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Divvy 'Rebalancers' Move 1,300 Bikes Per Day Like 'Clockwork'

By Kyla Gardner | November 6, 2013 8:18am
Divvy Rebalancing: The Night Shift
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DNAinfo/Kyla Gardner

THE LOOP — Biking in Chicago requires a lot of driving — at least when it comes to Divvy.

You may have spotted the large Divvy vans that cart the city's bike-share program bikes from docking station to docking station. The tall, bright blue vans are hard to miss — especially during rush hour.

"[We] will just be rushing, jumping out, loading up bikes because [the stations] fill up that quickly," said Caleb Usry, 34, who works as a Divvy "rebalancer." "It's like clockwork, Monday through Friday."

Five vans are deployed across the city during morning and evening rush hours and an overnight shift. Each van can carry up to 28 bikes, and Divvy moves between 1,000 and 1,300 bikes per day, said Elliot Greenberger, a Divvy spokesman.

 Divvy "rebalancers" drive bicycles from docking stations that overflow to stations that empty quickly.
Divvy "rebalancers" drive bicycles from docking stations that overflow to stations that empty quickly.
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While neighborhood station trends are less predictable, Divvy has hit its stride in the Loop, said Usry, of Uptown, who has worked for Divvy since it launched in June.

On weekday afternoons, rebalancers rush bicycles from overflowing stations along Canal and Clinton streets near Union Station and the Ogilvie Transportation Center to "hot spot" stations east of the Chicago River.

Hot spots — those stations that tend to empty quickly around 5 p.m. — are outside the Board of Trade building (LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard), Chicago Department of Transportation headquarters (LaSalle and Washington streets ), Michigan Avenue and Lake Street, and all the stations along Franklin and Dearborn streets, among others, Usry said.

During the morning rush hour, those same stations overflow, and rebalancers work in the opposite direction.

A few stations don't need the help of the Divvy vans, as they naturally fill and empty without overflowing or hitting zero, Usry said.

"Clark and Congress: I can't remember the last time I went there," he said.

Usry also marks bikes for repair as he comes across them. He sees slashed seats, missing pedals and the occasional graffiti tag or sticker.

So far, neighborhood stations aren't as predictable as the Loop, Usry said, so rebalancers working outside the Downtown area drive around looking for stations to balance, or work with dispatchers who have real-time station data.

"There are stations on the North Side that get a lot more use than others, we've noticed, but even the rush hour trends are different," he said. "It's not like [the Loop], where we would go, 'OK, Montrose is going to need to be full.' It just doesn’t work that way, for whatever reason," he said.

But rebalancers can sometimes predict when certain stations will become "hots pots," like those near Soldier Field on Bears game days, or the Navy Pier and River North stations on weekends.

"No matter what part of town you’re working, you can go to pick up bikes [at Navy Pier] every 30 minutes on weekends," he said. "I guess it's tourists. On Saturdays, that’s the honey pot."

Divvy has installed more than 300 stations, and plans to have 400 by the end of the year.

The program will be sticking around for winter, but with fewer bikes, Greenberger said. Usry imagines that will mean less hectic rush hours, but additional station duties for rebalancers.

"I have a feeling we’ll just be shoveling a lot of snow," he said.