What’s up with the massive field of Divvy bikes sitting in a West Town vacant lot?

The field of Divvy bikes in a vacant lot in West Town. Photo: a Streetsblog reader
The field of Divvy bikes in a vacant lot in West Town. Photo: a Streetsblog reader

Recently, a Streetsblog reader, who said they previously worked for the Divvy bike-share system as a seasonal employee, emailed us about “the absurd amount of 1st [black] and 2nd generation [gray] Divvy ebikes sitting in a vacant lot” across the alley from the bike-share system’s service warehouse on Hubbard Street in West Town. “I assume they’re waiting for parts or there’s a backlog of repairs and/or a shortage of staff.”

“They’ve had parts supply issues for years,” said the tipster, adding that he stopped working for Divvy after Lyft took over as the bike-share concessionaire in 2019. “They also have staffing issues because the wages are s— and the working conditions aren’t really all that great.” Salaried Divvy positions are union jobs with benefits and the current Chicago minimum wage for larger companies is $15.40.

“For a while we simply didn’t have replacement front brakes for the OG blue bikes and were slapping on ones from retired bikes,” the former Divvy worker wrote. The said there was a general sense of dysfunction at the maintenance facility. “We didn’t even have adequate trash cans in the warehouse… Now it’s completely undersized for the scale of the operation among dealing with the logistical challenges of lock anywhere ebikes and swapping a crazy amount of batteries.”

The Divvy service warehouse on Hubbard Street in West Town. Image: Google Maps
The Divvy service warehouse on Hubbard Street in West Town. Image: Google Maps

“Operations staff that cared tried to warn them,” the reader said. “Resources were always limited and haphazard with poor cross-departmental communications and I felt managers were under-supported by [Lyft,] a New York based company with poor transparency and presence” in Chicago. “My heart goes out to any and all ground-level staff working for them. I can only imagine what a s— show it is now with three different generations of bikes, two different types of stations [full-service docking stations and ‘e-stations’ that can only park electric cycles], and a significantly larger service area… They took something that should have been kept very straightforward and made it a service nightmare.”

“It’s been sad to see the service quality go to shit and I’ve sure a lot of the original staff and operations managers have moved on. I’m not sure why I still care,” the tipster said. “I just wish [the Chicago Department of Transportation, which oversees Divvy] actually gave a s—. This system is important. I think [CDOT] should run it in house with [higher] wages.”

I forwarded the email to CDOT and Divvy staffers and asked for any comments in response to the former worker’s statements, including an explanation for the vast field of idle bicycles. “At any given time, a certain number of our bikes are moving through the warehouse and these are out as part of a routine inventory count as we move them to another facility for deployment or repairs,” a Lyft spokesperson said.

Riding non-electric Divvy bikes on the Lakefront Trail. Photo: John Greenfield
Riding non-electric Divvy bikes on the Lakefront Trail. Photo: John Greenfield

An official associated with the bike-share system also told me that some bikes are awaiting parts like computer chips that have been delayed as part of the global supply shortages that is impacting many industries. “The good news is we just received a shipment of computer chips that will allow us to repair them and get them back out on the street shortly.”

It’s nice to hear that the Divvy fleet will likely get a new infusion of cycles in the near future. As for the labor and maintenance issues the tipster raised, Streetsblog is interested in hearing other accounts of what it’s like working for Divvy. Email me at jgreenfield[at]streetsblog[dot]org if you’d like to share your experiences wrenching or “rebalancing” (redistributing bicycles) for the bike-share system.

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