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Whether or not you knew Motivate is still helping to run Divvy bike-share, by February they won’t be

While the machinations going on right now at Divvy are a little complex, there no reason to believe they'll be bad for customers or employees.

6:07 PM CST on November 30, 2023

Divvy’s Hubbard workshop. Photo: Provided

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

"Motivate just announced that it lost the contract with Lyft starting February 1," said a text to me from a longtime mechanic for Divvy bike-share. The system is owned by the city of Chicago, but run by concessionaire Lyft, of ride-hail fame. "Motivate will no longer be operating Divvy. Shift [Transit], another Lyft affiliate, will be taking over. They had a big meeting announcing it this morning."

Wait, what?

I don't know if that statement made any sense to you, but it seemed nonsensical to me, and I've been covering Divvy since it launched here in June 2013. My understanding was that while the company Motivate previously ran the bike-share network (and before that the system was managed by Alta Bicycle Share), in 2018 Lyft bought the portion of Motivate that oversaw Divvy. So I didn't understand how, five years later, Motivate could lose a contract with Lyft to operate Divvy.

A Divvy station in Lincoln Park. Photo: Divvy

Making matters even more confusing is the fact that in April 2019 the city of Chicago amended its contract with Lyft regarding the last nine years of the agreement. So it's not like Lyft's contract to run Chicago bike-share is going to run out anytime soon.

OK, now that you're probably completely befuddled, a Lyft staffer later confirmed that the Divvy mechanic's statement was completely accurate. "In 2018 Lyft acquired most of the contract to run Divvy for the Chicago Department of Transportation, so we became the contractor," the Lyft employee said. But he explained that Motivated still exists as a subsidiary of the parent company Related, which also controls the trendy Equinox gym company.

(The latter was spoofed in the comedy series "Broad City", where one of the characters works at a fitness center called Soulstice, pronounced "Soul-STEECE," a cross between Equinox and SoulCycle. But I digress.)

The Lyft employee explained that the ride-hail company wound up using Motivate as a subtractor to help run Divvy. "They're primarily a staffing agency for us, helping to manage 'rebalancers' [people who redistribute bikes around the city], battery swappers [for electric bikes], and mechanics, and day-to-day operations."

Employee parking outside Divvy's Hubbard bike maintenance warehouse. Photo: Provided

Until next year, that is. "Periodically we do a [Request for Proposals]," the Lyft staffer said. "We want the best operations and service delivery for our city partners and customers. Motivate's contract was running out on February 1, so we held a competitive procurement process. Both Motivate and Shift were interested in the new contract. Shift runs bike-share systems in Toronoto, Detroit, and Portland, Oregon." Shift also currently operates Divvy's electric scooter fleet.

Lyft spokesperson Jordan Levine stated, "We just concluded a competitive procurement for a subcontractor to work with us to operate the Divvy system. We were most impressed with Shift Transit’s ability to provide service levels that meet CDOT’s and Lyft’s expectations."

In short Lyft, the Divvy contractor, will use Shift as its bike-share subcontractor. As the old saying goes, "Rhyme is money." (OK, it's actually "Time is money.")

Shift's CEO Edward H. Inlow said in a statement, "Shift Transit is excited to work with Lyft to operate the Divvy system. Our team is looking forward to getting started to provide this vital transportation option in the city." Shift is headquartered in Chicago, and Inlow was the first general manager of Divvy when it launched a decade ago. He launched Shift in 2015.

"OK," you're thinking. "Mystery solved. But what does this mean for Divvy customers?"

There's evidence this management switch could be good news for Divvy riders. The system's recent challenges with out-of-service bikes and ineffective rebalancing are well-documented. And then there was the embarrassing July 2022 spotting of a massive number of dysfunctional Divvies sitting in a vacant lot across the alley from the bike-share system's service warehouse at 2132 W. Hubbard St. in West Town. That was definitely not a good look for Motivate, which was managing Divvy's bike maintenance operations at the time.

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

The Divvy mechanic who tipped me off to Motivate losing the new contact (what, weren't they motivated enough to win it?) who works at the Hubbard warehouse, sounded optimistic about the change. Today was the last day of work for Divvy's seasonal employees, which means everybody currently working there is part-time or full-time. While he'll no longer work for Motivate after January, due to labor shortages he's almost certainly not going to lose his position. "Shift is probably going to have to re-hire all the bike-mechanics, so there's no panic that people aren't going to have jobs," he said.

The Lyft employee I spoke with agreed that it would be odd if Shift didn't recruit all the people who already know how to assemble, maintain, and repair Divvies, a skill that requires significant training.

"Actually, I'm kind of looking forward to it," the mechanic told me. "Phil LeDonne used to be the bike fleet manager at Motivate, and now he's a manager at Shift. He's a really cool guy, so I'm looking forward to working with him again."

So there you have it. While the machinations going on right now at Divvy are a little complex, there's no reason to believe they'll be bad for customers or employees.

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