Oak Park ends Divvy program

Expense and lack of use prompts close vote at Village Hall

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The fledgling Divvy bike-sharing program in Oak Park was killed last night by the Oak Park Board of Trustees on a 4-3 vote, with trustees voicing their disappointment with the low ridership and high cost of the program.

Trustees Bob Tucker, Dan Moroney, Simone Boutet and Deno Andrews cast the votes to end the program, while Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, Andrea Button and Jim Taglia voted to extend the contract and give Divvy more time to improve.

The program, which was first approved in 2013 and rolled out in summer 2016, failed to attract enough riders for Oak Park to recoup enough of the annual cost of the program. Officials in 2017 estimated Divvy's cost to the village at about $26,665 a month.

The village attempted to renegotiate the contract with Motivate, which operates the Divvy program, but the 10 percent reduction in price, which would have reduced the monthly cost to $24,068, was not enough to persuade trustees to continue with the program.

Oak Park residents, several of whom had attended a recent meeting at Oak Park Public Library to discuss the increasing tax burden in the village, testified to the board in favor of ending the program.

James Peters, who organized the Oak Park Property Tax Watch meeting earlier this month, told trustees that each ride was costing the village an estimated $17.48 and asked if there was a long-term plan for making it profitable. Peters asked for a three-month extension on the program to give the village time to come back with such a plan.

But Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for biking and using public transportation, said the Divvy program in Oak Park had not been given enough of a chance to be successful.

He said village expenses related to accommodating motor vehicles was certainly higher than the estimated annual cost for the bike-sharing program, but those numbers are never discussed publicly.

"[Driving is] a big expense, and if we were to be a little more efficient here and there, we could easily pay for Divvy," Burke said. "So we do need to have standards for performance for Divvy. I agree there needs to be improvement … but I also think we need to have standards of performance when it comes to cars and roads and parking in this village."

Divvy Marketing Director Kelly Goldthorpe said the 13 stations around Oak Park include 207 docks for bikes.

Under the proposed one-year contract that would have reduced the cost by 10 percent, the village still was projected to pay about $170,000 for 2018, after including the projected revenue from memberships, rides and marketing revenue.

Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb noted that the cost to the village would be about $129,000 for the year.

Trustee Bob Tucker said a recent editorial in the Chicago Tribune noted that profits are not the only measure of success when it comes to the Divvy program – it also gets people out of their cars and exercising, he said.

"I think that's important to consider; on the other hand, these numbers make me cringe," Tucker said. "They are really not good in Oak Park."

He added that part of the problem with Divvy is that although the system is connected to the Divvy bike program in Chicago, many might be unwilling to ride through low-income neighborhoods to the east of the village.

Trustees discussed pursuing different bike-sharing programs that are less costly, but have not taken a close look at what service they might use to replace Divvy.

Trustee Dan Moroney noted that month-to-month ridership was down 11 percent and an effort to increase membership by cutting the annual startup fee from $100 to $60 only attracted 20 new Divvy memberships.

Trustee Andrea Button, however, said she didn't believe the village had enough data to call the recent downward trend "permanent."

 "I'm not ready to call it a failure just yet," said Button. "I think Divvy is still pretty new to Oak Park, which is why I'm willing to try it for one more summer."

Trustee Deno Andrews expressed his support for bicycling in the village but added that the program is averaging 34 rides a day.

"We have two years of data; we had two of the mildest, longest, most beautiful summers in Oak Park history, but people aren't using this," Andrews said. "Ninety-two percent of Oak Parkers own their own bicycle. As far as I see it, less than 1 percent of Oak Parkers uses Divvy, and the village is screaming, 'We don't want this, we don't need this.'"

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Christine Vernon  

Posted: January 27th, 2018 4:17 PM

The article below has been disparaged by a few people, on a thread elsewhere, and deservedly so, because the data is unsourced. The article is also unattributed. The whole site is anonymous. Here is information from a credible source, The Civic Federation of Chicago. https://www.civicfed.org/press-room/study-compares-property-tax-burden-northeast-illinois

Christine Vernon  

Posted: January 22nd, 2018 11:49 AM

You don't have to have lived here that long to understand our governments history and lopsided history of foolish spending. You just have to make some effort to become informed on what's actually going on. https://westcooknews.com/stories/511316199-oak-park-property-taxpayers-lament-their-local-government-spending-has-more-than-doubled-in-last-40-years

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: January 22nd, 2018 7:17 AM

Ms Vernon, I'm sorry, but this repeated trope of 'unless you lived here in the pre-Trapani days (I did), your voice has little value and validity', is becoming increasingly tired and offensive. Dismissing the opinion of a taxpaying residents, while offering up the needs and desires of your pal from San Antonio, is not wisdom, it's solipsism.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 21st, 2018 4:22 PM

When the town does so-called corporate welfare, some evil capitalist makes money. And a bunch of local people have many months of good quality construction jobs building those apartments. And then hundreds of people have new homes for many decades. Comparing that with Divvy, which almost no one was even using is not a very convincing argument. If it was so popular it never would have been dropped, but the math on it was terrible.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: January 21st, 2018 1:50 PM

Jacek Lazarczyk - You resort to that popular culture kind of name-calling or negatively characterizing a person or idea, instead of making an intelligent case for your position. A facetious or sarcastic statement, as a literary device, can drive home a point, in this case a well-known one in Oak Park foolish spending history, Maybe you missed the point. Maybe you don't know the whole uneven story . Maybe you are new to Oak Park and it's development history. This morning, I had a guest from San Antonio that comes to Oak Park on a regular basis and has done that for years, without a car. She told me how she often used Divy bikes for transportation while she was here and lamented that they won't be available any longer. Before that, she was talking about her impression that development was changing the character of Oak Park, a wonderful suburb, in a way that was negatively impacting the community., a conviction held by me and many others. Out of town developers given swoop in when they see a place to make money. They are given special considerations, (alley vacations - funny term! and other deals). They make a windfall and leave town, after having irreversibly negatively impacting an internationally- distinguished community. Too many developers seem able to convince people, and municipalities that the answer and solution to overpopulation and growth, and the answer to the tax burden, is increasing desity and creating human filing cabinets. It's a myth and it can be dehumanizing.. The next time that you read that a subsidy is given to a developer as it was for the WhiteCo building, $20M, which has now been sold three times, try to get the accurate info whether or not Divvy bikes, or some adaptation of it to bolster convenience for residents and tourists was not sustainable and wise environmentally. versus giving corporate welfare to developers..

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 21st, 2018 7:47 AM

The use of euphemisms such as " low-income neighborhoods" is, unfortunately, so like Oak Park. It's high crime, not low income, that concerns people. Perhaps if people had thought and spoken more clearly during the decision making process in the Divvy program, they would have come to a better decision.

Maureen Heffern Ponicki  

Posted: January 20th, 2018 2:23 PM

I have read the comments and been mulling over this decision by the Village. If most Oak Parkers have bikes (as do I and my kids) why can't we put that money into making the Village more bike friendly? Watching my kids and other kids ride around the village is terrifying. Can we invest in more bike lanes and other new, innovative ways to share the road. As most people agree driving around the village is increasingly difficult. I'm ok with that - if I can safely bike around. Let's use the money to make the village safer and healthier. DIVVY may not have been the answer, but let's keep trying.

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: January 20th, 2018 10:33 AM

correction to my comment, should read: "...used to justify having gone for a grant..."

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: January 20th, 2018 10:25 AM

Regarding Jennifer's comment: It's based on the "bike share feasibility study" which also indicates that 50% of people would use Divvy. When the reality is that 50% of the respondents to a survey question (232) said they would use it. I agree that the 92% figure of bike ownership seems inflated. Perhaps used to give the impression that Oak Parkers are avid cyclists. It was this document that was used to justify going for a grant, and for approving Divvy in the first place. It's a biased document, since it was commissioned by a non-profit advocacy organization that, according to their website, "works to improve conditions for bicycling, walking and transit and engage people in healthy and active ways to get around." I am not against this organization. Though I question why we commissioned (paid) an advocacy group to do this study. We are basing decisions on things provided by an advocacy group? It's inherently biased. And this is why I have been critical of Divvy in Oak Park for years, commenting multiple times here at oakpark.com. To be clear, I am not critical of Divvy. I am critical of the process the Village (both staff and the Board) used to justify this expenditure. It was faulty. And we can do so much better.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2018 8:01 AM

Not to complain, but it is a very old idea around here to absolutely blow a lot of tax dollars in someone's misguided effort to improve life. People get a whiff of power and start wanting to spend everyone else's money so they can say that they did something with their life. Lets rent a bunch of bikes no one needs or wants is now right behind lets turn DTOP into a mall and see what happens.

Jennifer Malloy Quinlan  

Posted: January 19th, 2018 11:42 PM

230 people from Oak Park who ride bikes were surveyed and 92% of them own their bikes. Good grief, what a propaganda machine the village has turned into.

Bronwyn Elizabeth Feller Soell  

Posted: January 19th, 2018 5:02 PM

I like the concept of Divvy bikes but I don't ever see people actually using them here in the Village. There is s station around the corner from our apartment building and the number of bikes parked there never appears to change. We rent and store our bikes in the basement of our building. As I said, I like encouraging residents to bike, but I'm not sure that the village should subsidize the program if people aren't using it. Even with the subsidization, the annual fee seems kind of steep for lower income residents, especially if you consider that they might also need CTA or Metra passes if they cannot afford a car.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: January 19th, 2018 12:25 PM

Even though this program didn't work out due to high expenses and low usage, I'm glad OP gave it a shot. Despite the serial complainers around here, I appreciate that we have a local government open to new ideas in an effort to improve the quality of life for its residents.

Sharon Rhebergen Pearce from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2018 5:01 PM

5 DAYS!? Advance notice, please! My college student relies on DIVVY on school days for the last miles between home and the EL. This program ends in Oak Park in only 5 DAYS? He has not not been notified by DIVVY yet. He'll have to buy another bike due to vandalism and theft around Lake St. as he can't risk his road bike. With new textbooks and tuition this month, coming up with extra money is not in his budget. I wonder if DIVVY will refund part of the annual membership.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2018 2:23 PM

Janet - You should have thought of this problem before you bought your condo. I don't think it is the Village's responsibility to solve your storage problems.

Janet Haisman  

Posted: January 18th, 2018 12:24 PM

One more thing: Many of us who now live in condos find that we lack the space to store our bikes. Couldn't the Village discuss this problem and help us find solutions? We have given up big homes and have managed to downsize our living spaces. But where can we put our bikes? Any thoughts?

Janet Haisman  

Posted: January 18th, 2018 12:17 PM

To Mary Pikul - Yes, Mary Jo Schuler owned Greenline Wheels which closed as soon as then Divvy bike program began. The store is still there, and I am hopeful she will reopen it. Mary Jo is one of the stars of development and charitable giving in Oak Park. Here is a wonderful article by Ken Trainor from several years ago, describing her efforts. http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/8-10-2010/Good_hearted-capitalist/

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2018 10:06 AM

If we learned one thing, it is that the level of waste and tax money devastation must have to be epic before Trustee Button is ready to admit failure. She brings a lets go down with the ship sort of leadership.

Eric Taubman from river forest  

Posted: January 18th, 2018 9:31 AM

DIVVY - another big Government program designed to pander to transportation needs - funny how an organization can tap into this govt angst to extract the peoples money from those who can't keep the books. At 1200.00 per bike?? for the cost of Divvy, Oak Park could easily have bought 500 x $200 bikes - maybe WORLD Bikes run by SRAM? And tagged them with Oak Park STickers and created awareness for the charity. FYI Divvy Bikes are not great riding bikes - sort of like a bike created by a committee who has never ridden one, nor cares.

Kevin Cassidy from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2018 6:44 AM

Penny wise, pound foolish

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 11:02 PM

Interesting that Motivate/Divvy wasn't willing to shoulder more of the risk burden in our proof-of-concept. What ideas did the vendor have to increase ridership or sponsorship? They should be more of a partner than a vendor anyway. Oak Park was on the outer service rim, basically a peninsula with no stations north, south, or west. Have other bike sharing service providers been able to successfully implement their business model in similar situations? I'll give them props for voting this down. Doesn't mean it can never come back.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 9:11 PM

Mary: You raise a fundamental question (that playing out accross the country, not just in our little burg): does government play a role in subsidizing private business; and if so how and which ones? Who wins the government lottery here for your and my tax dollars? Fresko was not the only loser of government largesse. Remember Connolly's Irish Pub? I have a foundational disagreement with Mr. Andrews in this regard.

Mary Pikul  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 8:30 PM

First, I am pleased with the decision to end Divvy for the reasons Deno and many other commenters have stated. Second, there used to be a bike rental business on Marion street near South. What happened to them? Did Divvy put them out of business? I feared that this business would close when I heard Divvy was coming, and they did close shortly after Divvy came, so I wonder. I understand the goal for the Village was to make money, but I can't say it doesn't bother me that the decision could have caused a business to close as a result. Third, not knowing much on the topic of small businesses, I wonder, "Are small business in OP subsidized?" When a great little small business like Fresko closes while OP subsidizes big buildings and businesses, I can't help but become more and more concerned about the success of our town's small businesses and question what the Village does to help them succeed here. Should we be looking more at that?

Melanie Wilson  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 7:48 PM

Sorry, correction to my comment at the end, meant to say a program that they *didn't* use.

Melanie Wilson  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 7:47 PM

As someone who doesn't own their own bike, I really enjoyed having Divvy to get around town and for exercising. Even bought and renewed an annual membership. Sadly I know a lot of residents were against the program from the very beginning, especially since quite a few times people would stop me when they saw me checking out or returning a bike to grill me for several minutes about why exactly I used the service, wasn't I upset about the loss of parking spaces, and to let me know their own issues with a program they themselves used.

Barbara Purington  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 7:38 PM

I don't get why OP needed to subsidize Divvy program.

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 5:52 PM

Deno's quote at the end pretty much sums it up. I am not opposed to subsidizing programs. That's government, that's what government does. It allocates tax payer dollars to things that the people need and want (we "subsidize" car usage in the millions of dollars). But this particular program attracted only 1% of adult Oak Parkers. Able-bodied humans that have other means to achieve their goal (riding a bike). And very little tourism usage. Tiny. I'm confident that with the amount of passion and intelligence in this community, a better, more effective plan to support sustainable transportation, can be designed and executed. First, I'd like collection of some real data. I'd start with these 92% of Oak Parkers who own bikes now. I'd ask them usage questions, values questions, etc. The first step is to truly find out where people are (rather than coming from a place where you think they should be) and then go from there.

Marty Strode from River Forest  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 5:51 PM

Wow what a shock, the divy bikes are not proven to be a money maker. Guess it's right up there with %uFFFD%uFFFDvalet parking%uFFFD%uFFFD! What bright idea will they come up with next? I've got an idea, how about areas of %uFFFD%uFFFDfree parking%uFFFD%uFFFD for taxpayers? Ingenious idea right?

Bob Larson  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 5:46 PM

The board's decision makes sense to me. I rarely see anyone riding Divvy bikes. Most Oak Parkers have their own bikes. Looking forward to getting the parking spaces back!

Mak Flournoy  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 5:30 PM

Boy, this really seems like nickeling and diming to me and frankly, let's get real, Divvy bike cuts aren't going to make or break our tax burden. I reside very close to FLW Home and Studio and I see daily how much of a convenience it is for tourists (in which our businesses see a great deal of revenue from). God forbid we have a program that promotes health and wellness in our so called progressive community. And... I agree with Andrea that there isn't enough data to inform a decision. I would also assume that they had the option to reduce the number of Divvy stations and focus on those with the greatest use to date but did they entertain that? Really surprising to see this decision.

Marty Bracco  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 5:18 PM

Thank you to the trustees. I've never been opposed to Divvy being in OP, just never thought the level of use here was enough to justify it. There certainly is no justification for the village to subsidize it. I hope Divvy decides to stay here, and fund its own operation. Meanwhile, I'll ride one of my two bikes.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 4:25 PM

Amen to what NB just wrote. I've lived here a long time and, like KP wrote, I've rarely seen that "first step" take place in OP. Rarely. Bravo to those four!

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 3:56 PM

I want to thank the Trustees for ending this program. It's not a bad program, but it shouldn'tbe paid for with taxpayers money. I think all people in Oak Park need to fight for what is essential to be "Oak Park". This program was nice to have but not essential.

Alan Albro from Oak Park  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 3:47 PM

Excellent! The program in and of itself was fine. The cost to the tax payer was atrocious. Kudos to the trustees who voted the new contract down and showed fiscal responsibility.

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 2:33 PM

Your snarky comment, Christine, is not helpful and misses the point. Did you read above? Not enough users. Not enough reduction in carbon dioxide emissions for the money spent. Makes sense to me. A lot of Oak Parkers, myself included, ride their own bikes.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 2:32 PM

yes, you could say that about the village and the developers, however, why wouldn't Divy re negotiate a contract downwards in favor of the village and the environment on a product (a bicycle) which has little depreciation, in hopes of developing their product use for the future?

Christine Vernon  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 2:16 PM

Yes, of course, why would we want to participate and cultivate that eco-friendly idea of using bikes and bike sharing when we might be able to use those funds to subsidize a developer?!

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 2:15 PM

Thank you!

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 2:08 PM

As the Chinese say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. This is a move toward reality.

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