On June 28, Chicago introduced its new bike sharing program, Divvy, to the public. Such programs have already been established in many cities throughout the world, with the US now catching on. These systems work by allowing people to rent a bike, either by purchasing an annual membership or using a credit card for a one time fee, for thirty minutes before they must drop it off at any one of the many stations around the city. The program is not designed for sightseeing or leisurely rides through the city, but as a green, perhaps less costly, and perhaps more efficient means for travel to relatively close spots throughout the city. Many of the stations are located close to ‘L’ and Metra stops for an inexpensive last leg to a commute. They will ideally make a un-walkable distance easy to get to without a cab or sitting in traffic, and will make all walkable distances that much quicker to get to. With 4,000 bikes and nearly 400 solar-powered stations set to be in service by the end of summer, the hope is that it will become a very convenient, green mode of transportation.
The US’s first bike sharing program in a major city was in Denver in April 2010, and the systems have been in the news again due to New York City’s implementation of CitiBike. So far, NYC’s system, the biggest until Chicago’s is in full operation, has been getting mixed reviews, portending a similar reception in Chicago . The positive reviews have been just as the program implementers had hoped: convenient, fun, a new way to travel the city. The negative reviews stem from the sometimes costly glitches in the system due to unopen racks or technology malfunctions, but also from those who, hilariously, wish to make it a very controversial political issue.
Allow me a quick tangent to explain the latter half of that last sentence by using one of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board members Dorothy Rabinowitz, in the interview linked discussing CitiBike, as example. After the interviewer begins with a terrifically biased lead-in claiming the program was established so “New Yorkers can feel like they’re in Paris or London” and posing the question “are we too fat?”, makes a sophisticatedly-worded fool of herself in a rant about NYC’s autocratic, totalitarian government. After pronouncing herself representative of the majority of all citizens as one of the heads of a conservative newspaper targeted at the always in-touch, down-to-earth do-gooders of Wall Street, she says that everyone is “appalled by what has happened.” Yes, the bike sharing program has become NYC’s latest self-inflicted, revulsion-worthy tragedy, restricting the freedoms of the normal car-drivers because bikers don’t follow the rules of the road and believe that they, obviously not those Wall Streeters or shackled Grandma Rabinowitz herself, are “privileged” just because they’re helping the big, stupid environment. Who cares what the official and popularly elected representative, Mayor Bloomberg, believes. Not to mention, Rabinowitz points out the “blazing blue” bikes have “begrimed” the city. (The interview is worth a complete viewing solely for entertainment purposes). So after warning the rest of the America’s cities of such sneaky totalitarianism (by implementing a program no one is forced to participate in), accusing Mayor Bloomberg of having no guts because he did not conduct a study (the rest of the world’s cities, including nearby DC aside), and also illuminating his corruption in service of the all-powerful bike lobbyists (though the bikes are sponsored by CitiBank, a comfort to all Occupy-ers), Rabinowitz’s wonderfully worded objurgation displayed exactly what no citizen should be afraid or even mindful of, especially since it only briefly said anything of the program. Tangent finished.
What may be somewhat worrisome, and what caused Chicago’s Divvy program to delay its opening by two weeks, are the glitches that could cost bikers an undue amount. Annual memberships will run $75, while single-day passes that last 24 hours run $7, both for unlimited 30-minute rides for their respective periods. The problem comes when, possibly due to these glitches, a bike is returned between 31-60 minutes. An additional $1.50 is charged for annual members to the credit card on top of the previous fee, and another $4.00 if it is not returned after 60 minutes. For daily renters, the fees go up to $2.00 for the first extra half hour, and $6.00 for lasting over the hour. And, should the bike not be docked for 24 hours, a whopping $1,200.00 is automatically charged. The program has its skeptics and for understandable, un-Rabinowitz reasons.
But given the success of similar programs in DC, Minneapolis, and many cities in California, this program should not be viewed with any sort of debilitating skepticism. It may be a little pricey for an “inexpensive” means of transportation, but if it is greeted with a positive attitude in hopes of reducing car emissions and transforming the way the city commutes, and achieves that even slightly, it is a step in the right direction. And if used for more than one ride, the $7.00 renter fee for the full 24-hours becomes much easier to swallow. So whether or not you support the program, a common good stemming from a program that does not require participation cannot be looked at negatively. And to those drivers who fear the danger of hitting a biker due to the hopefully massive influx, Divvy riders automatically assume the liability, so fear not. The program requires no one to assume any extra responsibility or to participate in any sense, and to politicize or fight its implementation simply makes no sense. Opposition only hurts the others looking to help everyone. We bicycle accident lawyers who support everything bicycle, could not be more pleased that such an initiative has finally been undertaken, and urge everyone to try it out, or at the very least, hold back the naysaying in fear of being anything like uppity moron Rabinowitz.