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Divvy’s getting scooters, but will eliminating the fee waiver zone make the system less equitable?

Rendering of a Divvy station with bikes and dockable scooters.

Update 4/11/22, 2:15 PM: From Active Transportation Alliance spokesperson Kyle Whitehead's blog post, here's the full passage on the new Divvy per-minute pricing, which was later deleted:

Divvy members will continue to receive unlimited free unlocks, free rides up to 45 minutes on classic blue bikes, and significantly discounted per minute and out-of-station parking fees for e-bikes and scooters through their existing memberships. Non members will pay $1 to unlock and 39 cents per minute and members will pay 25 cents per minute with no unlocking fee.

After the publication of this piece, Whitehead clarified that the statement "referencing 25 cents per minute was intended to apply to Divvy scooters – not e-bikes. We haven’t yet been able to confirm the full new e-bike pricing but have heard the per-minute price will be 16 cents." He noted that ATA had previously tweeted out this clarification.

To make matters worse, there are indications that there will be a significant hike in the per-minute charges for e-bikes. While the city's announcement gave no specifics on the pricing, the ATA blog post originally stated, "Non-members will pay $1 to unlock [there's currently no unlocking charge for non-members] and 39 cents per minute and members will pay 25 cents per minute with no unlocking fee." So that would be a 10-cent-higher charge per minute than the current one for regular members in the fee zone, and five times higher than the current one for D4E members in the fee zone.

However, the advocacy group later deleted that information from its post. "We have been asking Divvy/Lyft for more details on the pricing because the press release from the city is very vague," Whitehead explained. "We got some piecemeal answers via email, but we're waiting for a more complete breakdown." He said ATA took down the prices "to avoid confusing folks." The group plans to gather input from allied community organizations about how the new higher e-bike use charges will impact residents.

But whatever the new per-minute e-bike use prices are, it's safe to assume they will be significantly higher, and the city says they'll be applied all over town. According to the current Divvy-Lyft contract, the concessionaire is allowed to raise fees up to 10 percent each year without permission from the city, and can raise them even higher if city officials approve the change.

To soften the blow of the higher, citywide fees, the city's statement said that "for the next 12 months, CDOT and Lyft are adding a monthly credit of $10 to D4E member accounts to be redeemed for up to 200 e-bike minutes." But if it's true that the per-minute fee is going up to 25 cents a minute, that $10 credit would be eaten up by a single 40-minute e-bike ride. And that doesn't count non-station docking fees.

One of my recent e-Divvy trips.
One of my recent e-Divvy trips.
One of my recent e-Divvy trips.

And aside from any hardships the new e-bike fees may impose on lower-income residents on the South and West sides, there's the question of whether anyone but those with money to burn will want to use the e-cycles at the higher rates. For example, I'm a regular annual member, and last month a 6.7-mile e-Divvy ride from Uptown to the Loop within the fee zone, parking at a station, took me 28 full minutes and cost me $4.58 ($4.20 in 15-cents-per-minute charges, plus a $0.38 Chicago transaction tax.) That was more expensive than the $2.50 Red Line ride would have been, but I was in a hurry and it was a faster door-to-door trip, plus I wanted to get a little physical activity.

However, if the per-minute charge goes up to 25 cents, the same ride will cost me $7.38, a 61-percent increase, which would probably be a dealbreaker unless I'm really short on time. After all, I ride bikes to save money, not spend lots of it. And for a non-member paying a 39-cents-a-minute rate, that trip would cost a whopping $11.30, possibly not much cheaper than taking ride-hail, which would be a big turnoff for many visitors to Chicago.

So it may wind up that Divvy raising prices in an effort to become more profitable will actually do more harm than good for the system's bottom line. This week Streetsblog will try to get details from CDOT and Lyft about exactly how the new pricing structure will work.

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