E-Divvy bikes debut Wednesday, equitable-but-complex pricing system announced

Youth check out the e-Divvies at a community event in Riverdale last year. Photo: James Porter
Youth check out the e-Divvies at a community event in Riverdale last year. Photo: James Porter

It’s almost a year behind schedule, but Chicago is finally getting electrical-assist Divvy bikes. On July 16 the Chicago Department of Transportation announced the long-awaited expansion of the bike-share system into the Far South Side was finally starting with new station installations, but the agency didn’t have a definite date for when the e-Divvies would be rolled out. Today CDOT revealed that the first black electric bikes will be deployed this Wednesday, July 29. They also explained the new pricing system, which was designed with an eye on equity, although it’s rather complicated and includes new fees for parking the e-bikes at non-station locations.

The e-bikes, which can be ridden anywhere in the city, will be especially handy for covering long distances between destinations on the South and West sides, while have less population density than the North Side and are challenged by food and retail deserts. The bikes will also be helpful for seniors and other people with mobility issues, as well as residents who are concerned about showing up sweaty at their destination. Some longtime Divvy users have told us they depend on pedaling Divvy bikes for exercise, so they’re not interested in riding an e-bike, but the fleet will still mostly consist of the baby-blue non-electric cycles for quite some time.

One of the new "e-station" rack installations, intended only for e-Divvies. Image: CDOT
One of the new “e-station” rack installations, intended only for e-Divvies. Image: CDOT

Like the dockless bike-share vehicles that were piloted on the Far South Side in 2016, the e-Divvies can be unlocked using a scannable QR code in both the Divvy and Lyft apps (Lyft is the Divvy concessionaire), or by using a member key. And like dockless cycles, the black bikes have a built in cable lock that allows them to be parked at any bike rack or pole on public property, as well as at new “e-station” bike rack installations,  designated exclusively for the e-bikes. (You could probably get away with short-term parking of a private bike there, but if you avoid doing this you’ll help the Divvy system to function better).

“I’m excited about the addition of ebikes to the Divvy system,” said CDOT commissioner Gia Biagi in a statement. “This will be a game-changer for bike-share in Chicago, enabling residents to go further, faster with more flexibility. It is critical in these times that we provide as many convenient options for Chicagoans to get around, and I believe e-bikes offer an entry into biking that will open up new opportunities in a healthy and fun way, putting more of Chicago within reach.”

An e-Divvy locked to a bike rack. Photo: CDOT
An e-Divvy locked to a bike rack. Photo: CDOT

Laudably, the pricing system for the e-bikes reflects equity concerns. In the parts of Chicago and Evanston where there is generally a high density of destinations and Divvy stations, Zone 1 shown in yellow on the map below, users of the black cycles will be charged a per-minute surcharge, and an additional fee for locking to a rack or pole. But in the parts of the service area with fewer destinations and stations, Zone 2 shown in blue on the map, the surcharge and parking fee won’t apply.

To clarify exactly how this policy works, if your e-Divvy ride starts *and* ends within the yellow zone, the per-minute riding surcharge and parking fee for locking to a rack or pole applies. But if your ride starts *or* ends within the blue zone, the riding surcharge and parking fee does not apply.

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Here’s a run-down of the fees and rules.

  • Annual membership: $99 per year for unlimited, 45-minute rides on non-electric bikes. Annual members pay a 15-cents-per-minute surcharge to use the e-Divvies in the yellow zone. In the blue zone, annual members get 45 minutes of free e-bike riding, after which overage fees apply.
  • Divvy for Everyone (D4E): Lower-income Chicagoans can enroll for $5 for the first year of unlimited, 45-minute rides on the blue bikes. D4E members pay a five-cents-per-minute surcharge to use the e-Divvies in the yellow zone. In the blue zone, D4E members get 45 minutes of free e-bike riding, after which overage fees apply.
  • Casual passes: $3 per ride for any single 30-minute trip on blue bike or $15 for a Day Pass for unlimited three-hour trips on a blue bike. Pass holders pay a 20-cents-per-minute surcharge to use the e-Divvies in the yellow zone. Within the blue zone, 30 minutes of free e-Divvy riding is included in the $3 price.
  • Parking: There is no parking fee for e-Divvies locked and parked at docking stations or the new e-stations. However, within the yellow zone, but not the blue zone, annual members and casual pass holders will be charged $2 for properly parking to a rack or pole, and D4E members will be charged $1. A $25 dollar fee may be assessed for improper parking (such as locking to trees or blocking wheelchair ramps.)

A little complicated, isn’t it?

On the bright side, to entice Divvy members to take an e-bike for a spin, for a limited time CDOT is offering a $5 credit that can be used for up to 30 minutes of free ebike riding or other use fees. This credit will be automatically applied to their account. New Divvy members that sign up before the end of the year will also receive the same credit.

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