Thieves have stolen at least 12% of the city’s Divvy bike-share system’s fleet since April 2018, according to newly-released Department of Transportation (CDOT) data and adult arrest records compiled by CWBChicago. But the program’s losses have been cut substantially by Chicago police officers who have recovered hundreds of stolen taxpayer-owned bikes.
An inventory this spring revealed that 401 of the Divvy system’s 6,200 bikes were missing, according to CDOT records provided to CWBChicago. And more than 300 stolen bikes have been returned to the company by police who found adults riding them throughout the city. Not included in the 12% theft rate are stolen Divvies that police found in possession of juveniles and bikes returned to the company after being found abandoned on city streets, yards, and alleys.
A crisis, a fix, then more thefts
The Divvy system suffered a significant theft crisis in the summer of 2018 after technicians removed a critical security mechanism from docking stations. While the device ensured a more secure dock, it also made the docking process more difficult for riders. So, someone within the bike-share operation ordered the bothersome parts removed, according to a report in the Chicago Reader.
Chicago’s enterprising street thieves capitalized on the move by discovering an effective technique for removing locked bikes from the compromised stations. Divvy began re-installing the security hardware late last summer after news of widespread thefts became public.
The Reader reported that the Canadian manufacturer of Divvy’s bikes and docking stations told the city last year, “as of August 26th, we only have seven bikes missing for a long period within all our systems around the world, when the number is over 500 in Chicago alone!”
Arrests for riding stolen Divvy bikes fell sharply after the company reinforced its docking station systems. However, we reported in September that the number of Divvy-related arrests is rising again.
Car ride-hailing service Lyft won an extended contract to run the city’s Divvy system in April 2019. On the date of the new contract’s execution, 401 of the system’s approximately 6,200 bicycles were missing, according to CDOT.
Lyft agreed to pick up the entire cost of replacing the 401 missing bikes as well as any more that go missing during its new contract, a CDOT representative said. That’s a change from its old agreement, which called for the city to foot part of the bill.
At $1,200 per bike, the Divvy system has lost $481,000 to thieves since the last system inventory in October 2018.
The Divvy system racks up a yearly operating loss of between $600,000 to $700,000, the Tribune reported this year. The $481,000 replacement cost for stolen bikes is in addition to those losses.
Last October’s Divvy inventory revealed that only 43 of the system’s bikes had been missing for more than six months.
Cops cut losses
Chicago police are helping reduced Divvy’s theft losses substantially.
Cops have recovered at least 318 stolen Divvy bikes worth $381,000 from adults since January 2018, according to CPD and court records reviewed by CWBChicago. The police recovery total does not include stolen bicycles recovered from persons under age 18 because juvenile records are not available for public review. Also unknown is how many abandoned stolen bikes the police, Divvy, and ordinary citizens have recovered from city streets.
Prosecutors have charged far fewer adults with having stolen Divvy bikes this year. But the number of arrests is still much higher than in the months before last year’s theft wave.
And there are indications that Divvy thefts are continuing at elevated levels. Chicago police arrested 31 adults for riding stolen Divvy bikes in September of this year. That’s only slightly lower than the 39 reported in September 2019 as the company worked to reinforce its docking systems. Prosecutors charged nine adults with having stolen city bikes during October as of mid-month. That’s two more than during the same period last year.
Again, it is not possible to know how many stolen bikes police recovered from juveniles or how many abandoned Divvy rides cops, citizens, and the company recovered for the company.
Police report narratives show that most Divvy bikes recovered from thieves this year disappeared from docking stations. Increasingly, though, police are reporting that stolen Divvies were taken from technicians and from trucks the company uses to transport its inventory.
News of Divvy’s theft losses comes as Lyft prepares to add more than 10,500 bikes to the system inventory, including some with electric boost. Under the company’s new contract, Lyft must also install 175 new docking stations and expand the system’s reach to all 50 wards, the Tribune reported.
Asked this summer about Divvy theft, a Chicago Department of Transportation spokesperson said, “We are proud of the investments and improvements made to Divvy that have curtailed thefts. Chicago’s bike-share network is strong and on its way to a $50 million citywide expansion with over 10,000 brand new bikes.”