Good news! CDOT and Lyft indicate non-electric Divvies won’t be phased out
Some people prefer vinyl records to mp3s. Others favor acoustic guitars over Stratocasters. And many Chicagoans would rather ride the “classic” non-electric blue Divvy bikes than the bike-share system’s newer black or gray pedal-assist electric cycles.
One major reason for that is the blue bikes are a lot cheaper to ride than the e-bikes. For Divvy annual members, after paying the $119 yearly cost (only $5 for low-income residents) there’s no additional charge for taking a classic bike for a ride of up to 45 minutes. In contrast, riding an electric bike currently costs members 16 cents a minute. That charge is a full 39 cents a minute for non-members. Some people also prefer to to pedal the old-school bikes because it requires more exertion, so using them to commute is a convenient way to get healthy physical activity.
Therefore, many Divvy users were upset when it was revealed that Divvy planned to eventually phase out the blue bikes, which meant that anywhere in the city you use the system you’d have to pay a per-minute fee. (As it stands the classic bikes can only be used in Divvy’s older coverage areas that have full-service docking stations, which are disproportionately concentrated downtown and on the North Side, which is itself an equity issue.)
Back in 2020, when Divvy was being expanded into the South and West sides, a spokesperson for Lyft, the Divvy concessionaire, explained during a stakeholder meeting that the company would eventually phase out the non-electric bikes. When a blue bike wore out, they said, it would be replaced with a new e-bike rather than a new non-electric cycle. While the blue bikes are very durable and can remain in service for a at least a decade, that meant that eventually the entire flee would consist of e-bikes.
Last June Lyft spokesperson Colin Wright confirmed to Streetsblog that was still the plan. “As [non-electric] bikes become beyond unrepairable, we will replace them with e-bikes.” Soon after that, former Chicago Tribune transportation reporter Mary Wisniewski lamented the impending disappearance of the iconic blue bikes in a Newcity magazine piece.
However, there’s some good news on that front. In late December I was talking to a Lyft staffer after almost all of the e-bikes temporarily stopped working during the -8 Fahrenheit polar vortex. (That’s another advantage of the non-electric bikes – they don’t have batteries that can fail during extreme cold temperatures.) That person said the company was in talks with the Chicago Department of Transportation, which oversees the city-owned system, about strategies to make sure the blue bikes never get phased out. “We’re looking to maintain a sizable classic bike fleet. People have told us they want [solely] pedal-powered bikes, e-bikes, and e-scooters, and we’re excited to provide all of those.”
(The Lyft employee added that the classic bikes have been a little more scarce lately because there was a spike in blue bike thefts last summer, a problem that resurfaces from time to time. Unlike the e-bikes, the non-electric cycles don’t have onboard GPS, so they’re harder to locate if they go missing.)
The Lyft staffer also mentioned that everything but the frame of the classic bikes is replaceable. So the only reason a blue bike needs to be permanently taken out of circulation is if its frame is totaled.
CDOT spokesperson Eric Schroeder confirmed that the department is considering buying more non-electric bikes as old ones are destroyed, in order to maintain the size of the blue bike fleet. “While we continue to grow the Divvy system with e-bikes, classic blue bikes remain an essential part of the Divvy fleet and a popular option for riders,” she said. “Classic bikes receive proactive maintenance and are regularly repaired and refurbished with new components like brakes and seats. CDOT and Lyft are committed to maintaining a healthy balance of e-bikes and classic bikes to meet the needs of all riders and are open to adding more classic bikes in the future. [Emphasis added.]”
So it looks like in the future Divvy users won’t have to worry about having the no more blue bikes blues.
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