Divvy launches scooters and new pricing, but some members aren’t happy with the latter

Riding one of the new Divvy scooters at the Thompson Center ribbon-cutting. Note the silver triangle at the front of the scooter for securing it in a docking station. Photo: CDOT
Riding one of the new Divvy scooters at the Thompson Center ribbon-cutting. Note the silver triangle at the front of the scooter for securing it in a docking station. Photo: CDOT

Do this week’s balmy temperatures have you wishing you had more options for getting around the city car-free, but also sweat-free?

Good news: Yesterday the city of Chicago and Lyft, which runs the publicly-owned Divvy bike-share system, launched what they say is the first docked electric scooter-share program in the nation, creating a breezy new way to get around.

Casting a shadow over the announcement somewhat is the fact Divvy also quietly kicked off its new pricing structure, which means everyone now has to pay a per-minute charge to use the system’s electric bikes, anywhere in the city. There are some measures to help soften the blow of the new fees. However, some bike-share users still argue the new policies aren’t fair – more on that in a minute.

The scooter launch

Yesterday morning city officials and Lyft staff held a ribbon cutting for the scooters at the Thompson Center, designed by architect Helmut Jahn, who tragically died in a bike crash one year ago in west-suburban Campton Hills.

“Just last week we announced that Divvy is the first bike-share system in the United States to offer on-street charging of its e-bikes,” said Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Gia Biagi in a statement. β€œAnd today, we are back to launch another innovation: integrated shared micromobility with docked scooters and bikes. As the Divvy system continues to expand, Chicago will continue to invest in low carbon mobility and provide more car-free options to get around our city.”

A thousand dockable Divvy scooters are slated for deployment by the end of June. Lyft has already retrofitted over 230 Divvy stations in and around downtown to be scooter-friendly.

Three other private companies – Lime, Spin, and Superpedestrian – will each be allowed to deploy 1,000 dockless e-scooters, with the launch slated for early May. However, for starters Divvy system will the only system that will be allowed to operate downtown. The city has said this is to ensure that dockless scooters don’t clutter busy sidewalks in the Central Business District. Non-docked scooters must be secured to a bike rack or pole using built-in cable locks.

Initially, Divvy scooters will be allowed in the zone bounded by Armitage Avenue (2000 N.), Damen Avenue (2000 W.), Pershing Road (3900 S.), and DuSable Lake Shore Drive. Neither Divvy nor privately-owned scooters will be permitted on the Lakefront Trail, the Chicago Riverwalk, Navy Pier, or the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606.

The new bike-share fees kick in

Last month Streetsblog did a full analysis of the new Divvy pricing structure – read it here if you’re not up to speed. The most important change is that the new system eliminates the existing fee waiver zone west of Western Avenue (2400 W.) and south Pershing Road (3900 S.) In this area there was no additional per-minute surcharge or non-dock parking fee when you used the black or gray electric bikes, which can also be locked on racks and poles thanks to built-in locks. Here’s our (very professional looking) chart of the new bike, e-bike, and scooter charges.

The current Divvy pricing structure and the new one (highlighted.) Click to enlarge. Image: John Greenfield
The current Divvy pricing structure and the new one (highlighted.) Click to enlarge. Image: John Greenfield

To reduce the sticker shock of the new per-minute fees in the former waiver zones, participants in $5 Divvy for Everyone (D4E) membership program, open to residents making around $35,310, get $10 in free credit a month for the next 12 months. Moreover, D4E members’per-minute fees are a modest five cents a minute, so the monthly credit will cover, for example, ten 20-minute trips.

And to ease the sting out of the non-dock parking fee everywhere in the city for regular Divvy members, that charge has been reduced from $2 to $1.

A Divvy employee confirmed that the new pricing structure kicked in Tuesday in conjunction with the scooter launch, but that fact wasn’t even mentioned in CDOT’s press release about the scooters. That means even this transportation reporter didn’t get official word about the change until late in the day, so the general public was pretty much in the dark. I saw a couple of tweets from Divvy members who were unpleasantly surprised to get per-minute fees west of Western and/or south of Pershing.

There are sure to be plenty more unhappy customers, so Divvy really would have been wiser to make a conspicuous announcement that the new fees were kicking in to avoid angering its clientele. Instead, people basically had to deduce what had happened.

Divvy is hosting some online public forums on the new pricing structure this month, but these are simply information sessions. “New updates in the Divvy system are rolling out this year and we want you to be informed!” the registration page states. “Participate in one of the three Public Forums to learn more about the changes in pricing, stations, memberships, and more. This will be an opportunity to get all your questions answered.”

There’s no indication that the city and Lyft will consider changing the fee structure as a result of feedback from these forums. So does it really make sense to hold these events afterΒ the price change has already kicked in?

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Image:Divvy

Before the fee structure changed, some members were already complaining that long e-bike commutes they were used to doing for free, because they started or ended in the waiver zone, will now be prohibitively expensive. In some cases these people have the option of instead using the non-electric blue bikes, which still have no per-minute use fee for members.

But as I noted last month, the biggest downside of the new pricing system is for people making over $35,310 who live in outlying neighborhoods with no traditional docking stations, only “E-stations” and other designated bike racks for tethering the electric bikes. There are no plans to install full-service stations in these areas. In contrast to their counterparts in station-rich neighborhoods, they have no choice but to use e-bikes and rack up per-minute fees when they want to ride a Divvy cycle near their home. And unlike D4E members, regular Divvy members in the former waiver zone don’t get the $10 in free monthly credit. So they’re sort of getting the worst of both worlds.

Here’s a thread from a person who says they live in Belmont Cragin, a Far Northwest Side community where there are no blue bikes, who reached a similar conclusion. They noted that the situation will be especially problematic for working people who make more than the D4E income limit, but not by much.

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So was there a more fair way to update the pricing structure? I did a little spitballing on Twitter, wondering if would make sense Divvy waive the per-minute e-bike for D4E members everywhere in the city and regular members who live in the non-blue bike zone, but keep the fee in place for members in the blue bike zone

“How about the city subsidizes it a bit more (with federal help?) and every member rides 45 minutes free on every bike?” responded William Reed. “So non-low-income people are paying [the $119 annual membership fee.] Seems to me it would reduce car traffic, reduce emissions, and make for a public investment that would pay for itself.”

Right, is the goal profit or is the goal mode-shift?” seconded Streetsblog freelancer Steven Lucy.

Indeed, it would be much better if the city and Divvy come up with a pricing structure that encourages ridership, rather than suppressing it. If that requires using more public funding to subsidize the system, that would be money well-spent.

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