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Toronto Set to Axe Bike Sharing? 7

Bixi-Toronto

Photo by James D. Schwartz / The Urban Country

In November, The Urban Country broke news that Toronto’s upcoming bike share system would run year-round when it arrives in 2010. In that article, we asked whether Toronto was ready for BIXI, Montreal’s bike sharing system that has since signed contracts with Boston, London, Minneapolis and Melbourne.

We have recently been informed by our friend Herb over at iBikeTO.ca that two separate inside sources at City Hall are saying the city may axe bike sharing this year.

Bike sharing useless and a waste of money?

Sources are telling us that someone in the City Manager’s office feels bike sharing is useless and a waste of money, and may block the deal with Montreal-based Public Bike System Company – a deal that we were told in mid-January would be released in a report “in a couple weeks” by the Manager of Cycling Infrastructure, Daniel Egan.

If true, this news would be extremely disappointing in a city that is thirsty for bike sharing. City engineers responsible for bike infrastructure had already begun preparing for the bike sharing system by planning for an expansion of bike infrastructure in the downtown core – the same area where BIXI was to be launched.

BIXI installed at no cost to the City

It would be unfortunate to pass on such a great opportunity for this city since BIXI requires very little investment from the city and the taxpayers. The Public Bike System Company would foot the bill to install the bike rental stations and provide the bicycles, so it seems odd that the city would axe these plans for fiscal reasons alone.

I was told the city would only be responsible for identifying the preferred locations of the mobile bike sharing stations, and – unlike Montreal -Toronto wasn’t planning on removing parking spaces to make room for the bike stations. Rather, they would be installed on existing sidewalks and other public spaces.

Is it possible that the city struggled to find space for the BIXI stations? Would parking spaces need to be removed? Was there turmoil between the city’s parking authority and City Hall? Does BIXI require an investment from the City that they weren’t willing to put up?

Hopefully these are just rumours and speculations that turn out to be untrue.

Do your part to save bike sharing in Toronto

As citizens of this city, it is our duty to support what we know is right. I urge you all to email your local councillors to tell them you support a bike sharing program in Toronto – even if you aren’t planning to use it, but you know it’s the right thing to do.

Here is a template you can use to send to your councillor, the Mayor, the City Manager, and anyone else who could support our cause (see below for specific contacts):

Dear Councillors and Mayor Miller,

It has come to my attention that the City of Toronto may be putting a halt on its deal with the Public Bike System Company (BIXI) to bring a public bicycle sharing program to Toronto later this year.

This would be an extremely disappointing and unfortunate outcome. Traffic congestion, pollution and climate change are major issues that we need to deal with right now as the City of Toronto’s population is expected to rise by more than 500,000 people by 2031.

Bike sharing is important for our city because it provides an alternate means of transportation for short trips while helping people stay healthy and reducing congestion. A bike sharing system would complement public transit very well and I had every intention on using this system on a regular basis.

Bike sharing has worked in other cities around the world, so please do everything in your power to ensure the city makes the right choice for its citizens and proceeds with signing a deal to bring BIXI to Toronto in 2010.

Sincerely,

 

 

James D. Schwartz

City Hall Contacts:

Please do your part to help save bike sharing for a better future for Toronto.

*Update (Feb 17, 2010 @ 8:20PM): The National Post has confirmed that BIXI wants the city to back the program financially. Read more here.

*Update (Feb 23, 2010 @ 8:57AM): Mayor Miller’s office has sent us an official statement in response to our letters to him. Although it doesn’t provide much reassurance of bike sharing moving forward, it at least indicates that they are looking for other funding options to help pay to bring BIXI to Toronto:

“Until 2006 Toronto was home to the innovative and award-winning Bikeshare community bicycle-lending program. Following its collapse the City began developing a business case for a public bike program.

The City considered launching such a program using the Vienna business model (which is also used in Lyons and Paris) where it is provided free to the City and affordable to users because it is supported by revenue from billboards on the bike stations. After much deliberation it was decided not to increase the number of billboards on the street and launched a competitive process to find a company to provide a non-ad-supported version.

A public tender was issued and City Council gave staff authority to negotiate with BIXI, which is owned by the Montreal municipal parking authority, to develop a detailed business plan for launching and operating a Toronto public bicycle system at no cost to the City. Unfortunately, the outcome of these negotiations did not guarantee that there was no risk of costs being incurred.

A public bike program in Toronto is not being abandoned. It remains an integral part of our sustainable transportation plan. The Mayor has instructed City Staff to review the viability of this type of program with other funding options.”

Mayor Miller’s Office, Feb 23, 2010

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com.

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  • http://www.bikingtoronto.com/ joe

    Thanks for the info, James.

    I’m hoping this is just a silly rumour and nothing more… especially since the Bike Sharing System has been planned to be run “at no cost” to the city, as you mentioned.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10510514405099510918 Michael

    Well done James for getting onto this concern

    It’s early days, but it reminds me of years ago when wise young people ran a campaign to get cars out of Yorkville.

    The story is told in the NFB documentary directed by the much missed, Robin Spry, Flowers on a one Way Street, a classic in it’s day.

    Toronto should realize that bike share will add hugely to its cachet as a city to visit and enjoy. All bike friendly cities benefit from that reputation.

    Instead of hesitating and dithering, the city should be thinking as to how to make Bixi in Toronto the success it is in Montreal

  • Anonymous

    Something here does not add up.

    I would like to know how accurate the “no cost” thing is..

    London had to pay for their bixis, Minneapolis had to pay for their bixis, why is Toronto getting it for free?

    Either way, it would be a disgrace for Toronto to call a waste of money what so many other cities are calling a good investment.

  • Anonymous

    An article from National Post has just confirmed that BIXI System wants Toronto to pay for the installations.

    So what have they been doing for the past 7 months pushing for some fantasy no-cost scheme? What an embarrassment this city is.

    Now what? Find a private investor to put up the money and hope for profit?

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

    My understanding is that BIXI told the City of Toronto that BIXI would bear the risk and make the upfront investment.

    Keep in mind that they have been in negotiations for almost a year, so I suspect when BIXI first entered into negotiations with the City of Toronto, they didn’t have their business model fully worked out yet.

    Now that BIXI has gone international, they probably realized that it isn’t prudent for them to take on the full risk, so they likely changed the deal they had originally proposed to the City of Toronto and now they want the city to make an investment.

    I am very curious as to how much BIXI is asking the city to put up. Hopefully this information will become available over the next few days. I know the newspapers are working on this.

    Mike, Flowers on a One-Way Street is very inspiring and made me realize how complacent we have been in this city. Stay tuned for a write-up on Flowers.

  • Anonymous

    Well, this is one thing I will support diverting bike lane budget money towards.

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

    I have mixed feelings about diverting bike infrastructure money for bike sharing. I think bike infrastructure will help bike sharing, and bike sharing will help bike infrastructure. In other words, I think you need to invest in both for it to flourish.