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.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Bike Sharing is part of public transit
    Buses, trains and roadways all rely on government subsidy to exist. The bike sharing system is part of the public transit network and it is reasonable for taxpayers to pay a small part of its cost.

    1. Buses and trains replace 25

      Buses and trains replace 25 to 70 cars on the road. For the most part, cars and trucks pay for license plates, city stickers, parking meters, and a hefty gasoline tax. At best, it takes 1.5 bikes to replace 1 car. Taxpayers pay about 80 percent of public transportation, not small part. In Evanston, taxpayers are paying a large part of the cost of bicycle transportation. Bicycles pay nothing.

      From a financial stand point, bicycles are a big negative. Many years ago, Evanston required bikes to be licensed but it was never enforced and I don't remember if there was a fee.

      Evanston will require a high Divvy rental fee to come close to breaking even. Chicago has raise fees and still loses money on Divvy.



  2. Brian Miller’s comment
    Ald. Miller’s comment that the participation rate in Divvy will be lower than it is in Chicago brings up an interesting point. My understanding is there is just one Divvy system. There is not a separate Evanston system from what Chicago has. So how will they determine how much of the Divvy user fee revenue goes to Evanston? I could not find this in the plan presented to city council back in November 2014 starting on page 6. http://www.cityofevanston.org/assets/CCAP%2011.17.14%20finalv1.pdf

    One of the alderman should ask the city manager.

    As for Ald. Miller’s comment, it is not clear he is correct. There is quite a bit of suburban resident participation in Divvy already. In 2015 the 8th, 9th, and 10th most used Divvy stations were the three stations next to Ogilvie. All of the other top usage stations were further apart from one another The three Ogilvie bike staions taken together had far more usage than the #1 station at Streeter and Illinois.

    1. Divvy revenue

      Hi subscriber,

      Based on the information in Monday's council packet, Evanston will get the revenue from Divvy subscribers who live in Evanston and from single-ride purchases that start in Evanston.

      — Bill

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