We asked CDOT a question about Divvy fobs, and they didn’t just fob us off

Unlocking the new gray Divvy e-bikes with a key fob by placing the fob under the LCD screen. Photo: Divvy
Unlocking the new gray Divvy e-bikes with a key fob by placing the fob under the LCD screen. Photo: Divvy

Recently we heard from a Streetsblog reader and “loyal Divvy supporter” who was concerned that the newer black and gray electric bikes the bike-share system is gradually introducing, which will eventually make up the entire fleet, might not always be accessible to all bike-share users.

The older blue non-electric bikes can only be parked at the old-school full-services Divvy docking stations. But the newer electric bikes can also be secured to special “e-station” bike racks, as well as any other bike parking fixture or pole on the public way, using a built-in cable lock.

Electric Divvy bikes at one of the new e-stations. Photo: Steven Vance
Electric Divvy bikes at one of the new e-stations. Photo: Steven Vance

When the system first launched in 2013, annual members could check out bikes using a plastic key fob that you insert into a keyhole in the dock. More recently Divvy introduced a smartphone app that allows users to scan a QR code (a square black-and-white pattern) on a bicycle with their phones to unlock a bike, whether it’s parked in a docking station, or on an e-station, regular bike rack, or pole.

Unlocking a non-electric Divvy at a docking station by inserting the fob in the keyhole of a dock. Photo: CDOT
Unlocking a non-electric Divvy at a docking station by inserting the fob in the keyhole of a dock. Photo: CDOT

In the system the key fob has been a nice alternative to the Divvy app and QR code for people who either don’t have data on their smartphones, have limited date on their phones, or who do not have smartphones at all,” the reader wrote. He was under the impression that customers are required to use phone to unlock the e-bikes when they’re not parked at docking stations.

“Coming from a company that publicly prides itself on being an equitable company, this move seems highly inequitable,” the reader said. “The e-stations are mostly located in neighborhoods that do not have [full-service] docking stations where you can use the fobs, which then may exclude people who don’t have unlimited data plans or smartphones from using the system.”

Most of the stations installed during Divvy's expansion into the Far South Side (blue) and West Side (red) in recent years have been e-stations, bike racks where only electric Divvies can be parked. Image: CDOT
Most of the stations installed during Divvy’s expansion into the Far South Side (blue) and West Side (red) in recent years have been e-stations, bike racks where only electric Divvies can be parked. Image: CDOT

To be honest, I’d never considered whether it’s possible to unlock electric Divvies with a key fob if they aren’t parked at traditional stations. So I shared the reader’s concerns with the Chicago Department of Transportation, which oversees the system.

“Divvy and Divvy for Everyone [discounted $5 annual membership] members are able to unlock each type of bicycle in the system with member key fobs,” responded CDOT spokesperson Mike Claffey. He said that when an e-bike is locked at an e-station, regular bike rack, or pole with its cable lock, members can use a fob directly on the bike to unlock it.

For the older black e-bikes, the key fob can be held over the rear fender or the stem, the part that holds the handlebars.

Unlock black e-bikes parked outside of traditional docking stations by holding your fob over this spot on the rear fender. Photo: CDOT
You can unlock black e-bikes parked outside of traditional docking stations by holding your fob over this spot on the rear fender, or else over the stem. Photo: CDOT

For the newer gray electric bikes, the fob can be held under the LED screen on the stem.

On gray bikes, you can hold your fob under the LCD screen on the stem to unlock it. Photo: CDOT
On gray bikes, you can unlock the cycle by holding your fob under the LCD, a sound system. Photo: CDOT

If you have trouble accessing a bike, you can fill out this form online and Claffey said Divvy will help you out as quickly as possible.  

We would like to thank your reader for flagging this issue,” Claffey said. “Members are our priority, and we want all of them to be able to access the bikes, whenever and wherever.”

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