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Bixi Toronto In Trouble?

20100217bixi.jpg
Bixi-riding in Montreal. Photo by jonny.hunter.


Rumours have been flying about the impending launch of Bixi, the public bike sharing service, in Toronto. Now, the long-anticipated local rollout appears to be in jeopardy.


This morning, blogs I Bike T.O. and The Urban Country posted calls to action, citing insider knowledge that “someone in the City Manager’s office feels bike sharing is useless and a waste of money.”
Last year, the City began exploring the possibility of launching Toronto’s own version of Bixi this spring. A staff report from last May [PDF] recommends the 2010 launch, and says that the rollout could be accomplished “at no cost to the City and without additional advertising within the street right-of-way,” because users would subsidize the service directly by paying membership fees to use the bikes.
“A Toronto public bicycle system is being planned for launch in Spring 2010,” the report says.
For over a month, the City’s Transportation Services department has been in the process of preparing a second staff report, presumably with recommendations for entering into a contract with Public Bike Sharing Company, the Montreal corporation that provides Bixi. Torontoist has learned that this report will not be on the agenda at the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting on March 2, meaning that the City won’t be able to begin considering Bixi until, at earliest, that committee’s next scheduled meeting, on April 20, after which the deal will still need approval from City Council.
This makes it overwhelmingly likely that Bixi in Toronto will miss its Spring 2010 launch estimate, though whether or not the service will launch later in the year (or ever) remains unclear.
Bixi launched in its home city of Montreal in 2009, and then quickly spread to Boston, Minneapolis, London, and, recently, Melbourne, Australia.
The Urban Country and I Bike T.O. are urging cyclists to send form letters to their local councillors, in protest.
UPDATE, 7:52 p.m.: The National Post is now reporting that the reason the City’s negotiations with Bixi are stalled is that the City is being asked to back the program financially. The City entered into negotiations with the understanding that Bixi would be paid for entirely with user fees.

Comments

  • http://undefined doodah

    as a cyclist, i agree with the unnamed city manager that this is “useless and a waste of money”. if anything, the city should be encouraging people to own bikes that they use regularly, and rent cars for those few trips where cars might actually be necessary.
    other than for helping out tourists, i’m not sure how having rental bikes is going to encourage people to bike. it just seems like one of those feel-good things that people who don’t actually ride a bike anywhere would promote in order to get green points.

  • http://undefined kaykay

    I disagree. I have used the bixi bikes in Montreal and they’re wonderful. One excellent use is taking them to the bar with your friends. You can save TTC money to get there, save the environment by biking rather than taking the bus or a car or taxi and it’s great exercise.
    There are many times where I think about taking my bike somewhere but don’t want to take it back (not necessarily drinking, maybe it’s late or it’s a cold night). I would use bixi bikes in every one of those situations. Also, what about TTCing to work and bixi biking home so you can fly past the cars and buses stuck during rush hour? There also could also be a lot of people who don’t want to buy a bike just to have it stolen. This would be the perfect solution for them.
    I think the point is that it shouldn’t cost the city any money, bixi would set up all the stands and people pay per use or with a membership. This should be something the city should encourage, it promotes exercise and less cars on the road.

  • http://undefined dowlingm

    City manager = hired-without-competition-former-chief-beancounter
    Unfair to make a connection here?

  • http://undefined mineke

    I’m a cyclist that lives in Toronto and I’ve been excited for this service to come to here. There have been a number of examples already this year where I would have used this service.
    - when my friend from out of town visited, I could no longer ride my bike when we went places together.
    - when my bike was in the shop.
    - in winter when weather is good, but my bike is in storage.
    - when it’s threatening to rain – I can take a bixi bike one way and ttc home if weather gets better.
    Some people are hesitant to purchase bikes and don’t want to bike in the city. Paying a few bucks every now and then would encourage them to cycle more – even if just recreationally – and they’d maybe eventually get their own.
    How can it be a waste of money if it is “at no cost to the City”.

  • mark.

    Another benefit of Bixi is the increased likelihood that the city will build more cycling infrastructure.

  • http://undefined doodah

    those don’t sound like sustainable justifications for the project. it may be nice in a few situations, but for the vast majority of your trips, it will be far more convenient to have your own bike.

  • http://undefined doodah

    if the thousands of people who currently ride bikes every day doesn’t encourage this, i’m not sure why a half-baked bike rental program will.
    also, it would be nice if the city actually maintained the roads, which are like the most important component of “bicycle infrastructure.”

  • Mark Ostler

    Apparently it’s baked well enough for Montreal, Boston, Minneapolis, London and Melbourne. To be frank, the city’s many regular cyclists are going to keep cycling, but the city would be interested in making it easier for tourists to get around by adding cycling infrastructure (thereby increasing the city’s appeal, thereby increasing tourist $$$).
    Also, the words “at no cost to the city” keep coming up. The BIXI system is run by a private company and the cities in which it runs don’t incur any costs, so all of your breathless arguments about whether it’s “sustainable” or not don’t really measure up. The company running the project would know if it’s sustainable or not. They wouldn’t bother pitching it if they didn’t think it’d work. Don’t you think they would have folded in Montreal and failed to pop up anywhere else if it wasn’t a sustainable bikeshare model?

  • http://undefined doodah

    ok, i have no problem with the idea of it per se, it just bothers me when people latch onto bike-sharing as a panacea. the CBN bike share thing failed, so it seems likely that this will too. if bixi wants to risk wasting their money, great, but let’s not pretend that this is going to solve any major problem faced by cyclists in toronto, or that it would be a great tragedy if it doesn’t go ahead. that’s all i meant to say.
    i used the term half-baked in a trollish way, and i take it back. sorry.

  • http://undefined mark.

    Quit talking about being baked. I’m trying to be a good boy today :b

  • http://undefined Mark Ostler

    The BIXI program will be more organized, widespread and accessible than the CBN program was. And if it gets enough new riders out there, it will indeed put pressure on the city to improve its cycling infrastructure. It may not solve all the city’s cycling problems but I honestly think that it really can’t hurt, especially if the city’s not taking a $$$ hit.

  • IllegalSigns.ca

    I wouldn’t be surprised if something a little less sinister was happening around City Hall. For example, City Staff may have decided not to roll out the bikes this spring due to the upcoming G20 summit and the expected protests.

  • http://undefined Martin Reis

    Unless someone or some company can afford to pay for it, a bike share program in this city is not going to happen since the city does not have the cash to get it rolling on its own … if you pardon the pun.

  • http://undefined dowlingm

    Seems to me like that’s a recipe for the City to always have an excuse to defer. “We can’t have bikes because skinheads might throw them at the Pride marchers” or something like that.

  • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

    Did you even read the article?

  • http://undefined Martin Reis

    Hi Paul,
    Yes, I did. I was under the impression that it might be launched in the fall if they get someone to pay for it.
    I think it’s unlikely.

  • http://undefined peregrina

    It makes a huge difference. I lived in Barcelona when they started a bike sharing program there in 2007 and the success was huge (as it was in Paris). The city had a good cycling infrastructure, which people used – probably as many people as in Toronto – but the bike sharing program got literally thousands of new cyclists out. Suddenly there were a lot more cyclists on the road and many people who normally never cycled were using the service on a daily basis. In a downtown it isn’t always convenient to own and store a bike and in a place with high bike theft as Toronto, a lot of people simply don’t want to have to worry about their bikes. Bike sharing allows those people to cycle. More people cycling means fewer people in cars or crowding the public transit system. More people cycling also encourages more cycling infrastructure to be built, as others suggested.
    What I found unfortunate with the way the system was conceived in North America is that a lot of the cost is passed on to the user. In Paris and Barcelona it is also at zero cost for the city but advertisers pick up the difference so that the service can be made cheap, encouraging more people to sign up. In Barcelona, it cost 26 euros/year (it’s not about 30 euros, I think) for the service. If people signed up in the first 3 months, they were getting it for something like 6 euros/year. In six months, Barcelona had 90,000 users signed up. But to work, it needs to be very comprehensive. In both cities stations are often only 300m apart…

  • http://undefined spacejack

    There’s a bit of history on Wikipedia. Might be helpful to look at what’s worked and what hasn’t in the past.

  • http://undefined georgevicbell

    This whole thing needs to be looked at in the context of the current system, network effects, and the relative costs…
    Any bike system is going to only work well in denser areas, the core, maybe some of the outlying transit hubs…the bikes will be used for mainly short trips, and trips that are not well served by transit (where a bike ride would cut down on transfers, or the headways are too long). The other use will be for expanding the area someone who drives in can roam without having to park twice…ie. cutting down on short drives across the city.
    All of these effects are great in the context of removing cars and people from the roads and transit for short distances…which means less money spent on transit vehicles, and less money spent on expanding roads.
    There are additional health benefits that will be realized by the province as healthier citizens means less money spent on health care.
    To give a relative cost of bikes vs. a number of other items…assuming a bike is 300$…
    1 Corolla @ 15,000$ = 50 bikes
    1 Hybrid Bus @ 750,000$ = 2500 bikes
    1 Flexity StreetCar @ $4.9 million = 16,333 bikes
    Entire StreetCar Bid @ $1.2 Billion = 4,000,000 bikes
    I realize that the bixi bikes may be a bit more expensive, and that there are some initial investments in infrastructure….but given the city only needs about 3000 bikes to run the system, and that it would be pulling in money, and saving money by offloading from ttc and roads…it seems pretty hard to believe that we can’t afford it.

  • http://undefined Svend

    I think it’s a great idea, but to pretend members will cover the costs involved is laughable. The city should fully finance it by raising parking fees, gas taxes and/or road tolls.
    I own a bike but I’d use the shared ones as well – sometimes you want to be free to leave it wherever you want without thinking of it getting stolen or if you want to change your mode of transport.
    The CBN program failed because it was too small and used junk bikes, BIXI looks solid and well designed in comparison.

  • http://undefined Martin Reis

    Hi Svend,
    I agree with you about financing the bikes at least in part through city funds.
    As for CBN’s bikeshare, which I was a user and member of, it was the most successful bike share program in its day and a model for many other bike lending programs around the world. Although small, it ran over 100 bikes at over a dozen hubs and many of these bikes were new. The reason it shut down was because it ran out of cash through its funding sources (grants, etc) and the city did refused to help. As a matter of fact, you could still rent yellow bikes last summer from CBN or if you are a student from Bikechain. As for Bixi bikes, they are very heavy and yes solid but also require expensive maintenance. In the end, it’s simply an expensive but vital program to run.

  • http://undefined Rachel Lissner

    Greetings from down under! As a recently landed foreigner in Melbourne, I can definitely understand the appeal and success of Bixi. I haven’t seen anything about this since I’ve been here (it was hard to find stuff on the web, too), but as I currently don’t have a bicycle, I’d happily pay a fee to borrow someone else’s wherever I’d like, especially as I look for housing and get acquainted with the city. Bikes here are expensive to begin with and I won’t be here forever so Bixi works for me.
    I’ve also spent time in Barcelona, Paris, and several Scandinavian countries. These places have city bikes available – some of them for free, like Copenhagen – and are definitely utilized by the locals. Tourists use them too, although Barcelona has a ten-day waiting period to be admitted as a user (probably to deter foreigners from riding around unfamiliarly or drunkenly). Long story short, they highly enhanced my stay as a tourist, got me to spend money because it was easier to stop somewhere and cover more ground in a day, and in general left me with a great impression of wherever I was – great PR for a city.
    Besides, given all the complaints about the TTC, especially as of late, this is clearly a better way. Bicycles do not go on strikes, are never late, and it is never scandalous if you’re found mounting, riding, or going out with one. Just sayin’.

  • http://undefined pdinnen

    During a visit to Montreal last Summer I used the Bixi system and fell in love with it. There were groups of bikes stationed all over the city in convenient locations. Picking one up used an automated and friendly system so it took no time at all.
    I completely agree with Kayday here. It might seem on the surface that owning a bike would make using Bixi irrelevant, but in fact I think they’re a great complement to each other. In fact I think Bixi bikes are more like a part of the public transit network than they are like a private bike. They’re a service you can select as and when it works for your needs.
    One of the great things about the Bixi system is the one-way use. So, for example, you could take transit uphill and ride a Bixi bike back downhill on the way home. Or ride a Bixi to the market and return home on the streetcar with your groceries.
    I’m interested to hear the financial issues here, if indeed that is the sticking point as the Post reports. But I think it would be a great loss to the sustainability and livability of Toronto if the planned Bixi system doesn’t go ahead here.

  • http://undefined matiasmarin

    A public bicycle system would be a great thing for Toronto. It would also be great if an innovative business like this was started primarily by the initiation of a fair an equitable process such as, competition.
    If the city were to give a bridge loan or arrange financing of ANY kind for PBS Company(aka BIXI) that would be contrary to the policies the City has set out for itself regarding competitive bids. It would also be and a total repudiation of the tone of integrity City Halls policies are supposedly guided by. I would not like to see City Hall slip further down the slippery slope it has found itself on. Making a move such as this would be, in the larger context, totally anti innovation, anti competitive, and possibly destructive in the long term. The tone set by a move so lacking in integrity will not provide a good platform for our impending election atmosphere.
    For the other side of this, read what the national post said today about all this.
    http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/toronto/archive/2010/02/19/businessman-pushes-anew-for-made-in-toronto-bike-share-scheme.aspx
    Sincerely,
    Matias Marin
    CEO Public Nature Corporation
    Do the right thing, support a fair process, innovation, and local business.

  • http://undefined matiasmarin

    Actually, PBS Company is a company, but not exactly private. It is owned by the Montreal Parking Authority, so basically, owned by the Municipality of Montreal.

  • http://undefined Squeaker

    I am very close to booking 150 media geeks from California to host their convention in Toronto.
    This IT company is obsessed with the delegates using Bixi bikes for the week to get back and forth between hotels, the Bell Light Centre and social activities. It makes perfect sense for them.
    It will be a real shame if they don’t come, that’s a lot of tourism dollars that won’t be injected here.
    This is why bike share projects are a huge hit in so many cities.
    Come on Toronto, get with it.

  • http://undefined Caroline

    This would actually be so helpful for suburbanites. I don’t like to take my bike downtown and it’s too cumbersome. The TTC is also increasingly crowded making it difficult to transport. I’m always walking everywhere and taking the streetcar but wish I could bike.
    Students would also enjoy Bixi since there is no maintenance or worries about theft.
    The design of the BIXI bike is also really unique so I doubt it would be desirable to thieves.
    I realize this comment is really late.

  • http://undefined missmessy

    Wow, I can’t believe all the negative comments, and from cyclists!! I live in Montreal and am moving to Toronto, and I have to say, I have come to really adore Bixi. At first I was skeptical, and thought it would be half-assed or cumbersome, as some of the posts here seem to indicate, but its actually incredibly well-planned and thought out, and works beautifully. The number of people on bikes in this city has increased SO dramatically, its really changing the climate of the streets. Drivers are being forced to get used to cyclists, and the city has added many many more bike paths.
    Sure its great to own your own bike, and nothing is stopping you from doing so. But there are a LOT of people (myself included) that have had so many bikes stolen that they give up, especially for small trips. I am not very strong and carrying my bike up flights of stairs in my work clothes only to get cuts and bruises and chain grease on myself is another deterrent. Plus I was afraid of falling off my bike (it happened 2 years ago and I was freaked out since then) but Bixis are so sturdy and well balanced that they feel much safer…all of these things make them more appealing to the average person who isn’t a hard-core cyclist, who might otherwise be in a car!
    I see so many people in suits and work clothes and “non-cyclist” looking people using bixis at all times of the day every day, and I LOVE that the cars are finally having to make room for bikes. It is creating a culture of cycling, and can only help those who own their own bikes.
    Subscribe!! Otherwise the badmouthing Montrealers give Torontonians will be true… if you have any questions about it, talk to someone who actually LIVES where the Bixi system is in place.
    xo
    P

  • http://undefined missmessy

    Wow, I can’t believe all the negative comments, and from cyclists!! I live in Montreal and am moving to Toronto, and I have to say, I have come to really adore Bixi. At first I was skeptical, and thought it would be half-assed or cumbersome, as some of the posts here seem to indicate, but its actually incredibly well-planned and thought out, and works beautifully. The number of people on bikes in this city has increased SO dramatically, its really changing the climate of the streets. Drivers are being forced to get used to cyclists, and the city has added many many more bike paths.
    Sure its great to own your own bike, and nothing is stopping you from doing so. But there are a LOT of people (myself included) that have had so many bikes stolen that they give up, especially for small trips. I am not very strong and carrying my bike up flights of stairs in my work clothes only to get cuts and bruises and chain grease on myself is another deterrent. Plus I was afraid of falling off my bike (it happened 2 years ago and I was freaked out since then) but Bixis are so sturdy and well balanced that they feel much safer…all of these things make them more appealing to the average person who isn’t a hard-core cyclist, who might otherwise be in a car!
    I see so many people in suits and work clothes and “non-cyclist” looking people using bixis at all times of the day every day, and I LOVE that the cars are finally having to make room for bikes. It is creating a culture of cycling, and can only help those who own their own bikes.
    Subscribe!! Otherwise the badmouthing Montrealers give Torontonians will be true… if you have any questions about it, talk to someone who actually LIVES where the Bixi system is in place.
    xo
    P