Wheels almost come off Divvy deal


Last-minute concerns Monday night about cost almost derailed Evanston's participation in the Divvy bike sharing program two-and-a-half years after aldermen first voted to seek a grant to fund it.

And despite assurances about funding from city staff, aldermen ultimately approved the deal by only a 5-4 margin.

It was back in August 2013 when the city first sought a state grant for the program that wasn't awarded until September 2014, in the waning days of the Quinn administration.

The grant provides for a major expansion of the Divvy system already operating in Chicago and the addition of Divvy stations in Evanston and Oak Park.

The grant is expected to cover 80 percent of the first year cost of buying the bikes and getting the system up and running in Evanston. But that leaves the city to provide $80,000 in matching funds.

Projected revenue from bike rental fees is expected by staff to cover only about two-thirds of the estimated $192,000 in annual operating costs for the system.

But City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told aldermen Monday night that the city has tentative commitments from five entities for a total of $280,000 in advertising revenue from the project. He said Northwestern University, the city's two hospitals and "a grocery store known for its produce" are among the prospective sponsors.

He added that he believes it will be "a lot easier to get additional sponsors" once the system is in operation.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, who cast the only vote against the project after the 2014 grant award, said he continued to believe the program was too expensive.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said the cost of the program to consumers is too high. "Why cant we just get some bikes, paint them and put them around town?" Fiske asked.

Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, said Chicago is still losing money on its Divvy program and he didn't believe Evanston would get proportionately as many riders as Chicago does.

But the council's newest member, Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said there's "great enthusiasm in the community for the bike sharing program and it's part of the big sustainability push to get people out of their cars.

With the City Council vote to approve launching the program, city staff now hope to have it up and running by early summer.

The latest map of proposed Divvy station locations — showing the eight funded largely by a state grant and two additional on campus ones being funded by Northwestern University.

More coverage of the Divvy program.

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