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Cycle Toronto Wants the City to Buy Bixi and Expand It

The bike-advocacy group says Bixi Toronto needs some municipal investment to help it thrive.

Photo by Mi*Li, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Photo by Mi*Li, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Yesterday, we learned that Bixi Toronto is having trouble sustaining itself financially, possibly because the bike-share system is still too small to attract a healthy user base. Now, Cycle Toronto (formerly known as the Toronto Cyclists Union) is calling on the City to resolve the problem by opening up its wallet.

The weird thing about Bixi Toronto is that the City hasn’t actually invested any significant amount of money in it. The whole system was provided by a private not-for-profit called the Public Bike System Company, which was founded as an offshoot of Montreal’s parking authority. To set up Toronto’s Bixi system, PBSC took out a $4.5 million loan, with the City as a guarantor. The idea, at the time, was that the company would pay off its own debt, mainly with user fees. There was never any money dedicated to expanding the system.

Cycle Toronto, in a press release issued earlier this morning, suggests that the best way of getting Bixi Toronto out of its financial hole is for the City to buy it by paying off the remaining debt (which would cost about $3.9 million). The City could then spend taxpayer money on expanding the geographic boundaries of system, so it could serve more users.

“It costs the City roughly $1 million for a new bus,” says the release. “For the cost of 15 buses, we can purchase the program and expand to 3,000 bikes.” There are currently 1,000.

Following through on this idea would have the added benefit of uncoupling Bixi Toronto from PBSC, which has had some financial troubles of its own. Even so, we probably don’t need to tell you that this won’t be an easy sell at City Hall. Who wants to be the first to broach the topic of publicly funded bikes with Mayor Ford?

In any case, the arrangement between the City and PBSC will have to change somehow. Right now, the City’s plans are confidential, but we should know more next month.

CORRECTION: June 25, 2013, 2:20 PM This post originally said that the Public Bike System Company took out a $4.8 million loan to fund Bixi Toronto. In fact, while the City agreed to guarantee a loan of up to $4.8 million, PBSC only borrowed $4.5 million.

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