Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to choose Lyft over Uber to become the exclusive operator of Chicago’s bike-sharing program was likened Wednesday to the widely despised parking meter deal.
Arguing that South and West Side neighborhoods have been shortchanged by Lyft-owned Divvy for far too long, community and business leaders accused Emanuel of choosing a deal that perpetuates that inequity for two more years.
Under the Lyft proposal, the city would get 16,500 bikes docked at 800 stations, up from 6,000 bikes at 600 stations currently. But the citywide expansion would not be completed until 2021.
Uber owns the dockless bike-sharing company Jump that ran a 300-bike pilot program on the South Side last year. The company offered the city 20,000 bikes in all 50 wards by May, according to its proposal, shared with the Sun-Times.
“The previous administration signed a parking meter deal that benefited the Daley family, but robbed the residents … of Chicago. Let’s not make the same mistake again,” said the Rev. Andre Smith, CEO for Chicago Against Violence.
“The city should reject exclusive contracts that only benefit a single company and are not in the best interests of all Chicago neighborhoods… Unfortunately, what we are witnessing now is the city striking a no-bid, backroom deal with Lyft-owned Divvy that gives Divvy a monopoly over all bike-share programs in the city with no expansion to the South and West Side for over two years.”
Donna Hampton Smith, president and CEO of the Washington Park Chamber of Commerce, questioned why Emanuel was trying to “push this exclusive deal” on his way out the door.
“Why not postpone the deal and let the new administration negotiate the contract? Or make the deal not exclusive if the mayor wants to have another win before leaving office?” Smith said.
Smith noted that South and West Side neighborhoods are the “most under-served” in terms of convenient and affordable transportation options.
Making that “first- and last-mile commute between public transportation and home, work or school is particularly challenging” without bike-sharing, she said.
“That’s why it makes no sense that the city would choose a plan that delivers fewer bikes and fewer locations with fewer jobs at a slower pace,” Smith said.
Community activist Jedidiah Brown, who tried and failed to unseat Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th), also referred to the parking meter deal.
“We don’t want history to repeat itself,” Brown said. “We are not against Divvy having a deal. We are asking Divvy to remove the exclusive language from that deal. We want to meet with the leaders of Lyft and we want them to agree to remove that exclusive language.”
Mike Claffey, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation, responded to Wednesday’s demands by releasing statements of support for the Lyft deal from ten civic leaders, academics and community groups.
“Uber continues to peddle falsehoods, but the simple fact is that the proposed partnership with Lyft is the only workable proposal that ensures city control of the system and achieves our goal of a bike share program that reaches every part of the city,” Claffey wrote in an emailed statement.
“Uber’s idea would completely trash the existing bike share system instead of the Lyft partnership, which would build upon the beloved Divvy program.”
On the day he unveiled the deal with Lyft, Emanuel argued emphatically that there is no comparison between the plan to turn over management of Divvy for nine years and the 75-year, $1.15 billion parking meter deal that Chicagoans love to hate.
“Big difference. … Nine years is not close to 75 years. … I know you can do that math. Don’t play alderman. Play journalist. … Nine years is not 75 and it immediately comes back to us — and we get all the capital investment they make,” Emanuel said.
“While meters were throughout the city, bike-sharing is not throughout the city. And aldermen on the South Side and the West Side and the Southwest Side have been asking for bike share. … In 2021, this will be in every part of the city. And we can’t [afford to] do that. … That gets it there in two to three years. If we were doing it on our own, it would [take] seven to nine years.”
With an assist from the Active Transportation Alliance, Transportation Conmissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld has argued that Divvy is a “great bike share system that is well-loved” and that it was important to “maintain city ownership” of that system.
The city owns the equipment, having purchased it over time, largely through federal and state grants and contributions from city coffers.