CDOT Unveils E-Divvy Design, Debunks Uber’s “Fake Propaganda” at City Hall Hearing

The new electrical-assist bike design.
The new electrical-assist bike design.

At today’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety hearing on the Lyft/Divvy contract amendment, city transportation officials gave a preview of what the new electrical-assist Divvy bikes will look like, and tried to clear up what they called “myths” about Uber/JUMP’s competing bike-share proposal. During the public comment period, community members made passionate arguments for and against the Divvy expansion and sponsorship deal.

On March 12 Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the proposal to amend the city’s existing contract with Lyft, the concessionaire for the city-owned Divvy system to add 10,500 more bikes and expand the network citywide by 2021. Read the details of the contract amendment here.

Since then, Lyft’s arch-enemy Uber, which owns the dockless bike-share company JUMP, has launched a campaign to kill the Divvy deal. Back in December Uber offered to deploy 20,000 dockless bikes and 20,000 electric scooters in Chicago, claiming it could achieve citywide coverage by May 2019, a timeline Chicago Department of Transportation chief Rebekah Scheinfeld recently called “laughable.”

Riding Divvies on Michigan Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield
Riding Divvies on Michigan Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield

Uber has been buying ads, and launched the anti-Divvy/Lyft website PumpTheBrakesChicago.com, featuring misleading and false statements about the two proposals. Uber even paid the local news and culture website The TRiiBE to produce news-story-like coverage that serves as lobbying propaganda for the corporation.

As such, city transportation officials came to today’s informational hearing at City Hall armed with information to counter some of Uber’s more spurious claims. The safety committee will vote on the contract amendment at its next meeting on April 8 at noon. If the deal passes in committee, the full City Council will vote on it on April 10.

Before the hearing CDOT officials distributed a handout called “Myths vs. Facts on Uber’s Misleading Bike-Sharing Proposals.” Here’s a summary of the key arguments:

Myth: The city turned down a $450 million investment from Uber. CDOT notes that Uber’s  offer included no direct revenue for the city, with that figure mostly representing the company’s expenditure to buy and operate a total of 40,000 dockless bikes and electric scooters, which they could pull out of the city at any time. In contrast, the Lyft deal, which doesn’t include scooters, would feature a $50 million investment in a system that Chicago would own and control, plus a guarantee of at least $77 million in revenue to the city over nine years. The city would also get to keep the hardware for no cost after the nine years is up.

Myth: Uber’s plan would provide citywide service much faster than the Divvy expansion. CDOT notes that Uber has never operated a system anywhere near this large and would simply drop off 40,000 mobility devices (in the unlikely event that they can actually bring anywhere near that many to Chicago within a couple of months) with little or no input from residents.

Myth: The city is trying to force the Lyft deal through via a “no-bid contract.” CDOT points out that there was a competitive bid process for the Divvy contract in 2012, before the system launched the following year. While the amendment would expand the scope of the existing contract, it wouldn’t increase its duration.

Myth: The contract amendment is analogous to another parking meter deal. CDOT notes that the remainder of the contract is nine years, not 75 like the hated meter deal. Unlike the parking contract, the city would retain ownership of the Divvy network; have control over prices and service quality; and continue to gain revenue from the system.

Myth: Uber’s proposal was the only one that included discounted memberships for low-income residents and a cash payment option. CDOT points out that the deal includes $10 million to expand the existing Divvy for Everyone $5 annual membership program, which allows cash payments. It also includes an adaptive bikes program and job programs for youth and ex-offenders.

“Don’t let Uber deceive you with their fake propaganda,” CDOT’s handout warns.

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During the hearing, Scheinfeld elaborated on the details of the deal and the motivation for it. “Every year we have this same conversation with some of you” about expanding the system to serve the rest of the city, she said. She noted that $36 million in mostly federal funds was invested to build the current Divvy system, and argued that since federal grants for sustainable transportation “have dried up” under the Trump administration, it makes sense to leverage private sector funds to achieve citywide coverage.

Scheinfeld talked about some details of the contract that haven’t been widely discussed before. While Lyft would replace Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois as the title sponsor and get its logo on the bikes, Blue Cross would have the right of first refusal for any complementary sponsorship opportunities.

Lyft will sell ads on the station panels and share revenue with the city. Lyft gets to use 20% of the station panel impressions to promote its brand, but at least half of those ads have to promote multi-modal transportation, not just Lyft’s car-based ride-hailing services. Chicago gets to use 5% of the ad panels for PSAs.

The commissioner noted that the contract amendment would have multiple benefits for Chicago’s bottom line, discussed in the chart below, such as increasing the city’s annual ad sales and sponsorship income, while removing the financial burdens of paying for operating losses and the Divvy for Everyone program.

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 8.02.06 PM

“We think this is a great deal, and we wouldn’t be bringing it before you unless we thought it was something that was too good to pass up,” Scheinfeld said. It must be noted that the commissioner has used similar language to describe Elon Musk’s dubious O’Hare Express scheme, so it’s crucial for aldermen and the public to thoroughly scrutinize the contract amendment before it’s approved. Check out the document here. We’ll provide some more analysis of the amendment soon.

Scheinfeld also provided a sneak preview of what the new electrical-assist, dockless-option Divvy bikes and docking/recharging stations will look like. They have a classy, black paint job, although they’ll be harder for drivers to spot than the bright blue traditional cycles. The e-bikes will have GPS in the rear fender to make it easier to track them down if they go missing, and a built-in cable lock will provide users with the option of ending their trip at a bike rack instead of a station. Presumably there will be incentives to park at a station, such as ridership credit. People who’ve been griping for years about the front racks on Divvy bikes, which aren’t very versatile, will be pleased to see that the e-bikes include a more functional front basket.

The new station and bike desings.
The new station and bike designs

CDOT plans to focus the 2019 expansion of the system on the Far South Side, where last year’s dockless bike pilot took place. Citywide expansion will wrap up by the end of 2021, possibly sooner. CDOT promises e-bikes and traditional bikes will be distributed evenly throughout the system. The department also plans to integrate Divvy into the Ventra mobile app by the end of this year, and make a combined CTA/Divvy Ventra fare card option available by the end of 2021.

Afterwards, aldermen on the committee were given the opportunity to question Scheinfeld. Committee chair Walter Burnett asked what CDOT had learned from last year’s dockless pilot. “There was a lot of enthusiasm, but also a lot of concern that stations were the way people wanted to go,” she responded. Far South alderman Anthony Beale later referred to the pilot as a “total disaster” with “bikes all over the place,” although locals I’ve talked to, such as Beverly-based cycling advocate Anne Alt, said bike clutter and vandalism didn’t seem to be a major problem.

2nd Ward alderman Brian Hopkins asked if it was necessary to give Lyft exclusive rights to operate bike-share in Chicago. Scheinfeld responded that, due to concerns about redundancy and over-saturation, public confusion and an inconsistent level of service, CDOT decided it was best to stick with having one, city-owned system.

During the public comment period, Commissioner Karen Tamley from the Mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities, voiced support for the deal, noting that offering hand-cycles, three-wheeled recumbent bikes, and tandems will give wheelchair users, people with limited trunk stability, and folks with vision impairments the opportunity to ride a bike.

Several Divvy employees who are members of a transportation workers union spoke in favor of the contract amendment, stating that their work is enjoyable and fairly compensated, with good benefits. “We like our jobs and want to keep them,” said one.

However, 20th Ward aldermanic candidate Reverend Andre Smith, who participated in yesterday’s City Hall press conference against the deal, used his preaching skills to passionately testify against the amendment. “Enough is enough,” he said. “We cannot let the city of Chicago continue to make deals that do not support the residents.”

Jedidiah Brown.
Jedidiah Brown testifies.

“Pump the brakes,” seconded former 7th Ward aldermanic candidate Jedidiah Brown, quoting the name of the Uber website verbatim. “Open it up, don’t allow [Lyft] to get an exclusive deal… Global cities need a variety of options.”

Although both men’s testimony echoed Uber’s talking points, press event organizer and community advocate Tim Brown told me yesterday that the company wasn’t involved with staging the presser.

Another Black clergyman also spoke out in favor of Uber’s counter-proposal. “Uber has been a strong partner in the community,” he said. “More investment is greater investment.”

Active Transportation Alliance spokesman Kyle Whitehead read the group’s letter to Burnett voicing support for the deal on the grounds that it’s important for Chicago’s bike-share system to remain under public control. Active Trans is encouraging residents to sign the letter and send it to their alderman.

A woman representing Experimental Station and Blackstone Bicycle Works said she’s excited about the youth job-training component of the contract, since both of her daughters have graduated from Blackstone’s bike education programs. She said that the Lyft deal, which will include Divvy mechanic training programs taught at West Town Bikes and possibly Blackstone, “will allow youth to develop skillsets that will translate into livable wages immediately… this is a ready, turnkey solution that our communities deserve.”

Transportation researcher Matthew Jaques read an endorsement of the Lyft plan on behalf of DePaul’s Chaddick Transportation Institute, which has studied the Divvy system. “We believe the agreement will radically improve the trajectory of bike-share in Chicago.”

Here’s a full list of organizations and reps that have written letters of support for the Lyft/Divvy deal.

  • Garfield Park Community Council, Mike Tomas
  • Quad Cities Development Corporation, Rhonda McFarland
  • Active Transportation Alliance, Ron Burke
  • Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Jaime di Paulo
  • Chaddick Institute, DePaul University, Joseph P. Schwieterman
  • Urban Transportation Center, UIC College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, Dr. P.S. Sriraj
  • RTA, Leeanne Redden
  • CMAP, Joe Szabo
  • MPC, Mary Sue Barrett
  • Safer Foundation, Victor Dickson
  • Blackstone Bikes/Experimental Station, Connie Spreen
  • West Town Bikes, Alex Wilson
  • Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, Karin Norington-Reeves
  • Beverly Area Planning Association, Susan Flood
  • Shared-Use Mobility Center, Sharon Feigon
  • Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, Derek Daniels
  • UCAN, Daisy Lynn Mertzel, Youth Development Coach
  • Ron Singer, South Loop resident
  • Chicago State University
  • North Lawndale Employment Network, Ana Encarnacion
  • Dare2tri, Keri Serota
  • planetshwoop

    Great coverage, I’m really excited about this. Living just beyond the edge of the existing system, I’m looking forward to the expansion.

    A piece for another day: if we sign this, what happens to the bus system? You will have Lyft continuing to promote rideshare. At the same time, you will have an expansion of mobility (bikes now, scooters soon enough) that will further chip into the short trips people take on the bus.

    Should the contract/funds be used to help ensure the bus system is improved?

    I love the idea of an expanded system with full city coverage. But have to think through how the whole “ecosystem” is impacted.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I could not agree more on the need to connect this revenue to the bus system. It’s struggling, and honestly, as much as I love Divvy, for Chicago as a whole it’s more of a “nice to have” whereas CTA and the bus is a “need to have.”

  • Benjamin Gembler

    I guess the question is, is there something in the contract that dictates where the guaranteed revenue to the city will go? Are there city regulations that guide how funding such of this get used? Is this an opportunity to get a funding commitment for smart investments to make the bus system more competitive written in to the contract?

  • Cycleme

    While they are at it with designing new bikes, they should increase the length of the front fender to provide more coverage for our feet.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Maybe not relevant specifically to this, but in the “how much of our eggs should we be putting in the ride share basket” in general, probably good to stay on top of these very current and contentious issues: https://www.npr.org/2019/03/29/707908980/uber-and-lyft-drivers-strike-in-california

  • limod

    If uber is allowed to get involved in this with dockless equipment think about how it treats the people who help bring in the revenue for them first.
    I guarantee we will see piles of dockless equipment everywhere and uber will be slow to pick them up. Dockless equipment will be a disaster.

  • Austin Busch

    A joint CTA/Divvy ventra pass brings in a lot of changes to the system. Partially, that’s how are the funds allocated between the two. And monthly Divvy passes? Perhaps Divvy would be counted as a transfer?

    I could see the CTA reallocating more buses for high-frequency routes, letting Divvy bikes handle coverage, and relying more heavily on paratransit. Perhaps the CTA could focus more buses on the stations with handicap access, and focus Divvy expansion on the inaccessible stations. This may also affect the bike lane/bus lane debate for street redesigns, which will help clarify which corridors are used for which type of service.

    The primary for these kinds of changes is whether they are effective in the winter. Even with convenient electric bikes, I’m not sure how many riders there will be on below-zero days. But with Ventra integration, it seems like CDOT is taking a more holistic approach to the transportation network, which is a good sign.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I really like the Divvy-as-transfer idea, that’s pretty right on in terms of how a lot of use it. Plus, think of the potential to bring back and re-brand the SUPERTRANSFER!

  • Charlie Short

    That’s a good question. The original grant required that any revenue be put back into the system or on bike-specific projects, like bike lanes, education, etc, but that’s not actually the purview of this contract. The contract, as I understand it, requires dual monitoring of all expenses by the operator of Divvy and the City and that ALL revenue goes to the city first and then Motivate/Lyft is paid after the accounting. Something that I’m not sure has been talked about much is that this Lyft/Divvy/Motivate contract has a clause where the city can terminate their agreement at any time (which is why the city owns all of the equipment.) I’ll have to do digging to provide back for this, but at some point I will.

  • Charlie Short

    I don’t believe the CTA is interested in any kind of sharing agreement. They won’t admit anything ever publicly, but they do not play well with anyone.

  • Bruce

    It IS important to look at the entire “ecosystem” and I think it is extremely counterproductive to have Lyft, a company whose main interest is promoting the use of automobiles (and ultimately autonomous vehicles) in the public transportation system, particularly given the danger to bicycle riders that vechicle drivers and autonomous vehicles represent, and the contribution to congestion, pollution and smog they make. Yes, more and more will be all electric, but the electricity has to be generated somehow. Electricity comes from natural gas (read: fracking) oil, coal and uranium. Bike energy comes from the rice and beans I eat.

  • rohmen

    “2nd Ward alderman Brian Hopkins asked if it was necessary to give Lyft exclusive rights to operate bike-share in Chicago. Scheinfeld responded that, due to concerns about redundancy and over-saturation, public confusion and an inconsistent level of service, CDOT decided it was best to stick with having one, city-owned system.”

    This is an important point that’s getting missed in some of the conversations I’ve seen. We can debate the merits of it, but the City itself has a vested interest in exclusivity here as much as Lyft does. It’s not necessarily just the City rolling over on the point.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    When you write, “The city would also get to keep the hardware for no cost after the ten years is up,” does ‘hardware’ mean the bikes and docking stations? I.e. will the city own all the bikes and docking stations at the end of the 9 year contract? How many bikes and docking stations are now deployed (on an average day)? How many will be in existence (and owned by the City) at the end of the 9-year contract?

    Note: CMAQ and other federal funds that originally (largely) funded Divvy have not gone away. The amount of money in state and regional programs like CMAQ, TAP, ITEP and other federal programs, which have traditionally funded bike and ped projects is, I believe, about the same as it has been for the last two decades. (Some transit / public transportation funding has however been held up by the Trump administration.)

    What exactly are “complementary sponsorship opportunities” and how would they work?

    What would happen if Lyft went bankrupt in, say, 3 or 4 years?

    Note: hardly a “sneak preview”; the bikes look exactly like the electric Citi bikes and other Motivate/Lyft e-bikes that have been out there for some time (with color and logos changed of course.)

    Will there be any “up-charge” for the e-bikes?

    The “concerns about redundancy and over-saturation, public confusion and an inconsistent level of service” are a bit of a canard. Permitting and rules can, and will even when one company is involved, deal with these issues. If more than one company were using Ventra or a single app it should work, no? Plus, many cities are successfully using multiple companies and dealing with the issues listed above.

  • ChicagoCylcist

    Streetsblog, can you please provide answers?

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Please call Lyft, Uber, etc. “ride hail” (not ride share). The large majority of trips are one customer in car. See https://chi.streetsblog.org/2019/03/26/how-new-mobility-tech-could-impact-tod-for-good-or-bad/

  • Carter O’Brien

    The commonly accepted term is ride share, it’s used throughout the article you linked to, in fact. Your point about the rider-per-car average notwithstanding (and that isn’t actually even mentioned in that article), the term also reflects that the car is what is being shared, although I’ll grant you that data as to the extent that overall car usage gas dropped thanks to ride share is highly contentious, as teasing out causality-vs-correlation in the larger sense of car ownership data is not straightforward.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I use ride-sharing and ride-hailing interchangeably. ride-hailing is somewhat more apt, but ride-sharing rolls off the tongue and keyboard a bit more easily.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I’ve never heard anyone refer to it as ride hailing. But to be fair, most people I know don’t even use ride sharing either, they just refer to Uber or Lyft specifically. Most discussion about this nuance seems to be on the wonkier/industry side: https://www.ecolane.com/blog/ride-hailing-vs.-ride-sharing-the-key-difference-and-why-it-matters. I think the question of whether they actually do in fact take vehicles off of the road is a pretty important one, though. That actually starts getting into whether things like TODs will perform as hoped, as opposed to whether those residents are just leaving their cars on the street but using CTA/Uber/Lyft when its convenient.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    See answers below in caps. Check out the contract amendment yourself here. https://chicago.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3887347&GUID=60A9B523-B180-40FB-A352-A7A0570B612F&Options=Advanced&Search=

    YOUR QUESTIONS:

    When you write, “The city would also get to keep the hardware for no cost after the [nine] years is up,” does ‘hardware’ mean the bikes and docking stations? I.e. will the city own all the bikes and docking stations at the end of the 9 year contract? YES

    How many bikes and docking stations are now deployed (on an average day)? 6,000 AND 225

    How many will be in existence (and owned by the City) at the end of the 9-year contract? 16,500 AND 800

    Note: CMAQ and other federal funds that originally (largely) funded Divvy have not gone away. The amount of money in state and regional programs like CMAQ, TAP, ITEP and other federal programs, which have traditionally funded bike and ped projects is, I believe, about the same as it has been for the last two decades. (Some transit / public transportation funding has however been held up by the Trump administration.)

    What exactly are “complementary sponsorship opportunities” and how would they work? NOT SURE; WILL ASK. LIKELY THESE WOULD BE NEW ADVERTISING OPPORTUNITIES ON THE BIKES, STATIONS, APPS, KEYS, ETC. BLUE CROSS WOULD GET THE RIGHT OF FIRST REFUSAL TO BE BUY THE ADVERTISING.

    What would happen if Lyft went bankrupt in, say, 3 or 4 years? NOT SURE; WILL ASK. CHICAGO WOULD LIKELY KEEP THE HARDWARE THAT HAS BEEN ROLLED OUT SO FAR.

    Note: hardly a “sneak preview”; the bikes look exactly like the electric Citi bikes and other Motivate/Lyft e-bikes that have been out there for some time (with color and logos changed of course.) WHATEVER. THE PBSC BOOST ELECTRIC BIKES HAVEN’T BEEN IN WIDESPREAD USE, A DIFFERENT MODEL MIGHT HAVE BEEN USED FOR DIVVY, AND THE BLACK COLOR HAS AN EFFECT ON HOW THE BIKE WILL FUNCTION, IN TERMS OF VISIBILITY.

    Will there be any “up-charge” for the e-bikes? NOT SURE; WILL ASK. LYFT CAN’T RAISE FARES MORE THAN 10% PER YEAR OR INTRODUCE NEW FARE PRODUCTS WITHOUT CITY APPROVAL

    The “concerns about redundancy and over-saturation, public confusion and an inconsistent level of service” are a bit of a canard. Permitting and rules can, and will even when one company is involved, deal with these issues. If more than one company were using Ventra or a single app it should work, no? Plus, many cities are successfully using multiple companies and dealing with the issues listed above.

    SURE, IT’S NOT LIKE UBER HAS EVER TRIED TO CIRCUMVENT CITY PERMITTING AND RULES. (LOL.)

    PLEASE PROVIDE AN EXAMPLE OF A PUBLICLY OWNED DOCKED BIKE-SHARE SYSTEM WITH THOUSANDS OF BIKES COEXISTING WITH THOUSANDS OF PRIVATELY OWNED DOCKLESS BIKES. D.C. WAS FORMERLY THE CLOSEST THING TO THAT IN THE U.S., BUT DOCKLESS BIKES HAVE LARGELY DISAPPEARED FROM THE DISTRICT. https://ggwash.org/view/69307/who-killed-dcs-dockless-pedal-bicycles

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Streetsblog USA pretty much exclusively uses “ride-hailing.”

  • Carter O’Brien

    And that pretty much proves my point. : )

  • JacobEPeters

    We also saw from the dockless pilot that when you have multiple providers, they primarily compete with each other on the most profitable territory & the less desirable areas end up with very little service. Keeping it under one provider limits this possibility if it is well managed by the city. There are other ways to do this without having single providers, but these other options all by necessity create a more fractured network that is less intuitive to use.

    That being said, I still wish that there was flexibility in order to leverage another operator if Lyft/Motivate doesn’t meet the coverage needs in outer wards of the city.

  • JacobEPeters

    they play better than Metra, but that is the lowest of bars

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Thanks. I look forward to follow-up on those questions. And thanks also for the link to DC’s bike share history. I hadn’t seen that. I guess that what I had in mind were pilot projects. But I wasn’t thinking so much of docked and dockless combos — although I do believe that Paris and other European cities may be doing that? Also, what about Denver? Instead, I was thinking of have multiple (as opposed to one) companies for the dockless part of a system (as long as one app can work for all of them). Do most cities with dockless or hybrid systems have one single company providing the system (i.e. an “exclusive” contract), or do most have more than one bike share company providing bikes (to promote competition)?

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Good point: regular-old human-powered bikes are better (from an eco and health and cost point of view). But e-bikes may get more folks on them — we’ll see.

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