April 30, 2014|By Jon Hilkevitch, Tribune reporter
Chicago’s Divvy bikes will become moving advertisements for the state’s largest health insurance company under a corporate sponsorship of the bike-sharing program that provides the city with $12.5 million to improve and expand cycling, officials will announce Thursday.
City officials deemed the five-year agreement with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the highest bidder in a branding competition, a healthy fit aimed at promoting wellness among a Midwestern population that tends to carry a spare tire around its midsection.
Blue Cross will advertise its name and logos on the baskets and splash guards of the system’s roughly 3,000 bicycles by some time in June, as well as on Divvy vans, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.
“You got Blue Cross, blue bikes and the city of blues music all coming together to make us big blue,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Tribune. “I think it’s a great, great fit.”
The city retains the right to sell separate sponsorship for the Divvy bike-docking stations and payment boxes, officials said.
The 7.7 million people with a Blue Cross health insurance plan will also be offered $10 off the $75 annual Divvy membership beginning this fall in a three-month promotion, officials said. Blue Cross employees will be eligible for a special corporate rate of $30 per year.
Companies within the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association have sponsored about a half-dozen bike-share systems in the U.S. over the past five years, according to the association’s website. The first one was in Minneapolis.
Bike sharing was created as a public-private partnership and is intended to provide a public transit option for short trips. Users of the service, whether daily customers or annual members, are allowed to take an unlimited number of rides lasting up to 30 minutes each for a set fee. Extra charges apply after a half-hour. Bike-docking stations are closely spaced and concentrated around CTA rail lines and bus routes.
Blue Cross officials said Chicago’s bike-sharing program is an excellent match with the company’s goals.
“This represents a truly rare opportunity to improve public health, help the environment and increase productivity” by reducing traffic congestion, said Karen Atwood, president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. “We also think this will be an investment that will allow Divvy to thrive and grow.”
At Divvy’s warehouse in Chicago on Wednesday, “Blue Cross blue” decals were being applied to some bikes, which are painted the same shade of blue as the city of Chicago flag.
Divvy contractor Alta Bicycle Share Inc. plans to add 175 bike-docking stations this year, bringing the total to 475 stations, officials said.
Alta, based in Portland, Ore., also expects to add 1,750 bikes, or an average of 10 bikes for each new station, in 2014, the company said.
But the rollout schedule has been complicated by the January bankruptcy filing of Alta’s supplier, Montreal-based Public Bike System Co. The company owes $50 million to creditors, which include the city of Montreal.
The bankruptcy process was recently completed, and the new owner of PBSC, Quebec businessman Bruno Rodi, is negotiating on a timetable with Alta to provide more bikes and docking stations in Chicago and other cities, officials said.
“We still expect to expand this year,” Chicago Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said Wednesday. “We are working with Alta to get the best supply chain, given the issues with the supplier.”
Chicago will spend the $2.5 million a year it will receive from Blue Cross through 2018 to expand the Divvy system and fund projects that benefit bicycling in the city, including improving bike lane markings and signage, promoting bike sharing and buying more equipment to sweep and remove snow from bike lanes, officials said.
The city is about halfway toward Emanuel’s goal of creating 100 miles of protected bicycle lanes by May 2015, according to CDOT.
Emanuel said Divvy has “done much better than anybody expected” in its first nine months of operation. The bike-share program topped the 1 million-trip and 2.5 million-mile marks this month.
“There were some who were skeptical whether Chicagoans would do this,” the mayor said. “It has taken off.”
The Divvy program, which was launched late last June after two delays, is supported by $25 million in federal funding and $6.25 million in local matches.
Scheinfeld said the financial books from 2013 are “still being finalized” but that CDOT expects the program to break even or turn a slight profit.
The Tribune reported in December that the program took in up to $2.5 million in its first five months, a figure driven by tourists and others who bought daily passes and racked up the majority of overtime fees.
Projections for 2014 are calling for a “strong profit” from Divvy operations, Scheinfeld said, not including additional revenue from advertising and other sources.
Frankly, given the recent history of linking bicycling with alcohol, I would have expected one of the local brewers to step up and grab the spotlight. But this is what should be the link, healthcare. I hope the Cycling Advocacy groups here in the Illinois area take a good long look at this connection. It is the only one that makes any sense.
Now all we need is for Urban Cyclists to stop looking down their noses at these bikes (and riders) and get on board with their own individual support. Far too many of the comments on the ChainLink reflect disdain for how these bikes ride. Fine, but keep that to yourselves.