A divided City Council agreed, by a 5-4 vote, to bring bikes to Evanston through an agreement linking Evanston, Chicago and Oak Park through the bike sharing program. The first year will be paid for by a state grant, sponsorship from local businesses, and a required $80,000 contribution from Evanston.
The cost of the bikes and stations – $58,000 for each of ten 10-bike stations located around Evanston according to Transportation and Mobility Coordinator Katherine Knapp – proved too much for several of the aldermen. Operating costs for years 2017 and beyond have not been accounted for, though in part costs will be covered by fees collected from riders.
User fees are unlikely to cover costs, and the City will probably have to subsidize the system, according to Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward. “Look at the City of Chicago,” he said. “They have many more users and they’re still losing money.”
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz pointed out that the initial cost of stations and installation is largely covered by a state grant of $320,000 available as a pass-through from Chicago. Money from the State, he said, is something Evanston is not likely to see ever again.
Five private sponsors, including Northwestern University, have pledged another $287,500, said Ms. Knapp. While she said she could not reveal who the other sponsors were as yet, Mr. Bobkiewicz said two major health-care facilities, one on the north side of Evanston and the other on the south side as well as a central Evanston grocery store “known for its produce,” were among the sponsors.
Free money from the State was not enough to persuade all aldermen. “I’ve been critical all along about the cost of programs, especially to consumers,” said Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward. “Where could we put the money, where else could we put the money?” she asked, suggesting a better use of funds might be the City buying bikes, painting them, and distributing them around town.
“Divvy bikes are awesome, Divvy bikes are fun, they’re just too expensive,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward.
Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, sitting as alderman for the first time, likely cast the deciding vote. “There is great enthusiasm out in the community for the Divvy bike sharing program,” she said. “I urge my colleagues to support getting this program started.”
Just enough of her colleagues agreed. Ald. Rainey; Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward; Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward; and Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward; joined Ald. Revelle in voting yes.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, joined Ald. Miller, Ald. Fiske and Ald. Wilson in voting no.
A companion ordinance, authorizing an Operator Agreement with Motivate International for the operation of the Divvy stations, passed by the same 5-4 margin. As a result, Divvy bikes are finally coming – look for them this summer.