Lebayen’s DIY bike share program is headquartered in… this garage. Photo courtesy of Alexander Lebayen.
Bixi brought bike share to a sliver of the downtown core this spring, but the majority of Toronto residents are still reliant on their own wheels to get them from place to place. Meanwhile, there is one Etobicoke community that already has its own bike share program, of sorts. Alexander Labayen, 35, operates it out of his home garage.
Labayen, who runs the blog 416Cyclestyle, moved from downtown to the north Etobicoke neighbourhood of Markland Woods about four years ago, into a home large enough to accommodate his growing family. He liked the neighbourhood, but started to like it even more when, in 2008, the City painted bike lanes on nearby Renforth Drive.
It was in the summer of 2010, when more bike lanes were installed on Rathburn Road, another Etobicoke arterial, that Labayen started lending some of his spare bikes to his neighbours—mostly other families with small children, whom he’d met during bike rides with his own kids.
His community, he says without too much condescension, is only just beginning to embrace the possibility of cycling as personal transportation.
“It’s not like downtown, where every few blocks there’s some kind of bike store,” he said. “I’m trying to bring that downtown mentality.”
Bixi uses solar-powered stations with built-in credit card terminals and key readers. Labayen’s system, by contrast, is built on bronze-age technology. “It’s based on facial recognition,” he jokes. “Either I know you or I don’t.” He works from home, and so he’s generally around during the day, and can mete out access to the bike garage as needed.
Currently, the fleet stands at about 20 bikes, most of which Labayen picked up second-hand, either at garage sales or directly from neighbours, who donate them to the cause. “I haven’t lost any money on it,” he said, “because I’ve sold a few bikes on Craigslist.” There are no membership or rental fees.
Labayen’s project is effectively a way of jumping the queue. Cycling advocates are already pushing to expand Bixi’s boundaries, but even if the system does grow beyond its current slice of downtown, it will likely grow from the centre out. That means, barring unexpected developments, the inner suburbs will be Bixiless until, oh, 2112 or so. Informal though it may be, the advantage to a system like Labayen’s is that it’s easy enough to set up without the involvement of government or business. (Bixi, by contrast, couldn’t happen until the City agreed to guarantee a $4.8 million loan, and the system still relies on $600,000 per year from its major corporate sponsors.)
Labayen believes his system is replicable, not only in suburban communities like his, but possibly in condos with large communal spaces. “It can be done as long as someone has the room to do it,” he said.
“It takes a social type of person,” he added. “It’s really someone who’s willing to say, ‘Hey, this is my community.’”
Hat tip to Urban Country.