GREENLIGHT: On Looking Forward To City’s “Bixi” Bike Sharing Program (Spring 2013)
by Claudia Chan | I spent my last two weeks in Toronto, Montréal and Québec City (my former home) where Bixi bikes are very à la mode for both the everyday urban commuter as well as for the wandering tourist. I cruised around Montréal on a three-gear cruiser style bike, pleased to have something to travel on for the few days I was in town visiting friends.
Bikeshares have existed in Europe since the 60s and have become quite popular in cities such as Barcelona, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen, to name just a few. The Bixi bike was introduced in Montréal in 2009 and has been well received by the general population. You can see all kinds of folk pedaling through town in Montréal on a Bixi – young and old, students, and businessmen and women. Montréal’s Bixi bike has since become international in places like Melbourne, New York, Washington DC, and London.
Vancouverites too, will soon have the luxury of Bixi bike usage in the city this upcoming spring (our bikes are expected to have seven-gears given our hilly terrain). With Mayor Gregor bringing the Bixi bikeshare system (bixi.com) to Vancouver, more good use of our bike lanes will ensue. As speaking of bike lanes, Montréal is full of them. The more bike lanes the better, especially with the new Bixis on the road.
The program works in the same way that the Zipcar and Modo car co-ops work, Bixi members share bikes. As a member, you pay an annual subscription to have 24-hour access to bikes parked at several stations across town. At a pay station, you insert your credit card (the card becomes your key and also takes a deposit right away) and borrow a bike for a maximum of a half-an-hour at a time, zip to your next destination, and then find a station to dock it at. You can end your trip there or you can take another one out if you have further to go. Each station has 20 bikes and if it’s full, you have to find a neighbouring station to park at. Voilà, that’s all there is to it.
The Bixi bikeshare system a great, fun and affordable way to visit as well as go about one’s daily business in the city. It’s great for those who don’t own a bike, it’s also great for those who may have left theirs at home and rather bike than take public transit. It’ll prove especially handy at post-skytrain hours when you want to get home from the bar but aren’t too keen on spending way too much money for a taxi.
Bixis offer a lot of flexibility too in that you can borrow a bike on a daily rate, a monthly rate, or an annual rate depending on your needs. To give you an idea, the basic fees in Montréal go for $5 for 24 hours, $30 for a month and $80 for a year. While rates haven’t been confirmed in Vancouver yet, prices are expected to be comparable.
You should also be forewarned that a Bixi can be expensive if you lose one of these bikes – the fine is $1000. I found this out really quickly as one of the bikes I borrowed wasn’t properly docked. When I couldn’t take another bike out, I called Bixi headquarters and was told that they couldn’t locate my bike. I had to wait until the next day when I called again and was told then that the bike was finally re-entered into the system. That was a huge relief; my trip out East could have cost me twice as much!
So far, all bikeshare cities have a publicly subsidized system. Vancouver’s bikeshare program will be operated by a third party called Alta Bicycle Share based in Portland. They have plans to install 1,500 bikes at 125 self-service stations every 2 to 3 blocks in the downtown core and along the Broadway corridor from Arbutus to Main.
The city will also enforce the mandatory helmet law. While in Montréal, bikers ride helmetless, Vancouverites will be required to protect their heads. There’ll be helmet vending machines at each station (to be steam cleaned after every use). There has been some talk that cities that have enforced helmet wearing found that the bikeshare program didn’t so as well.
Overall, according to local Director of Transportation John Dobrovolny, in cities featuring a public bike program, there has been a remarkable incline in bike usage and decline in automobiles roaming the streets The hope in Vancouver is to see more cars off the streets and more people using fun, alternative transport.
Claudia Chan is an advocate of all things green. Born and raised in Vancouver, she is inspired by the work of local urban farmers, eco artists and policy makers who make this city the most lush and livable to work and play in. Her mission with Scout and her “Greenlight” column is to impart her enthusiasm for bike lanes, community gardens, farmers’ markets and more to her fellow Vancouverites.