Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has lifted the locking requirement for Chicago’s dockless bike-sharing companies, but in a way that competitors warn could once again favor Uber, the ride-sharing giant whose investors include the mayor’s brother.
The city’s original plan gave dockless bike-sharing companies now conducting a test run on the Far South Side a July 1 deadline to have locking equipment that allowed the bikes to be tethered to a sign post, bike rack or other fixed object. Possibilities included a cable or U-lock system similar to those that cyclists use.
But when LimeBike and Ofo complained about the locking requirement and LimeBike threatened to leave Chicago, the Emanuel administration backed off, but in a way that benefited Uber — again.
“Because they have created a presence in the pilot area and have acquired customers, we are allowing the two-companies — LimeBike and Ofo — to continue operating with a wheel-lock technology at a fleet size of 50 until the end of the pilot, lifting the July 1st requirement,” Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.
“Those companies are still free to expand their operation, but only if they comply with the ‘lock-to’ requirement. In addition, the city has been made aware of interest in expanding the program to allow for more bikes and more access. Therefore, we are increasing the fleet limit for each ‘lock-to’ company from a maximum of 250 bikes to a maximum of 350 bikes. These all have to be the `lock-to’ bikes.”
Uber rolled out its JUMP dockless bike sharing service on Monday using the “lock-to” technology — just in time to take advantage of the new, 350-bike limit.
For years, Emanuel has been accused of creating an unlevel playing field that has allowed Uber to siphon business from taxicabs.
The revised rules governing dockless bike sharing were viewed as more of the same.
“It seems that CDOT is focused on tipping the scales for bikes using ‘lock-to,’ instead of letting residents on the South Side determine for themselves what kind of bike-share system they prefer to use,” Jesse Lucci, general manager of Lime Chicago, was quoted as saying in an email.
“If the city is truly interested in providing the South Side with equity on bike-sharing then they would place all operators in this pilot area on a level playing field instead of favoring lock-to companies.”
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, added, “If Uber is just rolling out their dockless stations and rules and regs have suddenly been changed, then once again [the question is], are we changing the rules for Uber?”
Beale said he’s even more concerned about what he called Chicago’s “separate and unequal” system of bike sharing.
If Divvy docking stations are good enough for the North Side and downtown, Beale wants to know why City Hall hasn’t “forced” the company purchased Monday by Lyft to build those same docking stations on the Far South Side and West sides.
“Divvy is touting 15 million rides in five years, but not one of those 15 millions rides are coming out of the 9th, the 34th, the 10th Ward, part of the 6th. The Far South Side is being shortchanged once again,” Beale said.
“If dockless was so good, why are they not allowing these companies to put these bikes all over the place downtown and on the North Side? We don’t want bikes all over the place. We want docking stations . . . If you get a group of tourists [who] get off at 111th St. at the Metra station and want to ride around and see the historic Pullman District, they can’t do it because they won’t be able to assemble five or six bikes at a time because bikes are all over the place.”
Claffey said there would be a “major capital cost to expanding the Divvy system to the Far South Side.”
He also countered that the changes were made to benefit LimeBike and Ofo — not to put those companies at a competitive disadvantage.
“From the outset, we made it clear that the City expected any dockless bikes to have lock-to technology after July 1, in order to avoid the clutter of discarded bikes other cities have experienced,” Claffey wrote in a follow-up email.
“Although these two vendors decided they didn’t want to operate according to the rules spelled out in the permit, the City showed flexibility and adjusted the pilot so they could continue to participate beyond the July 1 deadline.”
JUMP is the latest service to wade into the increasingly competitive dockless bike-share market, which is confined to 20-square-miles of the Far South Side.
Lyft, Uber’s chief ride-hailing competitor, announced Monday that it has purchased Motivate, the company that operates Divvy.