The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Divvy income falls as rides and service area increase

Chicago's take of Divvy bike-share income was 31% lower in 2016 than in 2014 and 2015 as the city expanded the program into the South and West sides:

Divvy income fell from $2.86 million in 2014 and $2.84 million in 2015 to $1.97 million in 2016, a 31 percent drop, according to the city Department of Transportation figures. The city said it is improving its outreach to get more people to try Divvy and expects its income for the program to be about as high this year as in 2015.

Transportation officials said the expansion to black and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West sides was an attempt to increase diversity in a program that was launched four years ago in mainly white, affluent neighborhoods. But the South and West sides pose challenges to Divvy because they tend to be less affluent and have more impediments to biking, such as fewer bike lanes, cycling advocates say.

The city makes the bulk of its Divvy income from station advertising and Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s sponsorship. In three of the past four years, it lost money on bike rental operations. After a small profit of $45,859 on 2015 operations, it lost $752,011 on operations in 2016 — its share of a total operational loss of $1,756,420 shared with Motivate and the biggest loss in the program’s history.

The differences between neighborhoods are stark. In the low-income West Side neighborhood of Austin, for example, there are 14 Divvy stations that saw a total of 1,339 trips from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017. Affluent lake-bordering Lincoln Park, by contrast, has 36 stations that saw 452,727 trips during that time period.

The DePaul study said high unemployment rates reduce ridership because the system’s main function is to serve work commuters. It also noted that areas with more kids and seniors also see less Divvy ridership. Divvy is not for children under age 16.

The program remains exceptionally popular near me. One of my friends, who lives near Wrigley field, has taken almost 365 Divvy rides this year. But as the you get farther from the Loop, the bike share looks less attractive. (Ever try to ride one of those behemoths 15 kilometers in less than 30 minutes?)

I'm glad the city and Federal government are subsidizing the program as a mass-transit program. Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously said that "Divvy is a bigger threat to cabs than Uber," and he's probably not wrong (depending on how you measure things).

Links to read on the plane

I'm about to fly to San Antonio for another round of researching how the military tracks recruits from the time they get to the processing center to the time they leave for boot camp (officially "Military Basic Training" or MBT).

I have some stuff to read on the plane:

OK, off to K20. Or K18. Or wherever my plane has got to.

 

Millions of blue bikes

Software developer Todd Schneider has analyzed 22 million CitiBikes trips (the New York equivalent of Chicago's Divvy). He's even got some cool animations:

If you stare at the animation for a bit, you start to see some trends. My personal favorite spots to watch are the bridges that connect Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan. In the morning, beginning around 8 AM, you see a steady volume of bikes crossing from Brooklyn into Manhattan over the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges. In the middle of the day, the bridges are generally less busy, then starting around 5:30 PM, we see the blue dots streaming from Manhattan back into Brooklyn, as riders leave their Manhattan offices to head back to their Brooklyn homes.

Sure enough, in the mornings there are more rides from Brooklyn to Manhattan than vice versa, while in the evenings there are more people riding from Manhattan to Brooklyn. For what it’s worth, most Citi Bike trips start and end in Manhattan. The overall breakdown since the program’s expansion in August 2015:

  • 88% of trips start and end in Manhattan
  • 8% of trips start and end in an outer borough
  • 4% of trips travel between Manhattan and an outer borough

There are other distinct commuting patterns in the animation: the stretch of 1st Avenue heading north from 59th Street has very little Citi Bike traffic in the morning, but starting around 5 PM the volume picks up as people presumably head home from their Midtown offices to the Upper East Side.

Schneider previously analyzed 1.1 billion New York taxi trips.

Divvy is faster than the El, usually

Now that Chicago's bike share has hundreds of stations, its efficiencies are becoming clearer:

But what about convenience? Recently Divvy held its second annual data visualization challenge, and one of the winners, by Shaun Jacobsen at Transitized, compares the speed of Divvy with the speed of the CTA. And Divvy wins by a nose.

Jacobsen’s “Who’s Faster” project starts with a look at the 1,000 top “station pairs"—i.e. the places that people most often go from point A to point B using Divvy. Then, those are compared to the same route on the CTA at noon on a Monday.

And a couple patterns emerge. One is that the bulk of station-to-station trips are faster, centering on five minutes’ savings. It might not sound like much, but it adds up; Jacobsen calculates 32,023 hours saved over 571,634 trips. The other is that the most heavily-used station pairs tend to save more time than less frequently-used ones, as if people are starting to figure out how it works.

Cool stuff.

Bloomingdale Trail opening June 6th

After almost two years, the trail opens June 6th:

Built on a long-defunct railroad line, the trail runs through Bucktown, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Humboldt Park.  Work on the $95 million project began in fall 2013.  Take a look at the path under construction.

When the trail opens, four of the access points will be through ground-level parks: Walsh Park, 1722 N. Ashland Ave.; Churchill Park, 1825 N. Damen Ave.; Julia de Burgos Park, 1805 N. Albany Ave.; and Park 567, 1805 N. Milwaukee Ave.

When completed, the 606 it will include six parks, an event plaza, an observatory, art installations, educational programming and other amenities, Emanuel said in a news release.

Parker and I will take a hike on it as soon as practical—possibly June 7th.

Are zombie bikes coming to Chicago?

Electric bikes that move between bike share stations may solve the bike-rebalancing problem:

The goal of this research is to derive algorithms directing the vans and trucks that bike-share operators use to shuffle bikes from station to station within a city. Trouble is, rebalancing is a moving target with several layers of complexity. You not only need to predict how many bikes a station will need at a certain time, but you need to minimize the (costly and time-consuming) movement of these vans and trucks—and you need to do it all while the system is in use.

Algorithms aren't the only option. Wald reports that at least one researcher is modeling a system in which driverless bike-share trucks could rebalance stations automatically. Of course, an easier way would be for bike-share systems to use electric bikes that shuffled themselves. But the thought of a bike traveling without a rider does bring up the problem of, you know, balance.

Meanwhile, Chicago's Divvy system will add another 100 or more stations next year, all the way up into Rogers Park and down to the far South Side.

Modest Divvy program losses last year

Crain's reported this morning that the Divvy bike-share program lost $150k on $2.2 million in revenue last year:

Though the operating loss is not unexpected, and the amount is relatively small, it comes at a time when Mr. Emanuel is under intense pressure to cut costs and avoid tax increases. The bicycle-sharing program has not yet reached many neighborhoods, reinforcing a view that Divvy is merely a toy for yuppies and tourists.

With the program expected to ramp up this year, achieving profitability is crucial to its long-term success. The administration expects Divvy to at least break even this year.

The program has proved popular with out-of-towners, but it must win over more price-sensitive customers, such as city residents.

So, the program seems on track, and the $12.5-million infusion from Blue Cross certainly hasn't hurt. I'm encouraged.

About this blog (v 4.2)

Parker, 14 weeksI'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 7½-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page in September 2011, more than 1,300 posts back, so it's time for a refresh.

The Daily Parker is about:

  • Parker, my dog, whom I adopted on 1 September 2006.
  • Politics. I'm a moderate-lefty by international standards, which makes me a radical left-winger in today's United States.
  • The weather. I've operated a weather website for more than 13 years. That site deals with raw data and objective observations. Many weather posts also touch politics, given the political implications of addressing climate change, though happily we no longer have to do so under a president beholden to the oil industry.
  • Chicago (the greatest city in North America), and sometimes London, San Francisco, and the rest of the world.
  • Photography. I took tens of thousands of photos as a kid, then drifted away from making art until early 2011 when I finally got the first digital camera I've ever had whose photos were as good as film. That got me reading more, practicing more, and throwing more photos on the blog. In my initial burst of enthusiasm I posted a photo every day. I've pulled back from that a bit—it takes about 30 minutes to prep and post one of those puppies—but I'm still shooting and still learning.

I also write a lot of software, and will occasionally post about technology as well. I work for 10th Magnitude, a startup software consultancy in Chicago, I've got more than 20 years experience writing the stuff, and I continue to own a micro-sized software company. (I have an online resume, if you're curious.) I see a lot of code, and since I often get called in to projects in crisis, I see a lot of bad code, some of which may appear here.

I strive to write about these and other things with fluency and concision. "Fast, good, cheap: pick two" applies to writing as much as to any other creative process (cf: software). I hope to find an appropriate balance between the three, as streams of consciousness and literacy have always struggled against each other since the first blog twenty years ago.

If you like what you see here, you'll probably also like Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, Josh Marshall, and Bruce Schneier. Even if you don't like my politics, you probably agree that everyone ought to read Strunk and White, and you probably have an opinion about the Oxford comma—punctuation de rigeur in my opinion.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy The Daily Parker.

Commuting in a winter wonderland

My walk to the bus this morning, through a park path that I forgot they don't shovel:

I could have taken a Divvy bike but...well, for some reason they're closed today:

The good news is, it's stopped snowing for now. The bad news is, we're heading down to -17°C tonight.

I texted some friends in Atlanta and Houston with the top photo. For some reason they don't want to visit Chicago just now.

How Divvy made some of its money

Apparently, Chicago's Divvy is really popular with tourists—and tourists have trouble returning the bikes on time:

Chicago's Divvy bicycle-sharing program took in up to $2.5 million during its first five months, a figure driven by tourists and others who bought daily passes and racked up the majority of overtime fees, according to a trove of preliminary customer data provided by city transportation officials.

As much as $703,500 came from late charges, which kick in when bicycles aren't returned within 30 minutes. Just a sliver of that money was generated from Divvy's clock-conscious annual members, who checked out bikes for short trips instead of hopping into taxis or riding public transit, city officials concluded.

It's not clear whether the Divvy public-private partnership, supported by $25 million in federal funding and $6.25 million in local matches, is turning a profit.

The article goes on to suggest that tourists have trouble understanding the point of the 30-minute time limit. It's not to prevent you from riding Divvy bikes; it's to keep Divvy bikes moving. If the program didn't have a 30-minute window, people would ride to their destinations, park the bikes, and ride back, possibly tying up a bike all day.

So the problem seems to be user education.

Still, I'm glad the program is making revenue. I really hope it's profitable.