I was a huge fan of the Chicago Divvy Bike system (http://www.divvybikes.com) when it was introduced last summer.
It provided a very convenient, cheap, personally beneficial and eco-friendly method of transportation in a city where those criteria can usually never be completely or concurrently fulfilled. I quickly signed up for an annual membership at $75, and used the system sparingly but happily throughout the warm months.
I’m not sure if the harsh winter of 2013/14 took it’s tool on the equipment, or if there the rapid expansion of the Divvy system itself is to blame, but my experiences this summer have been lacking to say the least. I’ve taken 4 trips on Divvy so far this summer and here are the problems I’ve encountered:
- Credit card reader malfunctioning: The card swipe device just refused to even acknowledge that a card was being dipped at all. This happened two machines that we encountered, forcing us to walk to the nearest station, about 2-3 blocks away.
- On a trip to Montrose beach, the one station int he vicinity of the beach, and nowhere near any other station, had 3 open docks to store my bike. Great, no problem, I thought. Wrong. All 3 docks were in the locked position, not allowing a Divvy bike to be plugged in. Rider after rider came up to the station, only to be forced to go to another station. On top of that, the console did not allow for extra time to be requested, apparently thinking that it had 3 open docks. So after riding a mile to this station, my wife and I had to ride the mile back to the nearest station, dock the bikes (luckily there were open, functioning docks there) and then walk back to Montrose, where we were now late to our volleyball league game.
- On top of the above story, my wife had just bought an annual pass, but could not use it since the key had not yet arrived. No temporary code or pass is offered in this situation. When she tried to dip her credit card in the console, the machine said that our Visa was not a supported credit card. 5 attempts later, it was finally accepted.
- Again in the #2 situation above, and in every trip I’ve taken this summer, the bikes have been in a horrible state of disrepair. The gears slip very often, almost causing me to lose traction on the pedals and fall off the bike. The fenders are loose and rattle with each bump. The gear shift rarely clicks and stay into its (admittedly horrible) 3 gear slots. Possibly related, the mechanism used to dock the bike may be so mashed up that it is causing some docks to lock without a bike in them.
- Paying for a one-day pass at a kiosk involves WAY too many steps. On busy weekend days, there are often multiple people waiting to take out a bike, and each person has to spend an almost 5 minute process clicking through each of the steps and acknowledgements on the kiosk screen.
I definitely do not blame the Divvy company for trying; this system is a blessing to Chicago and with the right amount of maintenance and upkeep it can be great. But right now, I believe that Divvy has grown beyond its capacity for quality and has instead concentrated on quantity.
I will not be recommending Divvy to anyone until I see that the quality has caught up with better functioning kiosks and docks, repaired bikes, and better options for riders stranded at remote stations.