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Cruisin’ with Divvy

Visit Chicago this year before the weather gets too cold, and you’re likely to see people riding around on some new light-blue bikes. A new bicycle-sharing system called Divvy has spread throughout the city and allows riders to check out bikes from around a hundred different stations.

Divvy lets you purchase a 24-hour pass for $7. During those 24 hours, you can take as many bike trips as you want, but the trips can only last for 30 minutes. Divvy charges extra for longer trips. This time limit prevents you from hanging onto bikes when you’re not riding them (e.g. if you’ve stopped for lunch) and gives other riders the chance to use them during that time.

On a recent visit to Chicago, I used Divvy one night to explore some of the city. Starting at a station by my hotel at Merchandise Mart, I rode east toward Navy Pier. I found the bike to be comfortable and practical. Similar in style to a cruiser, it had a single speed, hand brakes, and an adjustable seat. Before getting to the pier, I docked the bike at a nearby station and checked out a new one to reset my time. Because it was dark by this time, I was happy to have front and rear lights that turned on automatically. I headed south to Grant Park, realizing the value of the bell as I passed groups of pedestrians. From there, I headed into the Loop and then back north to my hotel.

Overall, I enjoyed the bikes themselves but disliked how frequently I needed to find a docking station to check in. My trip took a little over two hours, and I had to deal with six different docking stations. Although I had a bike for 30 minutes at a time, I really only experienced 15-20 minutes of freedom. After that, it was really time to find the nearest station and ride over to it. I tried to leave a few minutes to spare as well, since I didn’t want to be charged extra. An hour-long time limit would have served me much better.

Another time, I used Divvy to meet friends in Wicker Park after work. I was running late, and Google Maps told me that regular transit would take 35 minutes. Instead, I checked out a bike from a station that was within a block of me and got there in 20 minutes. I didn’t mind that it cost more than the train, given the time savings, and I could’ve taken another bike back for free if I needed to. Overall, I thought Divvy worked much better in this situation than in the extended city tour I tried to have with it the first time.

Ben Nash (12 Posts)

Software engineer in Detroit, MI.

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  1. Christoph Olszowka
    Posted September 16, 2013 at 9:41 am

    We have a similar thing here in Hamburg, Germany, but you only need to pay a one-time sign up fee (~5-10 Euro) and then can use the bikes whenever you like free of charge for 30 minutes and an hourly rate after that. I think not having a 24-hour fee to even be able to use these really benefits general usage since you don’t have to consider whether you’ll be using them “enough” in that timespan. One problem is bike availability though. Usually the flow between stations is very one-way per day of week and time of day, so on weekends you might have trouble finding a bike to get into the drinking district, and if you want to get somewhere on time it is somewhat hard to rely on bike availability. But all in all it’s a very handy addition to the public transport system (here it is actually operated by public transport).

  2. Ben Nash
    Posted September 16, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Wow, a one-time fee of 10 Euros is pretty cheap. Divvy charges $75 for an annual pass. I never ran into a completely empty bike station in Chicago (or a completely full station), but once there was only one bike left, which I took as fast as I could. Divvy also has an app that displays the number of bikes available at each station, which might help people plan ahead if their usual stop is empty.