Divvy Bike Share: First Impressions

June 28, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Chicago’s Divvy bike share system launched today with (I’m guessing) about 75 stations and 700 bikes scattered throughout the Loop, River North, and neighborhoods around those areas. I used it three times today. Here are my impressions:

  • I had only two issues: I got off the Brown line this morning at Chicago and tried to use my member key to unlock a bike. It didn’t work; this is likely related to my account and not the station itself. A staff member let me use a 24-hour pass so I could use a bike and get to work. Buying a pass at the kiosk is straightforward but it takes a little while. At lunch, I tried to grab a bike from Jackson/Canal, but it would not recognize my credit card. I just walked to lunch.
  • Stations: They seem to be far between at this point. I didn’t see more than a couple going from Jackson/Canal to Fullerton. Looking at the map, I know there will be more soon, and I hope the density is high enough. As people get used to the station locations, I’d only plan for 20-minute rides maximum, to leave some time to find stations nearby.
Divvy station at Jackson/Canal.

Divvy station at Jackson/Canal.

  • Comfort: The bikes are comfortable and the seat is pretty nice. The seat post is numbered so you can remember what you need to set your height to; I’m a 6. Seems like the seat heights will work for many people. I like the design of the bike and kept forgetting that there was no bar from the handlebar to the seat and tried to step over it.
  • Storage: The little basket in the front is not as small as I’d thought it would be. It will be enough to carry a small bag from the store or my messenger bag.
The basket on the front of the bike.

The basket on the front of the bike.

  • Speed: The bikes are definitely not for really fast movement. Even on the 3rd gear I found myself spinning the wheels too much. It’s like they were built for going up hills but we don’t have a ton of those in Chicago. I wish you could go a little faster, but these are for shorter trips. For longer trips, I’ll keep using my road bike.
  • I almost ran out of time! I actually might have gone over 30 minutes going from Union Station (Jackson/Canal) to Fullerton (CTA station). That’s quite a long distance, and I was tired. I hope I didn’t get charged for going over 30 minutes!
  • The bikes are a little hard to dock: I thought it was just a fluke, but every time I docked a bike I had trouble. Luckily there was a staff member at the Fullerton station; two of the docks were not able to accept bikes. I wonder how this will affect requesting more time to find another station. If the station is full (no docks), you can request more time to find another station. But if the station has open but broken docks, I wonder how you can request more time without calling…
  • The customer service line: I was on hold for 15 minutes; this would get old if there were problems out on the road. Hopefully that’s a first-day/first-week issue and the wait time won’t be as long with the initial kinks worked out.
  • People were interested: A man at the Jackson/Canal station was looking at the kiosk as I was getting a bike. He asked me some questions about it and called it a “great idea.” Waiting to cross Wacker, a taxi driver asked me how much it costs; when I explained that it is 24 hours of 30 minute rides (as opposed to 24 hours with the bike), he said “they sure know how to make money!” The light turned green before I was able to understand if he understood. And a few more people pointed at me riding as I was going past, probably signaling to their friends, “Hey, that’s one of those new blue bikes!”
  • The map data is iffy: I found the app and the online map data to be unreliable. It said there were only 5 bikes at Jackson/Canal, but there were at least 10 when I got there just a minute after checking.
  • Riding a bike in Chicago is still a crapshoot: Not like this was going to change overnight, but a major part of getting people out biking is making it safe. And part of making it safer (with better infrastructure) is getting more people out biking. It’s a catch-22, and I feel that making it safer will come before getting more people out. There are good days where I can bike 9 miles home without ever feeling threatened or encountering a vehicle blocking the bike lane, and there are days where I wish I had a train horn on my bike. There were several trucks in the bike lanes and some cars in the Dearborn lane and this will have to be worked out. I really wish the police would put more cops on bikes to ticket drivers that do this. Anyway: hopefully Divvy will get more people out biking and this will lead to a greater push for good, safe infrastructure for bikes that isn’t just paint.

Next week I’m off to Europe and I’ll be trying out the bike share systems in London and Strasbourg (Paris, too!), and will be renting a bike in Amsterdam. If anyone has recommendations on biking in Frankfurt, please let me know. When I come back, I’ll write all about biking and public transport in those cities.

So what is the final verdict? I have no idea. It’s only been live for a few hours! In general it seems to be working fine. Only time will tell how popular the system is, what kinks need to be worked out, and if the station density and dock capacity is enough for demand. I’m thrilled Chicago is joining the ranks of cities with bike share systems.

Did you Divvy today? What are your impressions?