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

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

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.”

  • Carter O’Brien

    Thank you for *not* publicizing it.

    A much better approach than what some did back when the first generation U locks were discovered to be vulnerable to Bic pen lids, which was to basically scream from the heavens how easy it was to steal a bike. Which undoubtedly got people thinking about stealing bikes, because, humans.

  • Courtney

    YES! I’ve been saying online sign-up should be an option for D4E. Another thing I’ve been saying: Folks can email a photo of the necessary documents along with their application for the program. D4E would not be the first program to do something like this.
    I was unaware of the limitations in terms of days of the week. That’s yet another barrier. I also second the addition of more locations people can visit to sign up for the program. It would be great if folks could sign up at CPL locations.

  • “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.”

    This is a really great idea!

  • williamsgodfrey

    Wait, Divvys have GPS in them? That’s odd, the CSR I spoke with when the Divvy system falsely indicated I hadn’t returned a bike told me I’d have to track the bike down myself (or pay $1,200) since “Divvy has no way to locate missing bikes.” Was the CSR lying to me?

  • Matt Ford

    According to the statement: “The system has existing software and hardware that monitors when and where riders take out and return bikes…” Nothing was said about GPS. They only have information about when and where the bike enters or leaves a dock.

  • williamsgodfrey

    You’re absolutely correct. I thought Jon mentioned GPS in the paragraph about fencing the bikes. The article was either edited or I misread. More like to be the later…

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yes, I took out the reference to GPS because I’m looking for clarification on this point. Divvy is saying that the bikes currently aren’t tracked while they’re on the road just in the docks. But my recollection is that they previously were, and a source tells me that, according to a former Divvy employee (secondhand info, but still), the bikes previously had passive GPS, but it didn’t function well, so it was eliminated. I’m waiting for more info on this from Divvy.

  • JeBuS

    I can’t find anywhere to report Divvy bikes that are in spots where I know they shouldn’t be for extended periods of time. (Think: somebody’s balcony day after day, overnight, etc).

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Here you go, or call the Divvy hotline at 1-855-553-4889.

  • I’ve seen groups of kids grabbing a Divvy off the station several times. Seeing how they do it it’s probably going to take more than a quick “retro-fit” at the stations.

  • I think no one’s really facing or admitting to the scope of the problem.

  • There was just an incident on the CTA that started with a kid trying to bring a Divvy bike on the train. He abandoned the bike, which—could that suggest perhaps it had not been properly rented?

  • This morning at Rosemont Blueline…
    Station attendant said it’s already reported.