CDOT Breaks Its Silence on Tuesday’s Dockless Launch, Shares Coverage Map

The dockless coverage area includes all of the city south of 79th, except for the area east of the Chicago Skyway.
The dockless coverage area includes all of the city south of 79th, except for the area east of the Chicago Skyway.

Yesterday after I was alerted about the Tuesday, May 1, launch of the city’s dockless bike-share pilot, Chicago Department of Transportation officials initially declined to comment on the launch. (CDOT did, however, provide a statement to a mainstream news outlet that had asked for an update on the pilot earlier in the week, around the same time Streetsblog Chicago originally requested this info.)

However, this morning the department finally provided Streetsblog with a statement that sheds some light on their decision-making process, including the controversial choice to require all vendors to only use “lock-to” bikes after July 1. (Unlike the more common “free-floating” DoBi cycles, which only have wheel locks for “free-locking” the vehicle, lock-to bikes have built-in U-locks or cables that must be used to secure the cycle to a fixed object.) CDOT also provided maps of the coverage area.

Companies can launch with 50 "free-floating" bikes, left, but they must replace them with up to 250 "lock-to" cycles, right, after July 1.
Companies can launch with 50 “free-floating” bikes, left, but they must replace them with up to 250 “lock-to” cycles, right, after July 1.

CDOT statement on the purpose of the pilot:

The success of Divvy has proven that there is great support for bike-share in Chicago. This pilot represents an opportunity for the city of Chicago to embrace emerging new technologies while promoting safe, reliable transportation choices for Chicago’s residents. The City of Chicago has heard from constituents, advocates, local elected officials, and other stakeholders about the promise that dockless bike-share technology holds to further expand transportation services to residents across the city. We are looking forward to implementing this six-month pilot program through the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection’s Emerging Business Permit process as a way to learn how dockless bike-share can complement existing transportation options, including CTA bus and rail, ride-share and taxi, and the city’s existing bike-share system, Divvy. The pilot will also allow the city to observe the operations of dockless technology in order to support the further expansion of bikeshare elsewhere in the city.

CDOT statement on why the city is requiring lock-to bikes:

In our conversations with stakeholders including local residents, advocates, and in speaking with other cities that have implemented or are considering similar dockless bike-share pilot programs, right-of-way usage was raised as a serious issue to consider. The lock-to requirement, along with other requirements in the permit, establish a baseline standard that will help address right-of-way usage issues that may arise, for example, a stray bike left in the right-of-way.

Companies that mostly or exclusively use free-floating bikes, such as LimeBike and Ofo, will be allowed to participate in the pilot when it launches next week. But while vendors like Jump Mobility and Zagster, which use bikes with built-in U-locks and cable locks, respectively, will be able to launch with 250 cycles each, companies with free-floating cycles are only allowed to release 50 bikes, a mere sprinkling when you consider the large South Side coverage area. After July 1, they must remove all free-floating bikes from the streets, but they may then deploy up to 250 lock-to cycles.

Yesterday LimeBike governmental affairs director Gabriel Scheer told me he hopes Chicago may reconsider the rule requiring lock-to bikes if free-floating is successful here. “If we have two months to prove our model, then we’re going to do our damnedest to do it really well,” he said.

Companies must rebalance their fleets daily so that no less that 15 percent of the bikes are in any of these quadrants at any time.
Companies must rebalance their fleets daily so that no less that 15 percent of the bikes are in any of these quadrants at any time.

The coverage area map essentially covers all parts of the city south of 79th Street, excluding the area south of 79th and east of the Chicago Skyway, which coincides exactly with the South Chicago community area boundaries and includes parts of the 7th, 8th, and 10th wards. The DoBi coverage area lies almost entirely outside of the Divvy zone, but it does include a dozen Divvy stations near 79th between the Dan Ryan Expressway and the skyway in the Chatham and Avalon Park neighborhoods.

CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey did not immediately respond to a question about why South Chicago was excluded from the dockless pilot. One possibility is that this was done because south Chicago is the just about the only community south of 79th that is close to the southern trailhead for the Lakefront Trail, and the city wanted to discourage DoBi users from riding far outside the pilot area on the path. (DoBi customers will be able to ride the bikes outside of the coverage zone and end their trips there, but but they won’t be able to unlock bikes there due to geofencing.)

If that’s the case, it seems like discouraging dockless customers from riding on the most popular trail in Chicago is counterproductive to encouraging DoBi use. On the other hand, the Major Taylor Trail on the Southwest Side and the Burnham Greenway on the Southeast Side each offer  a few miles of car-free riding within the coverage zone.

Read the full details about the city’s rules for the dockless launch here.

Update 4/27/18, 1 PM: CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey provided this explanation for why the DoBi coverage area doesn’t go east of the Chicago Skyway: “The Skyway was an easily identifiable, well-defined geographic boundary for the dockless pilot.  It was not done to discourage folks from taking bikes on the Lakefront Trail.” Of course, 79th Street is also an obvious geographic boundary, so this doesn’t explain why the city chose to make the borders of the service area less intuitive and cut off hundreds or thousands of residents from the bikes by omitting South Chicago from the map.


  • Jeremy

    Four different vendors. Does that mean four different apps will need to be downloaded?

  • JacobEPeters

    if you want to use all 4.

  • Kevin M

    I think this is one big mistake by CDOT. I predict DoBi will either flounder and fail in such a restrictive boundary, or it will be expanded north and eventually cut into Divvy usage and then begin to eat in to Divvy revenue (which will cost taxpayers money due to increased subsidy needed for Divvy). Why not just simply expand Divvy south and stick to one well-proven bike-sharing system? The venture-capitalists behind DoBi might cry fowl, but they shouldn’t have the right to enter and disturb Chicago’s transportation systems in the name of profit. Regulation isn’t a bad word when it brings stability to systems the public depends on.

  • Michelle Stenzel

    Retrofitting bikes to include lock-to technology is probably no small task, and most vendors don’t have it in place. They will only be allowed to place 50 bikes in a geographic area that looks to me to be about 60 square miles. One bike per square mile is not easily accessed by many people. Even if a vendor does place 250 bikes with the lock-to feature, that’s only 4-5 bikes per square mile on average. I’ll be interested in seeing whether the citizens in the trial area find this to be a convenient new transportation option.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    I question whether, as many folks seem to think and many say (e.g. Mary
    Wisniewski in her Trib article today:
    — that dockless bikeshare really is/will be less expensive for most users than
    docked, Divvy bikeshare. If a person takes only 4 trips a week — and
    remember each ‘leg’ of a journey is a ‘trip’ — then that adds up to
    $208 per year (at $1 per ride). Currently, Divvy is $99/yr and $10-$15
    discounts are pretty easy to come by. Could this (private, for-profit
    dockless bikeshare) be another way that for-profit corporations stick it
    to low-income folks?

  • rduke

    The solution is obvious if people in this country didn’t feel the need to reinvent the damn wheel.

    Hamburg bike-share stations are transponder based. If you park the “free floating” bike close enough to the station (which is almost aways OFF the right-of-way, usually in the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the road, or just off of the sidewalk), then it counts as “docked”. They all come with wheel locks that allow you to lock them up while you run errands, but the radios in them still give them a place to live.

    Since the “docks” are basically just the Divvy kiosk without the expensive mechanical docks, you get the best of both worlds.

    But of course, no, it’ll take us 15 years to get there because we’re special and no where else in the world has solved this problem ever.

  • Jacob Wilson

    “free market efficiency”

  • Michael

    We have spent nearly $50 million in taxpayer funding and another $15 million in user fees since the inception of the Divvy program. It would have been far cheaper to give way free bicycles to every bicycle commuter in the city plus just leave a few thousand more free bicycles at free stations downtown and on the beaches for tourists. Instead we have a corrupt semi-privatized system that skims a ton of money and costs FAR more per bicycle than is reasonable… Nearly $11,000 per Divvy bicycle when all taxpayer and user costs are calculated. For the same cost we could have 100,000+ FREE bicycles on the street instead of the way overpriced 6,000, pay-a-lot for Divvys.

  • Jeremy

    Who would be responsible for inflating the tires on your thousands of free bicycles? Replacing the tires when they are worn? Lubing the chains and recalibrating the brakes?

  • Cameron Puetz

    The territory seems designed to fail. They picked the part of the city that has the least infrastructure to support bike share.
    – Bike share is popular to provide last mile connectivity to transit. Let’s see how it does geofenced away from transit stations.
    – Bike share attracts novice riders. Let’s see how how it does the areas of the city with the most car centric street design.
    The coverage area should have been extended north to at least 63rd Street to allow residents of areas like Chicago Lawn and Auburn Gresham use it to access CTA trains. There’s an odd band that isn’t severed by Divvy or the dockless systems where the dockless systems probably would have been most successful.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Not to mention moving bikes around to ensure that stations are balanced and have both bikes to check out and also empty docks that people can use to return bikes. This is IMO a poorly understood but extremely critical part of the Divvy program.

  • Michael

    We are wasting SO much money in the current system, you could literally just replace bicycles needing maint.