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2011 Hero: Bixi Toronto

Nominated for: making it easier to be a cyclist in the city.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past twelve months. From December 12–23, the candidates for Mightiest and Meanest—and new this year, a reader’s write-in option! From December 26–29 you’ll be able to vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year, and we’ll reveal the results December 30.

When Bixi Toronto launched in May, we were surprised at how quickly we fell for the sturdy, practical rides that popped up at solar-powered stations across the downtown core—turns out that the bike-share system appeals to even habitual TTC users and bike owners. Stormy when you leave home? Take the TTC or a taxi, and when the sun’s shining later, you can hop on Bixi and pedal home. Planning to paint the town red? Bixi out, dock it and forget it; you won’t have to return for your wheels the next day. Your friend lacks a bike? Lend them yours, rent a Bixi bike, and away you both roll.

A recent experiment by OpenFile concluded bicycling, used in conjunction with other forms of transit, is the best way to traverse Toronto. Perfect for flexible usage, Bixi’s affordable for casual users, who can access the system for 24 hours for $5, and for dedicated users, whose $95 annual membership pays off after just 19 days of usage. This Globe & Mail infographic points to a successful start: Bixi bikes in Toronto are ridden almost three times as often daily as in Montreal. For smartphone users, bikes and empty docks are easy to find with the SpotCycle app, or Bixi’s own station map. That’s why we recommended using Bixi during Nuit Blanche, when Toronto is notoriously hard to traverse by car or the TTC.

The system isn’t perfect. Some customers complain on Facebook that the instructions are confusing; only the first 30 minutes are included. Beyond that, extra charges apply, though you only have to dock at a station for two minutes to reset the clock. We’ve seen people taking Bixi bikes on the Toronto Island ferries, and hoped they knew their credit cards would take a significant hit for several hours out (to Bixi’s credit, they often credit first-time users for their rookie mistake).

Another issue: expansion, which is crucial for attracting new subscribers. Bixi recently re-assigned lesser-used stations, as well as some they needed to remove to accommodate snow clearing, west to Bathurst Street and east to Parliament Street (from Cabbagetown to the Distillery District), resulting in a 50 per cent zone increase. But no new bikes were added; this was more of a strategic redeployment. For that, Bixi will need the support of City Hall. Financed by users and sponsors, Bixi Toronto (unlike in Montreal) isn’t looking for financial support from the City, but does require municipal approval for station placements. Future expansion also relies on the bike lane program’s progress; the Bixi bikes, built for comfort over speed, aren’t suited to jockeying in automobile traffic—they do better when you give them space.

For now, though, we still thrill to see people coasting by on a Bixi bike. This winter, we look forward to dressing in layers, hopping on a Bixi bike, and bypassing the cramped TTC rides many commuters have to endure. Care to join us for a spin?


  • Bryan Cook

    I got the yearly pass and love the Bixi. Sometimes in good weather i could ride to work at Bremner from Spadina station and beat the streetcar.

    I would love to see it expand and i think the easiest way to do that is but a station at all the TTC stations along in particular south of Eglington and east to Main st.

  • Anonymous

    Honestly, I’m surprised Bixi has been a success. For the cost of a pass for two years (or about 50 days of all-day usage), you can buy a bike and use it whenever you want.

    • Michael Mahoney

      and have it stolen every time to duck in for a coffee. More than worth it.

      • Anonymous

        What’s stopping anyone from stealing a Bixi bike?

        • qviri

          It’s branded so harder to fence, and it doesn’t look like it has a whole lot of non-custom parts you can take off and sell separately. Not that I’d leave any bike unlocked in Toronto for more than half a minute.

          For me it’s not the ducking in for a coffee that helps, it’s returning a bike in front of work and not having to worry if it’ll be there at the end of the day.

  • matthewfabb

    tyrannosaurus_rek, true but thousands commute into Toronto in a fashion where it would be hard to bring a bike with them. I currently don’t work downtown anymore, but when I did, I would bike to the GO Station in Mississauga, ride the GO train in (GO doesn’t allow bikes on the trains during rush hour) and then bike to work from Union, which has one of the biggest and busiest stations in the entire system. It was more reliable than taking the TTC and the extra exercise was a great benefit.

    • Anonymous

      You could buy a bike and leave it locked up downtown.

  • Brian B

    All good until they move the three nearest stations to you to attract a new round of suckers, um, I mean subscribers to their ponzi scheme.

  • No

    I never cycled until Bixi came, and after 6 months, I bought my own bike. Now I can bike anywhere. I still use Bixi once in awhile when I don’t want to risk having my bike stolen, or if I plan to drink.

    Thanks for making a cyclist out of me, Bixi.

  • Smhammond

    @tyrannosaurus-rek. I’m a serious cyclist/athlete who owns 2 bikes but haven’t really ever riden in the city. Reasons: it’s a pain to get my bike out of the basement, neither are ones that I would ever leave on the street so I’d have to buy a third cheap bike (storage??),and I’d have to committ to riding both ways to/from work.Bixi solves all my problems and now I’m riding to work and walking home. It’s a great design for the city, I feel very safe on it; I just wish it had a few more gears so I could get going faster. :)