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BIXI is ready for Toronto, is Toronto ready for BIXI? 16

TorontoBIXI2

Photo by James D. Schwartz / The Urban Country

The BIXI system is coming to Toronto – and I can hardly contain my excitement.

If you haven’t already heard, BIXI is Montreal’s bicycle-sharing program which was inaugurated on May 11th, 2009. It cost $15 million dollars to start and began with 300 stations around downtown Montreal with 3000 bicycles for rent. The system was expanded by the end of the summer to 5000 bicycles at 400 stations.

To rent a bicycle, you simply insert your credit card into the solar-powered station to purchase a membership – at a cost of $5/day, $28/month or $78/year. You are then entitled to use the bicycle for free as long as you return the bicycle to another station within 30 minutes. This enables the system to support a high capacity of users on short trips around the city.

After a successful launch in Montreal last May, BIXI has served more than 1 million users – an amazing accomplishment for its first  year.

The system is however shutting down now as Montreal prepares for the ensuing winter. On November 1st, BIXI started taking down the less frequently used stations and BIXI rentals will no longer be available after November 30th – making its triumphant return in May 2010.

But fear not Torontonians – I have been told the BIXI system in Toronto will have no such restrictions! The city plans to keep Toronto’s BIXI system open all-year-round! A detail that has previously not been released and I had to pry out of City Hall.

A recent article on BIXI in Toronto by Walrus Magazine re-ignited my BIXI nostalgia. You see, I had tested out the BIXI system in Montreal in July for 4 days and although the system isn’t perfect, I was amazed at the possibilities it has for cycling culture in Toronto.

The City of Toronto had indicated it would release more details in Fall 2009 in its May 26th Staff Report – but these details have yet to be released.

The Walrus Magazine article unfortunately left me with more questions than it had answered, so I began my own quest to get more information on a BIXI system for Toronto.

Bixi will be implemented at no cost to the city

To address my long list of questions, I started some digging at City Hall to get some more details on how a BIXI system in Toronto will look.

Although the city is keeping the official details under wraps until the final agreement has been approved by council, I was able to get some information from Sean Wheldrake – the Bicycle Promotions Coordinator at City Hall – who was referred to me by Daniel Egan (Manager Pedestrian and Cycling Infrastructure).

Sean explained that the city is still in negotiations, but the plan is to move forward with Public Bicycle System Company (operator of BIXI) to run Toronto’s BIXI system at absolutely no cost to the city. And despite talk of the possibility of using advertising to fund the system, Sean confirmed there will be no advertising used to fund the BIXI system.

Sean also confirmed that the plan is to implement 300 stations scattered around downtown Toronto with 3,000 bicycles to start (the 1,000 number quoted in the Walrus’ article was indeed incorrect). Walrus was correct however in its assertion that the boundaries for the Toronto BIXI system will be roughly High Park in the West, Broadview Ave. in the east, Bloor St. in the north and Lake Ontario in the south.

Once the agreement is approved, all the city has to do is provide the locations of the BIXI stations, and the Public Bicycle System Company will handle the rest.

“On-street parking is not a priority”

Next I wanted to find out what the impact would be on car lanes and parking. As you may know, Montreal turned dozens of parking spaces into BIXI stations – a point of contention amongst Montreal drivers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the city doesn’t want to head down the path of taking parking space away from drivers. “On-street parking is not a priority”, Wheldrake said.

It makes sense that the city is trying to avoid possible confrontation with certain media outlets in our city that are opposed to cycling culture because they see it as a threat to driving in the city. I however, see cycling as a benefit to drivers because it can help reduce congestion by getting people out of their cars.

Sean admitted that it will be a challenge to find space for the BIXI stations, but he is optimistic that this can be addressed given the easy mobility of the solar-powered BIXI stations that require no excavation.

Lower Bay Street / Union Station will be a major BIXI hub

The major hubs for BIXI in Toronto will be – as expected – Union station, and taller buildings where tens of thousands of people work. The idea is that businessmen and women can hop on a bike to head to a meeting instead of taking a taxi (thankfully the taxi lobby doesn’t have a strong voice in our city).

I see BIXI benefiting everyone from a GO Train commuter, to a tourist, to a downtown resident, to a student. The system allows for quick jaunts from point A to point B in short time while reducing pollution and providing exercise.

Although Toronto’s bicycle infrastructure has a long way to go, increasing the number of cyclists in the city will make cycling safer for everyone and it will put pressure on the city to improve cycling infrastructure in the city.

BIXI is definitely ready for Toronto. In the coming months we will find out if Toronto is indeed ready for BIXI.

Stay tuned for more updates on Toronto’s BIXI program as the details become available. Sean expects that information will become public in December or January.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country and appears on most Sundays and Thursdays, and sometimes in between. View all of James’ articles here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10864934440190894300 AKAmamma

    I have been a proud Montreal Bixi user for nearly two months, and the cool thing is that it keeps stats. I have biked nearly 400 km since I started, and it’s so convenient. No more locking your bike to a fence or trying to find a place to store it in the winter.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Thanks for the anecdote AKAmamma – I wasn’t aware that it tracked the number of kilometers traveled. Very impressive!

    Glad to hear it’s working well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04170152877824201743 boyan

    Hah.. maybe the poor TTC service will get more people to start using bikes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Good point Boyan. If I’m not mistaken, the TTC annual budget is around $1.1 billion dollars.

    In comparison, the cycling infrastructure budget for the city was around $9 million last year (this year it looks like it’s up to $22 million)

    Let’s put these numbers side-by-side:

    TTC: 1,100,000,000.00
    BIKES: 9,000,000.00

    Cycling infrastructure is so much cheaper to build and has a huge benefit to everyone. I still can’t understand why so many people oppose investments in cycling infrastructure in this city – it’s mind boggling.

  • http://www.bikingtoronto.com/ joe

    It is awesome that the cycling budget is being bumped WAY up to 22 million. I can only hope there is a similar increase in 2011. :)

  • Anonymous

    I used them in Montreal over the summer and they were great, helped greatly by the fact Montreal has some bike lanes

  • Anonymous

    I have never used Bixi myself, but I have been told the steering is a bit awkward. And I can see in photos that the steering column is weird and the handlebar ergonomics are less than ideal.

    What is your opinion on the Bixi’s ergonomics? Thanks

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    I didn’t find the steering wheel to be particularly awkward or difficult to steer. It’s definitely a departure from a racing bike, but it isn’t much different from my hybrid commuter bike

  • Anonymous

    “Sean expects that information will become public in December or January.”

    So… any news yet?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    I spoke to Dan a couple weeks ago and he said they were only a couple weeks away from making an announcement.

    I will follow up again :)

  • dragonboy

    What is the cost if you go longer than 30 minutes? I have friends visiting and they want to know this information. There only seems to be limited info on the web site!!!

  • dragonboy

    What is the cost if you go longer than 30 minutes? I have friends visiting and they want to know this information. There only seems to be limited info on the web site!!!

  • dragonboy

    I just found out the fee for longer than 30 minutes are crazy.

    The official web site indicated the following:

    1’22″= $10.50
    1’50″= $18.50
    2’05″=$28.50

    https://toronto.bixi.com/frequently-asked-questions

    I was hoping that my friends coming to Toronto could use these bikes for day, but after looking at the fees for 5 people it is very expensive. I will have to try to find out another alternative such as checking out bike rentals from various shops. I don’t think this program is geared towards tourists. You could ride the Hippo for the same fee as renting a bike for 2 hours!

  • dragonboy

    I just found out the fee for longer than 30 minutes are crazy.

    The official web site indicated the following:

    1’22″= $10.50
    1’50″= $18.50
    2’05″=$28.50

    https://toronto.bixi.com/frequently-asked-questions

    I was hoping that my friends coming to Toronto could use these bikes for day, but after looking at the fees for 5 people it is very expensive. I will have to try to find out another alternative such as checking out bike rentals from various shops. I don’t think this program is geared towards tourists. You could ride the Hippo for the same fee as renting a bike for 2 hours!

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