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.'”