2011 Hero: Bixi Toronto
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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?