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In Response to “Recent Series of Thefts,” Divvy Is Beefing up Dock Security

1:30 PM CDT on July 12, 2018

Detail from a photo of ten allegedly “hot” Divvy bikes. Facebook via Scott Williams, CWB Chicago

On Saturday Streetsblog Chicago alerted the Chicago Department of Transportation and Divvy of multiple recent social media reports of thefts of Divvy bikes. Five days later, the bike-share system has just confirmed that there is a theft problem and says that it is on top of the issue, providing the following statement:

Divvy can only work if bikes stay in the network—which is why we’ve invested so heavily in the technology that lends accountability into the system and ensures that bikes are available when you want, where you want. Security of Divvy’s bikes and stations is a top priority. The system has existing software and hardware that monitors when and where riders take out and return bikes and charges riders for lost or stolen bikes. In response to a recent series of thefts of bikes from stations, we’re also retrofitting all of our docks with stronger, more tamper-proof lock mechanisms. Overall, Chicago residents have demonstrated a strong commitment to Divvy and the principle of bike sharing.  We are proud of Divvy’s success and look forward to continued growth and service to bike riders in Chicago.

Streetsblog first learned about the issue via this tweet from the CWB Chicago account.

Welp. Just learned how these youngsters are managing to steal so many @DivvyBikes .... It's incredibly easy and Divvy better get on it.

— CWBChicago (@CWBChicago) July 3, 2018

A CWB Chicago writer said that he recently witnessed Divvy’s being stolen from the Daley Center and Washington Square Park on the Near North Side. He added that a resident near Fullerton and Greenview in Lincoln Park called in thefts from the local bike-share station to the police twice in the past week. Other people have told me they witnessed theft attempts at the stations near Erie and Dearborn in River North, and Granville and Broadway in Edgewater, and spotted three unattended bike-share cycles on the 1700 block of Clybourn in Lincoln Park.

If you’re curious about how people are stealing Divvy bikes from the docks, yes, I have some information about that and, no, I’m not going to publicize it. If you care about the success of this useful and affordable public transportation system, you shouldn't either. The important thing is that the issue is now on Divvy’s radar, and they’re promising to address it with more secure docking hardware.

Here are a couple more ideas on how Divvy can reduce theft. The big, blue, distinctive bikes are difficult to fence -- I haven’t heard any reports of the cycles resurfacing at the Maxwell Street Market or the Swap-O-Rama flea markets, which are good places to look if your bike is stolen. Therefore, it’s likely that many people who are taking Divvys without paying are doing so simply because they want to go for a bike ride and aren’t willing or able to pay the normal rental fees of $3 for a trip, $15 for a day pass, or $99 for an annual membership.

It’s likely that some people who fit this category would consider renting the bikes legally if they knew about the Divvy for Everyone (D4E) program, which offers $5 one-time memberships to lower-income Chicagoans, and if enrollment in the program was made more convenient. Yesterday the city announced that it’s lowering the cost of subsequent years of D4E membership and relaxing the eligibility requirements, and Divvy already has outreach teams promoting the program.

Still, a major barrier to D4E enrollment is the fact that it’s necessary to sign up in person at one of five LISC Financial Opportunity Centers, and you can only enroll between noon and 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Making it possible to sign up over the phone and online, or at least increasing the enrollment locations and hours, would increase participation and deter theft. After all, why risk arrest by stealing a Divvy when it’s possible to ride one legally at a very low cost? Lowering the minimum age to use bike-share from 16 to, say, 14, would also decrease the temptation for “youngsters” to take the bikes without paying to joy ride them because they can’t legally rent them.

This isn’t the first time that Divvy thefts have been in the news. In September the Sun-Times reported that after a rash of stolen bikes in South Shore, some residents were calling for the removal of the stations so that police wouldn’t have to waste time tracking down the thieves. Bike advocate Howard Kaplan noted, “By the logic quoted in this article, we should do away with cars because people steal them and it just adds to the crime the police have to deal with.”

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