Can Divvy Succeed? – Questions To Ponder

Background Reading


( HANDOUT / May 31, 2012 ) The heavy-duty bikes in the Divvy program feature a step-through, one-size-fits-all design; upright handlebars with the gear-changer on the grip and wide, adjustable seats for comfort; hand brakes; a chain guard to protect clothing; and a basket with an elastic cord for storing items.

( HANDOUT / May 31, 2012 )
The heavy-duty bikes in the Divvy program feature a step-through, one-size-fits-all design; upright handlebars with the gear-changer on the grip and wide, adjustable seats for comfort; hand brakes; a chain guard to protect clothing; and a basket with an elastic cord for storing items.

Once again there are things about the exuberant nature of Cycling Advocates that make you wonder whether they actually ponder issues seriously or are determined “come hell or high water” to see various projects come to fruition. Jon HilkevitchChicago Tribune reporter offers some critiques of the Divvy system that is about to be launched here and into the bargain I will add my own questions.

  • Why only 30 minutes per check-in period? You cannot ride from Downtown Chicago to the Wicker Park area in 30 minutes unless you are blowing stop signs and lights at every opportunity. The pace of traffic in the city is hectic I admit but there are undulations in that pace that occur when buses travel along with a cyclist or a busy intersection ends up causing the traffic to get snarled. At any rate the 30-minute check-in requirement seems a bit short to me. This would mean that these bikes could never be ridden along the Chicago Lakefront Trail for any distance. That is probably “good news” to the current crop of rental vendors on the Trail. So given the 30-minute check-in requirement prudent riders are going to start looking for a new station at the 20-minute mark and dock the bike before pulling out another one. That means a fairly slow pace for commuters wanting to use these bikes.
  • Why no bad-weather use? Looking at these bikes you get the sense that they are rugged. They have fender at both ends and skirts in the rear. They are equipped to be ridden in darkness or even near-darkness because they are equipped with hub generators. In short these are the kinds of bikes that fairly beg to be used in bad weather. But I guess that will not be allowed. How on earth will they enforce that sort of thing? Does it mean that if you begin your ride and it starts to rain part-way through you will be forced to stop? Are they planning to remove the bikes from the street in winter? What happens if we have a mild winter and the bikes have been removed? How long before the docks can be replenished?
  • Why are the fines so hefty? Given all the blather from the Active Transportation Alliance over the fee structure on the new transit cards for bus and train riders, I am wondering why have they been as silent as an Archbishop when presented with a pedophile priest?
    If you are:

    • annual membership owner @ $75
      • 31-60 minutes = $1.50
      • 61-90 minutes = $4.50
    • daily pass owner @ $7
      • 31-60 minutes = $2.00
      • after 61 minutes = $6.00
      • each additional 30 minutes = $8.00
  • How are the racks being stocked? There is nothing very complicated about a BikeShare system. Just as with automobiles approaching the parking lots in the Loop each morning there have to be empty spaces available from the night before otherwise the who system comes crashing down. So that means:
    • When commuters are heading into the city each and every rack that they pass must have no more than about 50% occupancy so that riders can “dump” their nearly timed out bikes for a fresh one.
    • When a commuter reaches his place of employment there must be no more than 50% occupancy in the racks there otherwise no one can park their bike for the day.
    • The same scenario plays out on the way home. You must have mid-trip places to shove your bikes to avoid fees and a place near home to park the bike overnight for the return trip in the AM.
  • If you hate the idea of Bike Registration then you probably won’t like Divvy. Divvy like most BikeShare systems relies on “plastic“. Plastic makes it infinitely easier to gather all sorts of information about the user of the bike and thus protect their investment. By having you check in each half-hour you are in essence having the user self-report their location every 30-minutes or less. Short of having a GPS unit plastered on your handlebars there is nothing that so precisely pinpoints what you are doing that a BikeShare riding experience. This means that scofflaw behavior can be more precisely tied to a given group of riders than ever before.
  • The cost for the bike if lost or stolen is $1,200. As tight-fisted as Urban Cyclists tend to be the notion of their being on the hook for $1,200 for a clunky bike seems a bit ludicrous. But of course that is because Americans have no notion of the bike as an appliance in the sense that Mikael Colville-Andersen espouses. But if this system takes off they will learn all about the high cost of appliance bikes.
  • Hipsters are not going to obey the “Prohibited Acts” clause in the Divvy contract. Hipsters are the Liberal equivalent of the Tea Party/Motorcycle Gang crowd. Riding with headphones or while texting or drinking or even drunk is second nature to them. There will not be any attempt to honor this part of the contract. Only a suburban rider might consider this, but even then all bets are off if the Cubs or Sox are in a pennant race and someone chooses to ride a bike home.
  • Setting-up your bike before a ride will take time. Depending on how rushed you are a Divvy ride could be a nuisance. If you are at the extremes of the sizing for these bikes it might mean that you have to choose between being comfortable and getting going as soon as possible to keep from wasting more of your 30-minute session. In fact on nasty days you might not even bother to consider adjusting the bike. In fact if you are running late and suddenly realize that you need to stop and dock the bike and get another that will waste time as well. I would not doubt that Divvy owners are counting on a bit of this happening in order to raise their revenues. Again why is Active Transportation Alliance totally silent about these fees? I keep getting emails about the horrors of having fees on the Mass Transit cards but absolutely nothing in regards to Divvy.
  • What about “flats” or other calamities between dockings? If you  get a flat or take a tumble what happens regarding the fees? I run thick Schwalbe Marathon tires on my city bikes. I get few flats. But should I want to dispense with “flats” altogether I suppose a tire like the Schwalbe Marathon Plus would do the trick. I hope they are using these kinds of tires on the Divvy bikes. But if I get into an accident with a pedestrian or an automobile and need to wait for the police I get a “double whammy” if I cannot get back to the dock in time to “check in“.

William Choslovsky, a bicycle-riding lawyer in Chicago told the truth when he said that this thing is likely to fail. I agree. It seems designed for a subset of the workforce in the city who given the opportunity to catch a cab will do so rather than arrive at a client site sweaty and wrinkled in the midst of summer. I am guessing that the model design was chosen based on the lessons learned all over the world from other failed BikeShare attempts. But frankly I just cannot imagine a crowd that thinks that beer is one of the four food groups is likely to have many people willing to ride a heavy, slow bike around the city. And of course the underclass is frozen out because they do not usually have credit cards.

ChainLink Forum Discussion: The ‘Little People’ Awaken

The 'Little People' Speak

The ‘Little People’ Speak

It is curious to see just how the well the ChainLink Faithful took the musings of one of their ‘favorites‘. No matter your credentials you can always count on these folks to decide that you are the Spawn of Satan anytime you disagree with their Party Line. Judging from their reactions to criticism they do not like or ideas that deviate from those they deem worthy I am always remind that there is not a “dime’s worth of difference” between Liberals and Conservatives when it comes to dealing with those who displease them. In fact I would go so far as to say that when the ChainLink Forum crowd gets old enough they will all be able to transition to the Tea-Party without having to change a thing themselves other than their political affiliation. Everything else is already the same.

One of the ‘little people’ looks up and sees the Jon Hilkevitch article and remarks:

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 12 hours ago
If the excitement in this thread is too much for you, Hilkevitch over at the Tribune will help you turn the smile upside-down.

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) 10 hours ago
Alta is based out of Portland OR, not Montrèal. Also, most everything else in his article applies to all bike share programs, and is mostly common sense. If you are hurt on a bike, of course it is not Divvy’s fault. And the fees are clearly laid out. His article just screams of sensationalism. Everything he complains about in there is really not a big deal.

To those of you who think Divvy is not for them because they have a bike: what about when your bike is in the shop for over a week for a tune-up?

Actually this is a pretty good assessment of what Jon had to say. But is he being alarmist? From the perspective of an Urban Cyclist anything that seems even remotely to question the basic premise that “what we are doing is right” gets distorted to mean that it is “alarmist“.

Reply by Duppie 13.5185km 10 hours ago
It is always interesting to see where the Trib find these experts, in this case Mr Choslowsky “a bicycle-riding lawyer”. Does he disburse legal advice while riding a bike?
The article is a shame. I generally like Mr. Hilkevitch’s reporting.

Rhymes with Puppie is “spot on“. I generally love everyone I talk to unless of course they express even a scintilla of difference from my views. Then my estimation of them drops below zero. Oh, and as for his usual very weak attempt a humor (I fear his time in Holland has ruined his joke delivery) it falls a bit flat.

Reply by Duppie 13.5185km 10 hours ago
Oh, and #795

Now those of you who lead normal lives probably have no idea what this bit of inane commenting is all about. Well it turns out that there is a new way to tell who the True Believers are. At drunken get togethers they will all be hoisting their steins alongside their Divvy membership cards. This is the “new normal“. How every predictable. This is the crowd that scorned all the heavy clunky bikes for rent along the Chicago Lakefront Trail because well they were heavy, clunky and slow. Evidently “Rhymes with Puppie” is number 795 in a growing line of “me-too’s“.

Now along comes Divvy which is renting “heavy, clunky and slow” bicycles for way more money if you dare allow yourself to garner a fine and suddenly these bikes are considered “great“. Sorry “little people“, they are little more than appliances and you will discover this sooner than later.

Reply by Kevin C 10 hours ago
So is the source of your disappointment the fact that the dissenting opinion came from a lawyer, the fact that the neutral to critical perspective came from a Trib reporter normally “friendly” to bike initiatives, or the fact that the opinions expressed accurately address the potential shortcomings of Divvy?

I really would love to be a fly on the walls near the keyboards of these ‘little people‘. Failing that I just wish someone would be kind enough to publish the real names of the guys behind these voicings so that we can all join in the fun.

Reply by Duppie 13.5185km 10 hours ago
It has less to do with the fact that he is a lawyer, than with the fact that he just knows that the initiative will fail before the program has even started. Will the program fail or will it be a success 5 years from now? Who knows. Anyone who pretends to know the outcome of that question is an charlatan at best.
There is also some of signs of sensationalism in this article:
Comparing this with the parking meter deal is typical of the soundbite oriented media of today.
Calling it Bikegate is sensationalist.
The legalese seem somewhat boilerplate to me. Overage fees are clearly stated on their website. Rented from Redbox lately? Rented a car lately? They all have overage fees of some kind and the overage fees often are of the punitive kind. Writing a front page article heralding this as outrageous seems sensationalist as well.

I suppose that the real issue here is that “Rhymes with Puppie” has given us the ultimate argument for why everyone should discount anything that the Urban Cycling Community says is going to come to pass. As he says “Anyone who pretends to know the outcome of that question is an charlatan at best.” For once we both agree. I hope he keeps these pearls of wisdom uppermost in his tiny mind.

Reply by Michelle Stenzel 9 hours ago
Hundreds of excited citizens sign up in advance for bike share in first few hours, with absolutely no glitches reported” wrote no reporter, ever. Except for the Streetsblog guys, of course. Especially John.

Reply by Kevin C 9 hours ago
John’s not a reporter. He’s a cheerleader.

That does a disservice to cheerleaders. He is more of a lapdog. For him to not come out swinging on the issue of these fines is testament to that fact. He should either stop writing nasty things about Mass Transit cards or give Divvy the same treatment.

Reply by Michelle Stenzel 9 hours ago
He’s very diplomatic, and we need all kinds out there to get the job done.

I hereby dub Michelle a “Streetsblog groupie“. Aw, so very touching. Reminds me of high school.

Reply by Kevin C 9 hours ago
Diplomacy is not a good trait for a reporter. It’s a good trait for an advocate. On a semi-related note, when we “get the job done” what exactly do you want cycling in Chicago to look like?

I’ll answer that one Kevin. When “we get the job done” Chicago should look like whatever everyone who attends the next bar night says it should look like. No one who wants to remain close to the Urban Cycling Faithful ever expresses anything that has not been officially blessed.

Reply by Michelle Stenzel 9 hours ago
I’d like to have a city where average people can ride a bike for transportation and don’t need to have any more courage to do so than when they’re walking on the sidewalk, or riding a bus, or driving a car.

Oh wait. I feel verklempt! This has brought tears to my eyes. I can barely speak. How touching and so very honest and oh so dreamy. But wait, haven’t we always been able to do that? Heck I would think “average people” would be surprised to learn that they are not already able to “ride a bike for transportation and don’t need to have any more courage to do so than when they’re walking on the sidewalk, or riding a bus, or driving a car“. Did I miss something? Was there an alien abduction in the evening that left me in a world that I really do not know?

And the silly season continues. You really gotta love the ChainLink Faithful!