Buying your own bike is so five minutes ago. . .

Listen up, municipal governments – bike sharing is in! 
Photo by Denis Agar

Photo by Denis Agar

All the cool cities are doing it – Paris, Washington DC, Beijing. And why not? It’s effortless, sustainable, and it cuts down on congestion. How does it work? In most instances, people just swipe a membership card or a credit card so the city knows who to come to if the forks are bent into spirals. Then a bike gets released, and away you go! In major cities, there are hundreds of stations, and you can return a bike to any one of them. It’s primarily set up for short trips and in most places taking a bike out for under a half hour is free. That way the bikes keep moving. 

 But for so long, we Torontonians have only been able to look on and dream. 

Well not anymore! Yes, the gears are being set in motion (zing!) to establish a community bicycle sharing program in Toronto by Spring 2010. Okay, so we haven’t exactly been left wanting for that long. A low tech volunteer service called BikeShare was operating between 2001 and 2006, long before it was cool. But that was cut for lack of funding, as is the fate of so much of Toronto’s idealism. 

 I was originally going to brag here about how Toronto was finally doing something cool and sustainable before Vancouver, but a quick Google shut me up: looks like our cooler younger brother will be inaugurating their service at the exact same time as us. I suppose I can still appreciate a tie.

 Unfortunately, I can’t help but question the financial sustainability of Toronto’s chosen set-up. Their Request for Expressions of Interest makes it very clear that the program will not be ad-supported. While I’m generally supportive of the cause of de-adifying our public spaces, most bikeshares around the world have been established and operated by advertising companies. They already have the know-how to do it right, and they also provide the capital to get it off the ground, and raise the money through ads to keep it going. Besides, we have to factor in the City of Toronto’s consistently precarious financial position. What do you, out in the interwebs, think? 

 In the mean time, all eyes will be on uber-cool Montreal for their bikeshare launch this summer (which has been written about before on Planning Pool). Its success or failure may play a big role in shaping the Canadian public’s perception of the idea.

 Update: It seems that London, UK has upstaged us all. Their bike sharing proposal calls for 6000 bikes at 400 stations across the city. Being a temporary resident of London, I can tell you that it isn’t the most bike friendly city in the world, where in most cases bikes are relegated to the same lane as the gigantic and terrifying double-decker buses, but perhaps this is the type of thing that will build a critical mass of cyclists on the streets to make motorists sit up and take notice.

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2 Responses to “Buying your own bike is so five minutes ago. . .”

  1. denis said:

    May 02, 09 at 2:42 am

    Yet another update: There’s a uniquely American approach to bike sharing emerging. B-Cycle, a private company that isn’t waiting for local governments to take initiative, has made plans to start a program with 500 bikes in Denver. They haven’t specified their price structure yet, but if they can somehow make a profit and still charge as little as other bikeshares, this could be a big step forward. Another interesting aspect of this is that it’s a joint venture between a bicycle company (great marketing if there are 500 of your bikes around the city at all times), a marketing firm (perhaps to sell adspace on the bikes and bike racks), and, strangely enough, a private healthcare company (maybe to show goodwill or to cut costs by making their clients healthier?)

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  2. bealigned said:

    Sep 02, 09 at 7:41 pm

    After a recent trip to France which included Paris I was so impressed by the Velib bike sharing system and excited about the idea of this being part of the Vancouver culture. I heard that Mayor Greggor Robertson was on board for this idea prior to his election success but I am not sure where that is at these days. Anyone know? I would love to help and be involved in making it happen and suspect there are hundreds of others who feel the same.

    Seems like it not only would make an impact on our carbon footprint but also on our sense of community. Rather than “mine” and “yours” we could start actually living “ours”… our community, our panet.