I am the greenest person I know.
Not in the “CO2 is bad”-y kind of way, but in the color of cash savings kind of way. So when I did the math on a $75/year shared bike program vs. the hundreds of dollars a year taxi alternative on what was a beautiful day where I had to travel a few more miles than I’d consider walking (currently, about five unless I’m in New York or Paris), I figured the time was right to rent a Divvy bike for the day.
Now, from the title of the post, you should realize I am a Capitalist. I like decisions about the use of money being made by consumer and investors based on returns, not bureaucrats based on what-we-think-is-best-for-you or votes. Probably the “4% of the world’s population producing and consuming 25% of the world’s goods and services” thing that gives the poorest in our country much better living standards than the middle class in countries who decided that everyone should have just enough instead of letting people create excess that could be invested and donated. But I also appreciate the positive aspects of Democracy that provides incentive for wealthy (and God bless that first rich guy who said “I think I’d like to go bathroom INSIDE my house”) to share the wealth by creating jobs and philanthropic pursuits and (uh, OK) paying taxes for public facilities.
So my purpose is not to review the wisdom of the City of Chicago subsidizing this program or ideology related to Chicago transportation becomes a bit more like Peking/Beijing whilst Beijing/Peking becomes A LOT more like Chicago (a good thing, IMO). No, this review is about two things- the experience, and the savings.
First, the experience. It was fun, mostly. The bikes are solid, the rental experience easy (if you have a credit or debit card), and the locations convenient (for downtown-ish, and they’ll add more). You see the bikes, go the kiosk and swipe your card, get a code, and use it to unlock your bike. Pull the bike out and you have 30 minutes to get to your location where you check the bike in (or face a $2 for the first hour, $8 per additional hour added charge- ooh, you can buy a pretty decent bike with a days’ worth of those charges!) If the station is full, you get 15 minutes to get to the next station (although you’ll have a 15 minute or so walk back to where you wanted to drop off) and they move bikes around to try to avoid that so I haven’t seen that situation yet. You reswipe your card, get a new code at no additional charge for 24 hours. Simple.
So I got my bike, got to my first destination with no hitch (other than relearning to ride a bike after a few years, briefcase loaded up front creating a higher center of gravity), and lived to tell about it. After a few hours in the office, I had to meet my daughter on the South Side (it was moving day), so I got my bike (there are still a few bugs in the system so I ended up having to walk a few blocks from the Mart to another station as mine wasn’t distributing bikes), and headed south.
As I cruised along, I observed the ride is smooth. I observed the three gear choices were adequate for Chicago’s altitude-challenged topography. I observed I was getting some exercise. I observed people giving me friendly nods, although a few were likely reminded of that Chinese-bear-on-a-bike-that-ate-a-monkey-video they shouldn’t have watched and a few more deferred to me likely reminded of what happens when a 6’4″ dude on a bike runs into you or your car. So it was a mostly enjoyable ride.
And then I observed that the City of Chicago may be it’s own worst enemy for maximizing enjoyment. Why, you ask?
Two reasons: first, the stop lights. Why is it that you can’t drive more than two blocks in Chicago without hitting a red light? It’s aggravating in a car. On a bike, it’s perhaps more so. You’ve reached cruising mode, and see the countdown to zero, and then… braking; shifting; wondering if there are tickets for running a red light on a bicycle (in Chicago, I’d guess absolutely); having to put your foot down; waiting, with the seat pushing into your crotch or the small of your back… And when your (my) cycling experience arises from small town southern Illinois or suburban bike trails, not so fun. First world problem, but a problem nonetheless. But I have heard the City is thinking about doing what other cities have done, synchronizing more of their lights, which would be fine by me.
Second issue: the bus. I hear the CTA is thinking about moving bus lanes to the middle of the road, like Cleveland. Good idea, because when you’re riding a bike and a bus pulls in front of you, stops, and obliterates your bike lane, you have two choices: 1. Stop. 2. Swerve into the traffic lane. As there is no rear view mirror on Divvy, you have to turn your head, and I’ve never felt safe riding a bicycle looking backwards. Fortunately, I arrived unscathed, after 30 minutes exactly. I’ll let you know if the $2 kicks in at minute 30 or minute 31.
So now the question- can Divvy save you money? Well, time is money, so if you want to arrive quicker (I’d say half the time) than walking, Divvy is a good choice on a nice-weather day. Since we have two of those a year in Chicago… wait, I kid- recent climate here has actually been very nice so there’s a good… 90? days a year between 50 and 85, which would be the outside bounds of my tolerance. If you don’t live in the city, bike transport and storage could add up to hundreds of dollars a year. And when you consider taxi/Uber/Lyft/Sidecar/etc. charges, especially for multiple trips, the savings potential is in the hundreds of dollars per year. So I definitely want to find a way for Spendbot to make people aware of bike-sharing programs as an option. But… there is a but…
The hundreds of dollars of savings you can get with any bike-sharing program can be obliterated with just one accident. Riding a bike in the city center is a high risk proposition. I’m too busy to look up statistics and cost and do math, but feel pretty confident that the odds x the cost could add up, especially if you: A. don’t wear a helmet and B. don’t have health insurance.
Now, I’m not trying to sell you health insurance if you don’t have it. I’m only saying that Spendbot will help you find savings so you can afford it, and I’ll tell you who you can call to get the best deal on the best insurance that you MUST HAVE if you’re going to go riding bikes in the city center. Or, frankly, that you must have if you’re going to responsibly consume oxygen. If you want to know how to afford what may seem unaffordable, visit us here to get started with a Spend Plan.
With the proper insurance (and a helmet, perhaps one of the folding ones that fit in a briefcase) Divvy is a good choice for those who like a little activity, like being outdoors in communion with surroundings and their fellow Chicagoans, and have a few extra minutes to spend in order to save a few extra bucks that can be used for other things. Divvy gets this capitalists’ thumbs up.