Letter to the Editor: Bike-sharing models have bigger issues beyond individual companies

After narrowly passing a City Council vote two years ago, Divvy stations made their way into Evanston and throughout Northwestern’s campus. This sounds great on paper, and one need look only at the many overburdened bike racks around town and on campus to see how desperate we are for a turnkey bike management program.

That being said: Divvy sucks. Rachel Holtzman’s column in The Daily, “Evanston should invest in dockless bike-share, ditch Divvy,” addresses this. But it’s not just Divvy — it’s the bikeshare model. And ofo would likely be worse.

I have to start by giving my most sardonic congratulations to Motivate — the company that operates Divvy. It has performed a magic trick often paralleled only by billion-dollar sports franchises who get the city to subsidize arena construction: Have the state and communities make the investment, while the business collects the dividends these communities were promised.

Besides the setup costs, Evanston still splits part of the program’s revenues with Motivate for a variety of tasks. This still ignores the fact that customer rides are capped at 45 minutes as of Feb. 1, the stations are sporadic and inconveniently located for many users and the stolen bike fee goes up to $1,200.

Obviously, issues exist with Divvy. But ofo takes it a step further: Under the guise of a student-run cycling initiative, the multinational, Beijing-based company tried to rush a contract by the University — and has tried to do the same in Chicago. Whereas Motivate leeches funds over time, ofo tries to eat markets whole. But their prolific image — mountains of discarded, damaged and broken bikes scattered among “bike graveyards” in major Chinese cities — should give every city planner and facilities manager pause.

All the problems posed by Divvy are the same ones ofo brings. Except, instead of this chaos being organized into racks, it’s spread all over sidewalks, streets and parking lots too.

Bike-share programs like Divvy and ofo can be incredibly helpful for dense urban areas and tourist destinations, but they quickly become liabilities to suburbs and campuses. Oak Park, for example, recently cancelled its agreement with Motivate largely due to the program’s costs and lack of feasibility.

Bike-sharing misses basic community needs, and is only able to sell itself on vapid claims of sustainability and opportunities that are never created — Evanston should consider saying no to the services altogether.

Robert Babich, Communication junior