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Bicycling

For second time in less than a year, another Divvy price hike quietly kicked in this month

8:54 PM CDT on March 29, 2023

Divvy bikes parked next to the Lakefront Trail near North Avenue. Photo: Steven Vance

Today the Chicago Department of Transportation put out a press release about the new Chicago Cycling Strategy plan, "outlining a community-driven approach to expanding Chicago’s bike network and creating a more equitable, safe, and inviting city for cycling." Streetsblog will take a closer look at that document soon.

But you know what CDOT never put out a press release about? Increases to the pricing scheme for the Divvy bike-share system, which the department oversees, which kicked in earlier this month. It's the second price hike in less than a year – fees increased on May 10, 2022, including the elimination of the e-bike fee waiver zones west of Western Avenue and South of Pershing Road. CDOT did briefly telegraph those changes in a press release the month before, euphemistically referring to the fee zone elimination, which made the electric cycles much more expensive to use on the South and West sides, as "a simplified pricing structure."

The current Divvy pricing structure and the new one (highlighted.) Click to enlarge. Image: John Greenfield
The pre-May 2022 Divvy pricing structure and the May 2022 to February 2023 fees (highlighted.) Click to enlarge. Image: John Greenfield
The current Divvy pricing structure and the new one (highlighted.) Click to enlarge. Image: John Greenfield

Not that I should have be surprised that Divvy needed to raise its prices again so soon. Last summer at a music festival I ran into an acquaintance who previously worked for Lyft, Chicago's bike-share concessionaire. We talked about the challenges the system had been facing in expanding citywide while staying affordable for working-class residents, especially in outlying neighborhoods where only the pricier electric bikes are available. "At this point the Divvy system can either be equitable, or it can be financially sustainable," they said. "But it can’t be both unless the city helps out Lyft financially.”

E-bike rental, late charges, out-of-station parking fees, and scooter fees increased on March 1. The regular annual membership price rose from $119 to $130.90 on March 21, a 10-percent increase. Lyft’s current contract with the city requires them to get approval from CDOT for price hikes greater than 10 percent per year.

I suppose I should be scrutinizing my Divvy app alerts and billing statements more closely, but the time I noticed the change when I got an alert after a ride this afternoon. But according to a Divvy spokesperson, there was a banner in the app about the impending price change starting on February 16 that stayed up through March 21. A second alert ran for a week during the week after the membership cost increase. Other Divvy users tell me they saw an alert as early as February 17. But, of course, lots of Divvy members only use the bikes in warmer weather, so they wouldn't have opened the app during that time.

A notice about the new price hikes was recently posted on the Divvy website on February 16, although it doesn't look like any other news outlets reported on them. The webpage says the increases will "support our growing operations and continued expansion. Annual price changes take into account inflation and related rising costs of running the program."

The statement added that the new fees will help keep reduced-price Divvy for Everyone annual memberships for low-income residents at only $5. These memberships account for 13 percent of Divvy rides annually.

The webpage also promised that the Divvy system will be expanding this year from its current 12,000 bikes, 750 scooters, and almost 900 stations. The Lyft spokesperson did not immediately say how many vehicles and stations will be added, but CDOT has promised that all neighborhoods will have stations by the end of this year.

Let's walk through the new pricing in comparison to the old fees (which aren't mentioned on the Divvy webpage.)

Divvy for Everyone annual memberships

Regular Divvy annual memberships

    • Annual membership increased by 10 percent from $119 to $130.90 a year.
    • Late fees for rides over 45 minutes on the blue non-electric bikes increased by a penny from 16 cents a minute to 17 cents.
    • E-bike use fees increased by a penny from 16 cents a minute to 17 cents.
    • Scooter use fees went up by two cents from 25 cents a minute to 27 cents.
    • Non-dock parking fees for e-bikes and scooters increased by 10 percent from $1.00 to $1.10.

Lyft Pink All Access (includes an annual Divvy membership)

    • No change in membership price of $199 a year.
    • Late fees for rides over 45 minutes on the blue non-electric bikes increased by a penny from 16 cents a minute to 17 cents.
    • E-bike use fees increased by a penny from 16 cents a minute to 17 cents.
    • Scooter use fees went up by two cents from 25 cents a minute to 27 cents.
    • Non-dock parking fees for e-bikes and scooters increased by 10 percent from $1.00 to $1.10.

Lyft Pink (includes 12 free bike or scooter unlocks a year)

    • No change in membership price of $99 a year
    • Late fees for rides over 30 minutes on the blue non-electric bikes increased by a penny from 16 cents a minute to 17 cents.
    • E-bike use fees increased by three cents from 39 cents a minute to 42 cents.
    • Scooter use fees went up by three cents from 39 cents a minute to 42 cents.
    • Non-dock parking fees for e-bikes and scooters increased by 10 percent from $2.00 to $2.20.

Non-member Single Ride

    • No change to the unlock fee of $1.
    • Use fees on the blue non-electric bikes increased by a penny from 16 cents a minute to 17 cents.
    • E-bike use fees increased by three cents from 39 cents a minute to 42 cents.
    • Scooter use fees went up by three cents from 39 cents a minute to 42 cents.
    • Non-dock parking fees for e-bikes and scooters increased by 10 percent from $2.00 to $2.20.

Non-member Day Pass

    • Day Pass price increased by 10 percent from $15 to $16.50.
    • Late fees for rides over three hours on the blue non-electric bikes increased by a penny from 16 cents a minute to 17 cents.
    • E-bike use fees increased by three cents from 39 cents a minute to 42 cents.
    • Scooter use fees went up by three cents from 39 cents a minute to 42 cents.
    • Non-dock parking fees for e-bikes and scooters increased by 10 percent from $2.00 to $2.20.

So overall the hikes aren't too outrageous compared to last year's prices. But the non-member 42 cents a minute use fee for e-bikes and scooters will add up quickly for people who aren't used to the pricing scheme, such as out-of-town visitors. For example, a half-hour single e-bike ride would cost them $1.00 for the unlock fee + $12.40 for the use fee + 49 cents for the Chicago Transaction Tax (applied to every e-bike and scooter ride) = $13.89. That's not an order of magnitude cheaper than taking ride-hail, and over five times the $2.50 cost of an 'L' ride.

The new self-charging Lyft docks, which won't be coming to Chicago anytime soon. Photo: Lyft
A new style of new self-charging Lyft docks, which won't be coming to Chicago anytime soon. Photo: Lyft
The new self-charging Lyft docks, which won't be coming to Chicago anytime soon. Photo: Lyft

In other Divvy news, while Lyft recently heralded a new station docking system that can charge e-bikes and scooters without the need for workers to drive around replacing batteries, that particular technology isn't coming to Chicago anytime. "Any stations installed in Chicago this year will have the familiar Divvy docks, the same as we currently have throughout the city," said CDOT spokesperson Erica Schroeder. "We may see this new dock type in future years in Chicago, but those plans have not been set."

However, a Lyft rep said a previously announced retrofit of the current stations to make them self-charging is moving forward. "We will be expanding this pilot to at least ten additional stations this year."

Schroeder added that there's also no news on plans to integrate Divvy into the Ventra system.

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