hulu and Amazon prime are superior.

  • Oh no Cincinnati did something better than Chicago. The world may just be coming to an end. :-/

  • Divvy will probably never change because they keep brainwashing people to think that its only for that “last leg of your trip”. And I’ve heard people repeat that when I say it should be a 60 minute time frame and argue on the 30 minute limit’s behalf. But the real question should be does it keep people from being a member and using it? For sure. If I wanted to go from uptown to lincoln park on a divvy it might take 25 minutes? Make a wrong turn or a stations full and boom $1.50 charge / time extentions are something to have to micro manage. We have to think about enough crap in our lives to deal with tiny usage limitations. I bet Divvy doesn’t even read this or would say “we’ve never heard a single customer say anything about a longer limit”

  • Fuzzy Dunlop

    Ditto! With a 45 or 60 minute time limit, I’m pretty sure I’d become a member and use it occasionally. With the 30 minute time limit, I probably never will.

  • Pat

    Again, not advocating for a monthly option. Only a trial option for $15 for 1 month which could be rolled into an annual plan.

  • Then that has nothing to do with a pay per use plan. Nothing at all.

  • Pat

    Neither does Dropbox. I am merely clarifying what you do not seem to grasp about my trial offer.

  • forensicgarlic

    In Montreal they have a one direction ride fare too that’s cheaper than their mass transit fare.

  • High_n_Dry

    I have a yearly pass that is used about 30 times per year (ten of which are for friends or family that don’t have a bike with them when we are out). Worth it.

    But this doesn’t require a detailed cost-benefit analysis for me, it is more about convenience when I need to ride to a bar/ restaurant (walk or taxi home), have a flat in the AM, etc.

  • dr

    I think the change could be more significant than is currently being discussed. A 45 minute or one hour limit would almost certainly reduce the number of rides taken at some popular docks by lengthening the rate of exchange. This loss of revenue might offset any increased revenue from increased usage. This is particularly true, because it would be most likely to occur at the systems most profitable points – daily tourist rentals. It’s necessary to model the operation of the system and identify capacity bottlenecks before undertaking such a change.

    This same decreased rate of exchange is likely to decrease availability of bikes, at least at some points, decreasing per capita utilization of the system at those points, perhaps enough to offset any increased usage. Again, this would need to be smartly modeled before decisions are made.

    Are longer trips likely to increase social equity, or are they likely to increase the usage of the system by white men, further reducing supply and cultural accessibility for those “consider with reservations” users? Hard to predict, but I suspect those users who are most interested in lengthy divvy trips are those most comfortable with biking.

    Additionally, longer trips have the potential to complicate rebalancing, increase clumping, and make it more difficult to restock docks that serve as “points of departure” for long trips. This would be primarily through more irregular network usage. The likely side effect of this would be more full docks in the city center, more empty docks on the city periphery, and increased operating costs.

    All this said, it might be worth it, but as one of the only locations for smart transit discussion by interested citizens, let’s be smart about shaping this conversation.

  • Ben Norquist

    I agree with you, why not have a pay per use option? Why not swipe your Ventra card at a Divvy station for a $1-2 rental? As it stands Divvy’s pricing only makes sense for tourists and heavy users (multiple uses/week).

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Station full? Press a button on the kiosk screen to request additional time to get to the nearest empty station — no late fee.

  • Tony Adams

    Your assumption about Divvy being closer than transit isn’t going to be true for everyone. The 30 minute time limit makes it not an option for me, but otherwise, I’d much rather ride a bike – even a slow heavy bike, than ride a bus or el on any but the most rainy/snowy days.

  • Pat

    “Riding from X to X is 40 minutes, they really need to make the time limit an hour instead of 45 minutes.”

    See where I’m going?

  • Yes. And some mornings, my husband has to try five stations (each 3-5 blocks apart) to find one that has a free dock that isn’t broken — and then he’s late for work.

  • Yes. But the market segment that would join for 60min but not for 45min is probably a lot smaller than the bump in members for a 30-to-45 increase.

  • Finally someone who doesn’t just say the $75 is a good deal! I agree 100%. It should also be able to be used by the Chicagoan who one day might find that it helps them out for those infrequent one off times where a quick bike trip would help but doesn’t deal with it often. CTA fills that need for many people as well why not Divvy. Just the other day I had forgotten my Ventra on my desk at home. I’m a 12 min walk to the train (your Divvy Metra integration wouldn’t fix this) but I though wouldn’t it be great if I could have just rented one of these bikes here to get me down from Sheridan Red to Belmont, yet it wasn’t cost effective for me to have a yearly pass or to pay the one time fee. I just walked from Sheridan to Belmont and told the person I’d be a bit late, luckily they were running late as well. I could have taken a Cab but it was one of those recent nice days. Also Divvy could gain yearly members through their pay per use. Some starts using it more and more and realize that it is a service they want to use more. As it stands now you either make the yearly purchase or don’t use it at all. Sure as its been said there was a free weekend but I didn’t find out about any of them till they were past so I imagine lots of others were in the same boat.

  • southsidecyclist

    Agreed. This point has been made to CDOT. I noticed the same issue in D.C where there is high adoption of bikeshare. patrons struggle with cargo. I thought a cell phone holder might help keep both hands on the bars.

  • southsidecyclist

    Pay per use with the Ventra card is a great idea for the unbanked as well. However Divvy doesn’t own Ventra. That may happen yet but the infrastructure isn’t here right now. Bike share is in it’s infancy here. I’m a subscriber just to support the concept. Divvy is the the most tangible 3D expression of incorporation of the bicycle into the transportation infrastructure in Chicago. Success for Divvy is a wider success for all cyclists here.

  • dr

    While that would be convenient for you and some others, it would massively reduce the revenue that comes from tourist rentals, who are unlikely to take the 5 trips a day necessary to achieve equivalent revenue.

    Additionally, a much cheaper one-time ride would radically reduce the relative value of the yearly membership, and the reduction in yearly members who no longer see the value trade-off would probably outweigh people who you’ve hypothesized would consider a yearly pass but are currently discouraged from trying divvy by the 9.99 daily rate, potentially decreasing divvy usage overall.

    It’s possible that increased usage from one-ride users such as yourself would generate more revenue than would be lost by the significantly decreased tourist receipts, but it seems unlikely.

    Here’s some back of the napkin math: the city estimated that the $2.99 price increase would generate an additional $800,000 a year. If we assume static ridership, that’s $266,000 in revenue per dollar of fare, or $2.1 million in lost fare revenue if all one-day subscriptions are replaced by a single $2 one-time trip. So, we’d need an additional 1 million non-member trips per year to break even. There were about 700,000 non-subscriber trips (not day-passes, but trips) in 2014. So, non-member usage would have to roughly triple to break even. And that’s before considering operating costs and potential capacity.

    What’s good for you might not be good for the system.

  • Pat

    That (and there being no bikes) unfortunately is the biggest drawback of the system. But each mode of transportation has its drawbacks.

    Buses/trains: delays, intermittent service, capacity issues
    Driving: accidents, traffic, cannot find parking
    Cabs/rideshare: traffic, unable to find one, surge pricing
    Walking/biking: weather, unshoveled/unplowed sidewalks/streets

    I usually Divvy home from work, but sometime I see this map and have to check down to my backup plan.

  • Neil Clingerman

    You can be rest assured that the current mayor down there makes Rahm look like a saint, though…

  • Yeah. My husband works in the Illinois Medical District, and if you look at a Divvy map down there for either the 8:15-9:15 timeslot or 5:15-6:15, it’s clear there are a LOT of Divvy commuters in the area.


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