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Currently Chicago’s DoBi Distribution Isn’t Equitable, But It May Be Improving

2:46 PM CDT on May 22, 2018

Pace bikes parked by the 10th Ward service office. Photo: Ismael Cuevas

Representatives from Ofo, one of Chicago’s three dockless bike-share vendors, recently argued that it’s difficult for them to serve the Far South Side pilot area effectively and equitably because they’re currently only allowed to deploy 50 bikes. Chicago’s permitting regulations for the pilot, which includes almost all territory within the city south of 79th Street, set that limit for companies using wheel-lock-only cycles, which also includes LimeBike. In contrast, Pace was allowed to release 250 cycles because they use “lock-to” bikes with a built-in cable for securing the cycle to a rack or pole. After July 1, only lock-to bikes will be allowed.

Most of the 50 LimeBike cycles appeared to be clustered in or near Beverly, which is in conflict with the city's rebalancing rules.
This morning most of the 50 LimeBike cycles were clustered in or near Beverly, which appears to be in violation of the city's rebalancing rules.

Indeed, Beverly-based bike advocate Anne Alt has noted – based on her own observations, talking with other residents, and checking the maps on the three companies’ smartphone apps – that so far the distribution of Chicago’s DoBi cycles hasn’t been equitable. The regulations require the vendors to “rebalance” their fleets daily so no less than 15 percent of their bikes are available in each of the four quadrants of the pilot area, roughly divided by State Street and 103rd Street, at any given time. In effect, that means that Ofo and LimeBike must have at least eight cycles in each quadrant, and Pace must have no fewer than 40.

However, Alt said, for the most part it appears that the vendors aren’t complying with the rebalancing rule. She noted that it’s unusual to find Ofo bikes east of State Street, and when they do appear, they’re usually located at Chicago State University, near 95th Street and King Drive. It’s difficult to see more than one or two bike locations at a time on the Ofo app, but when I checked this morning there was a cycle by the CSU campus, as well as at a nearby convenience store at 100th Place and Michigan Avenue. Ofo has also provided about a dozen cycles for a bike library being run by We Keep You Rollin’, a bike group based in the Golden Gate community, near Altgeld Gardens.

Alt added that that almost all of the LimeBike cycles seem to be deployed in or near Beverly, a relatively affluent, bike-friendly community where the local alderman is a dockless bike-share booster. That jibes with what I observed on the LimeBike app this morning: Practically all of the green-and-yellow cycles were clustered in or near Beverly. While the neighborhood represents low-hanging fruit, it appears that the company is ignoring the rebalancing rules.

With five times as many bikes as LimeBike and Ofo, Pace seems to be covering the pilot area in a more equitable manner. "P" symbols mark the location of public bike racks."
With five times as many bikes as LimeBike and Ofo, Pace is able to cover more of the pilot area. "P" symbols mark the location of public bike racks.

Alt noted that Pace, with five times as many bikes as each of its competitors, has had the most equitable distribution so far, as the only company whose bikes are regularly appearing in the southeast quadrant. However, she said she hadn’t heard of any Pace bikes going east of Stony Island Avenue.

It looks like that may be changing. When I checked the Pace app this morning, there appeared to be several bikes east of Stony Island, between the skyway and 106th Street.

That may be partly due to advocacy by the 10th Ward, which includes neighborhoods like South Chicago, the East Side, South Deering, and Hegewisch, at the southeast corner of the city. I reached out to Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza earlier this month to ask why the pilot area doesn’t include any parts of the city east of the Chicago Skyway. When Sadlowski Garza’s chief of staff Ismael Cuevas returned my call today, he said he wasn’t able to find the answer to that question, but he provided an update on DoBi service within the ward.

Cuevas, who said he rides bikes himself, has been in touch with Ofo and Pace, although he said LimeBike hasn’t reached out to his office yet. “I said to them, ‘Hey man, I know you’ve got limited bikes, but you’ve got to put some in our ward.’” He requested that cycles be placed nears schools and along retail districts, and by cycling hotspots like the Burnham Greenway and Big March nature center and bike park. He also asked that bikes be deployed at locations like 95th Street and Yates Avenue, and Harbor Point Estates – the city’s only trailer park – to serve as a “first-and-last-mile” options for accessing transit.

Cuevas said Pace bikes have since appeared in the ward, but he hasn’t spotted any Ofo or LimeBike cycles yet. He reiterated Alt’s claim that all the LimeBikes are being clustered around Beverly. But he said he’s hopeful those companies will come to the ward soon as well. “Our office is excited to see the result of this pilot and the future of dockless bikes in the ward.”

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