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Active Transportation Alliance defends Emanuel’s bike-sharing deal

AP file photo

AP file photo

The Active Transportation Alliance on Friday defended Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to choose Lyft over Uber to become the exclusive partner and operator of Chicago’s bike sharing program.

In an article posted on the organization’s website, spokesman Kyle Whitehead argued that the “public is best served” when cities “retain control over their transit systems, rather than turning management over to private companies and allowing them to decide where, when and how to operate.”

“It’s critical that an expanded bike sharing system in Chicago complements — and not competes with — the existing Divvy, bus and rail networks, and retaining public control makes this more likely,”  Whitehead wrote.

“The Lyft deal is an expansion of Divvy that keeps the system under Chicago’s ownership and operation. It locks in the expansion and affords better opportunities for integration with other forms of public transit. The deal allows Chicago to keep the bikes and stations at no cost when the contract ends.”

Documents shared with the Chicago Sun-Times this week showed that Emanuel might have left money and bicycles on the side of the road when he chose Lyft over Uber.

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, which would have bolstered the city’s share of revenue.

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.

The partnership between Uber and Jump also offered to make a five-year, $200 million capital investment in citywide infrastructure — including expanded charging stations, bike racks and bike lanes — if Divvy and other dockless companies were allowed to operate alongside Uber and Jump.

If Uber and Jump had been designated as the exclusive bike-sharing operator — in a similar arrangement with Lyft — then the capital investment would have been $450 million over five years.

But Whitehead argued Friday that the two proposals were like “apples and oranges” and that the comparison between the two investment totals was “misleading” because there is a “crucial difference.”

“One is publicly-operated. The other is privately-operated,” Whitehead wrote, noting that Uber could have “removed bikes at any time.”

“The privately-run bike sharing model is common in cities that lack an established public bike sharing system, but a publicly-run system is preferred in cities with established systems like Divvy in Chicago. Chicago should keep our system public.”

Still, mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot said she wants to “take a deep hard look” at the proposed Lyft contract, which requires City Council approval.

“I’m concerned….This seemingly came out of nowhere without proper vetting and transparency. That is precisely the style of governance that we have to move away from,” Lightfoot told reporters at an unrelated City Hall news conference.

“There hasn’t been enough transparency and conversation about that’s gonna mean — particularly for a ride-share company that we have to address the bigger issues of the number of cars on our streets.”

Whitehead’s arguments mirror those made earlier this week by Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld.

Scheinfeld 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.

“It is a strong foundation. Our limits have been the capital needed to continue to expand the footprint of the system. This is solving that financial need. But it builds and grows on a very successful system,” Scheinfeld said.

“The proposal Uber made ignores the Divvy system and is not addressing the strong foundation that we have with this city-owned asset. We think having a dockless system citywide in addition to a Divvy system citywide would create unnecessary redundancy and more impact to the public way. A docked system creates the order that we want and need in especially-congested areas like the downtown.”

Adding to that potential clutter, Scheinfeld said, was the fact that the Uber-Jump proposal also included scooters. There is “significant risk to that in terms of the public,” she said.

Asked why the city never talked revenue with Uber and Jump, Scheinfeld said, “We have an existing contract with Motivate, which has been acquired by Lyft. We were not in a public procurement process.”