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Divvy Bike Usage Rises, but Growing Pains Emerge

By Alisa Hauser | July 16, 2013 9:54am | Updated on July 16, 2013 12:23pm
 During its second week in Chicago, users of the Divvy bike-sharing program were still trying to understand overtime charges for trips longer than 30 minutes, and business owners continued to express concern over the loss of loading zones and free parking spaces to make room for the bike docking stations.
Divvy Bikes in Chicago Week Two
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CHICAGO —  The good news is plenty of people are using Chicago's new Divvy bikes, with more than 25,000 trips taken in the bike-sharing program's first two weeks and more than 2,500 annual members signed up.

The bad news is some participants are using the bikes so much they're getting hit with overtime fees and unexplained charges on their bank accounts.

Some say Divvy's 24-hour $7 passes are not properly marketed, leading riders of the sturdy powder-blue three-speed cruisers to believe the charge is $7 for a full day of cycling rather than an unlimited number of 30-minute trips within a 24-hour span.

Elliot Greenberger, Divvy's director of marketing, said "one of the biggest challenges of any new product or service is educating the public around how it works."

"It's not surprising that some people will be confused but, at the same time, we're upfront that you can take unlimited rides during your 24-hour or annual period," Greenberger said.

He acknowledged "people often think of the 30 minutes as a time limit" but that the rules are standard in the bike share industry.

Daniel Torres, 20, was riding a Divvy near Duprey Elementary School at 2620 W. Hirsch St. in Humboldt Park around 8 p.m. Thursday — about 1.3 miles from the nearest Divvy docking station at 2002 W. Pierce Ave. in Wicker Park.

The Humboldt Park resident, who'd been riding the bike for a few hours, said it was loaned to him earlier in the day by his girlfriend, Kristina Manibo.

"My girlfriend rented the bike thinking it was $7 for the whole day, and little did we know about the hidden costs and fees that put a hole in her account," Torres said.

In some cases, Divvy users said, fees have been charged even when they do not go over the allotted 30 minutes.

A Divvy 24-hour pass holder was charged $85 after an 18-minute ride on July 7 from a station at North and Marshfield avenues in Bucktown to a Sheffield Avenue and Willow Street station in Lincoln Park.

The pass holder, a DNAinfo Chicago reporter, spotted a pending charge of $85 on her debit card on July 12 — five days after the bike was used and properly docked into a Lincoln Park station.

After the reporter complained, the company said it would refund the overbilling.

Greenberger said Divvy was "relaxing our overage charge policies during this initial period, and as long as we have a record of the bike being in our system, we've been refunding anyone who reports an erroneous charge."

Chicago's Divvy program, a subsidiary of Portland, Ore.-based Alta Bike Share, operates bike-sharing programs in seven U.S. cities as well as Melbourne, Australia.

Though some Divvy customers are aware of the overtime charges, some users said that 30 minutes is not enough time to travel between stations.

A comment from a user on the Divvy Facebook page said she "likes the concept but 30 min. is not long enough at all and a 24 hour pass where I have to check into a station every 30 minutes is sending me on a wild goose chase for stations." 

Tom O'Brien, 31, and Melody Hildebranth, 29, were visiting Chicago from New York City on Sunday and had ridden Divvys from the Far North Side to Armitage and Lincoln avenues.

O'Brien said he and Hildebranth had signed up to use the new bike-sharing program in New York City called Citi Bike that is also operated by Alta Bike Share.

"In New York City, you have 45 minutes between stations," O'Brien said.

Greenberger said while is "actively listening to feedback from our riders on this," he added that "we don't have plans to increase that time."

In New York, he said, the 45 minute time frame only applies to annual members, not 24-hour pass holders. In Washington DC, he said, roughly 98 percent of the trips taken are under 30 minutes.

Steven Vance, a writer for transportation blog Streets Chicago, was one of the first 100 users to sign up for the annual $75 Divvy membership. He agreed that more marketing is needed to explain the 30-minute time limit.

"Maybe they should add a 30-minute rule on the handlebar," Vance suggested.

Vance said he's observed many of the Divvy trips being "made by tourists" and not those running errands or commuting to and from work.

That could change when Divvy adds more stations to make bike commutes more convenient.

By the end of the summer, Divvy hopes to have 300 stations installed and eventually 400 stations and 4,000 available bikes. Currently it has 72 stations, with two more installed Downtown Monday,  according to a Divvy Facebook update.