Late fees, legal potholes dot city bike-share program

By Jon Hilkevitch, Chicago Tribune reporter
7:12 pm, May 29, 2013

Source: Chicago Tribune

The city of Chicago’s Divvy bike-sharing program began accepting annual $75 memberships Wednesday. 8:39 pm, May 29, 2013 NANCY STONE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE

The city of Chicago’s Divvy bike-sharing program began accepting annual $75 memberships Wednesday.
8:39 pm, May 29, 2013
NANCY STONE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Membership enrollment opened Wednesday for Chicago’s Divvy bicycle-sharing service, but cycling enthusiasts might think someone let the air out of biking’s joie de vivre after reading the accompanying 17-page rental agreement and liability-waiver form.

In the months leading up to the June 14 launch of the service, city officials said the bike-share experiment was being designed for short trips lasting up to 30 minutes. The online posting Wednesday of the rental contract for those who become annual members of the service made it clear that exceeding 30 minutes on a three-speed Divvy bike will get expensive faster than most people can pedal.

The concept of the program is to provide a quick, inexpensive transportation option on the last mile or so of trips for commuters getting off CTA or Metra trains, as well as creating an alternative to riding taxis or buses during peak hours on traffic-clogged streets, officials said. A commuter could pick up a Divvy bike near Union Station, for instance, and drop it off at another bike-share station near their workplace.

If the bike is returned to a docking station 31 minutes to an hour after it was checked out, an extra $1.50 is charged to the credit card of the annual member. That’s on top of the annual membership fee of $75 or $125, the latter of which includes five daily guest passes and a Divvy T-shirt.

At 61 to 90 minutes, the late charge increases to $4.50, and it continues heading north after that.

The Divvy bike is the responsibility of the user while it’s in their possession. The late charges increase up to $1,200 for the replacement cost of the bike if it has gone missing for 24 hours, according to the rental agreement.

Once the bike is returned, only late fees would apply.

In addition to the $75 annual Divvy membership, which includes unlimited uses lasting up to 30 minutes each, 365 days a year, a $7 daily pass will also be offered once the service is in operation, officials said.

As for year-round usage, the contract stipulates that Divvy bikes cannot be operated “in poor or dangerous weather conditions, including snow.”

The overtime fees for daily users will be “slightly higher” than for annual members, city spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. After 31 minutes, the late fee is $2. It increases to $6 after 61 minutes late, and each additional 30 minutes incurs an extra $8 charge, according to the list of fees.

No grace period will be offered for late returns, McCaffrey said.

“The timer stops when the bike is docked and the light on the dock turns green,” he said.

In regard to liability, the rider indemnifies the operator and the city under terms of the contract. If a Divvy bicyclist is hurt or becomes involved in a traffic accident, the rider assumes “full and complete responsibility and liability for all consequences and claims,” the rental agreement states.

It’s similar to the terms when renting a car, except that no optional insurance coverage is offered by Divvy.

The Divvy website is divvybikes.com.

Riding bicycles has been recommended by doctors for years as a good way to get rid of a spare tire around the middle. But the Divvy contract offers this bitter pill: “Like any physical activity, riding a Divvy bicycle may cause minor or major injuries or discomfort and may worsen or complicate underlying medical conditions or diseases.”

The customer contract also lists “prohibited acts” while riding a Divvy bike. They include using a cellular phone or portable music device, texting or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The use of helmets is also recommended by Divvy, but the vendor does not provide head-protection equipment.

The city and the Divvy contractor, Montreal-based Alta Bicycle Share Inc., plan to have 40 bike-share docking stations open for business June 14, when the city’s Bike to Work Week rally will be held in the plaza of the Daley Center downtown.

More than 75 Divvy stations will be installed in June, 300 by the end of August and 400 neighborhood locations installed over the next year, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. A total of 4,000 three-speed bikes will be available, officials said.

The city has set a high bar to be able to deem the $22 million federally funded bike-share experiment a success. Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein predicted the program will be so popular that it pays for itself.

More than 700 people signed up Wednesday for annual memberships, according to CDOT.

But already, skeptics are questioning the cost and whether bicycle sharing is the next parking meter deal. The skeptics also question whether bicycle sharing stands even a chance of being as popular in Chicago as it has been in Washington, on the West Coast and in other metropolitan areas.

Divvy is not intended for leisure-time sightseeing. Will businessmen put their briefcases in the basket on a Divvy bike and ride to meetings, risking sweat stains on expensive suits just to save a couple of dollars on a taxicab and possibly save a tree from pollution?

William Choslovsky, a bicycle-riding lawyer in Chicago, questioned the $1,200 cost of the three-speed bikes in the program.

“Are these magic bicycles? For that price, do they at least come with air conditioning and cruise control?” Choslovsky quipped. “Is this government largesse at its worst? Is this Bikegate?”

Choslovsky predicted that the program will flop.

“Nobody is going to pay $75 — plus daily late fees — to ride a bike a few times. And if you ride a lot, you will ride your own bike,” he said.

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

Twitter @jhilkevitch