What Do We Do About BIXI?

Imagine a world without Bixi bikes?  Egad!

But in all seriousness, this is one program that I’d like to see saved…

Bixi

I bet I threw a few of you for a loop there, didn’t I?

Although at times, I feel my life on this blog is too much of an open book (ie. my client from 33 Lombard telling me, “You don’t use your terrace very often; I’m always looking out my window at you, sometimes with binoculars, and you’re never there!”), but at other times, I feel like I connect with my readers so well that they really truly know me.

I’m a fiscal conservative, and a social liberal, but some would label me a neo-conservative, or “right wing” as it pertains to the messy world of Toronto politics.

So it should come as a huge surprise when I say that I am in favour of spending city money on the BIXI bikes, and I think the program is worth saving.

Hypocritical, you say?

I don’t think so.

What’s wrong with liking one program, and not liking another?

A fiscal conservative doesn’t have to dislike every single social program, green initiative, or art festival that the city pays for.  What’s wrong with the right to pick and choose?

Some people might also find my wanton desire for BIXI bikes strange, in that I’m a huge proponent of the car, and I don’t get along well with cyclists and I don’t like bike lanes, but lest we forget that I’ve been championing better public transit for years, even though I can’t find my way down into the subway…

I gues the bottom line is this: BIXI bikes are good for Toronto, and I’m in favour of what is good for Toronto.

BIXI was founded in 2008, developed in Montreal, and now has their bikes in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Washington DC, New York City, Chicago, Boston, London, and Melbourne, among others.

Time Magazine ranked the BIXI Bike 19th in their annual publication of “The 50 Best Inventions Of The Year,” at the end of 2008.

The bikes made their debut in Toronto in 2011, with the city loaning BIXI approximately $4,500,000 as a start-up loan.

As has been publicized throughout June and July, BIXI has only paid back $600,000 of that loan, and if the program is scrapped, Toronto taxpayers will be on the hook for that $3,900,000 that remains.

So what now?  Does the city take over the struggling company?

Is the answer to loan them more money?

Or to ignore their failure to repay their debts?

Where is the happy medium here?

Personally, I think it is far, far too soon to give up on BIXI.

It’s been less than two years since the bikes were brought to Toronto, and we Torontonians are not exactly quick to accept change.  What started out with a curious, “What the hell are those things?”  Has now turned into social movement, a transportation alternative, and entertainment for some.

To give up on BIXI now would be like Mark Zuckerberg scrapping Facebook after six months.

I think the future of many metropolitan areas (specifically those high-traffic areas (ahem) with terrible public transit and massive congestion) lays in alternative ways of moving throughout the core.  New York City is famous for its taxi cabs, but the city is also a very effective grid of one-way streets, that maximizes traffic flow.  Oh, and NYC has also committed to 6,000 BIXI bikes, or about 600% of what Toronto currently has.

Have I ever ridden a BIXI bike?  No.

Do I think I ever will ride a BIXI bike?  Probably not.

But I see the popularity, I see the value, and I see the future.

To stop this program now would be unbelievably short-sighted, and unfortunately, our Toronto city councilors have demonstrated time and time again that they can barely see past their own outstretched arms.

And what’s a paltry $3.9 Million anyways?  How is that a significant enough amount of money to even begin this conversation?  Let’s not forget that only $1,000,000 of that loan is due; not the whole amount.

Think of all the money the city spends each year on other menial crap, whether it’s failed business ventures and initiatives, or just subsidies, grants, sponsors, and hand-outs to artsy-fartsy programs that are aimed at niche parts of the population.

Remember the idea of “High Tech Toilets?”  Riiiiiiiiiight…

Toronto was slated to spend $9 Million on stand-alone automated public toilets that were going to be the first of their kind in North America.  Um, why, exactly?  Did we NEED automated toilets?  Did we NEED to be the ground-breaking, first-moving, pioneer in automated restrooms?  I don’t think so.

Compare the need of automated toilets to that of bicycles that hundreds of thousands of Torontonians use, and I think you’ll see that our priorities, pardon the pun, are crap.

Mayor Rob Ford has gone on record saying that a program that loses money is not worth saving, but that’s a ridiculous generalization.  Toronto is great at spending money, losing money, and avoiding getting things done.

Is there a difference between losing money on poorly planned projects, guaranteeing a loan to a start-up company, and, well, unnecessarily overspending on public workers?

I mean, if we privatized the LCBO or TTC, for argument’s sake, do you think that the guy that collects tokens in the subway and tries not to fall asleep would be making $90,000?  Or that the guy that stocks the shelves with Captain Morgan Spiced Rum would be paid $30 per hour?

Okay, okay, privatization is a topic for another day.

But on Thursday, we heard that the TTC has turned down the opportunity to take over the struggling bicycle start-up, even though they left the door open to explore the option down the road, if nobody else takes BIXI on.

The TTC staff report said, ““There is no business case to support the TTC taking on additional expenses to support a non-transit initiative,” but who says that BIXI isn’t transit?  It’s a bicycle, which, if I’m not mistaken, was the main method of transit in the early 1900’s before cars were invented!  Alright, maybe that’s a bad example.  Walking would be a method of transit by that logic…

I’m not suggesting that the TTC should take over BIXI, nor am I suggesting that Green-P, or any other public entities should be the one to save BIXI.

But I think the city should move mountains to ensure that the company doesn’t go under, and that these bicycles don’t vanish from city streets.

1,300,000 bicycle rides have been purchased through BIXI in less than two years, so the residents of our city are letting their actions speak.

We need to think about the future of this city – something that city council has never done.

I read a great article in the Globe & Mail on Thursday about how ridiculous salaries and pensions for public servants are the cause of Detroit’s recent bankruptcy.  The article suggested (and I don’t disagree…) that labour peace with unions has been purchased time and time again over the past few decades with wage increases, benefits, and pensions, and only now are cities feeling the effects.

The TTC has had to cut back on capital projects and rider improvements because it lacks the necessary funds, when, if this were a private company, they’d cut wages, lay workers off, or renegotiate contracts.  Unions don’t allow for anything but increases across the board, and thus the guy making $90,000 to watch people drop tokens into a jar, is standing in the way of better customer service for all.

The longer this continues, the worse our public services are going to get.

Toronto needs forward-thinking initiatives.

BIXI represents tremendous irony to me, since it’s an old-fashioned method of transit, but it represents a part of our city’s future.

If the city of Toronto took on BIXI, and the service continued to lose money, then maybe they could just plan for two fewer automated-toilets each year, a few fewer art festivals, or something in between.

Consider BIXI to be a “loss leader” for a city that desperately needs to move forward.

There are 8,000 BIXI bikes on the streets of downtown London, England.  If that’s not the best endorsement for the service, then I don’t know what is.

My biggest fear, however, is that this will take YEARS to sort out.  We can’t fix a pot-hole in Toronto without a staff report, a findings report, a recommendation from a committee, and then……probably another staff report.

Any suggestions?

After all, it’s the people of Toronto that should decide on this…

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  1. 鞄 ブランド 一覧 says:

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  2. Nic says:

    I use BIXI at least twice as day. I sold my bike when the BIXI program started, because it is WAY more convenient than bike ownership. Especially if you are a frequent cyclist.

    Problems with exclusive use of bicycles:
    1. Exclusive use bikes get used less than shared bikes (much like a personal car gets used less than a taxi)
    2. I have to maintain an exclusive use bike myself (highly annoying)
    3. I need to store an exclusive use bike at home (again… annoying)
    4. I need to worry about theft with an exclusive use bike.
    5. ONE WAY TRIPS!!! This is the game changer… this alone changed the way I think about cycling. I can BIXI to a friends place, then hop in a car and never have to utter the dreaded words “I have to go back tomorrow and get my bike.

    Toronto has traffic problems… bikes take up less space, they also don’t pollute.
    But I don’t BIXI because I want to save the environment, or because I am a tree hugging socialist. I BIXI because its convenient, fast, and awesome.

  3. Tony says:

    Long before Bixi, when I was in university, Student Council introduced a bicycle sharing program. It was free, there were no locks, and students were to borrow the bicycle and drop it off when finished at a designated location. The program had many failings (a couple detailed here: http://sustainability.dartmouth.edu/awesome-things-we-are-up-to/things-that-didnt-work), but one that really struck me was that it was completely unnecessary: bicycle ownership was well within reach of just about everyone, there was ample space to store thousands of bikes, and the whole of campus could be walked in 20 minutes. But we wanted to be sustainable, and bike sharing seemed sustainable . . .

    Then some cities in Europe, Montreal, and now Toronto. I fancy myself a moderate economic liberal (more commonly called a fiscal conservative these days *sigh*). Markets provide choice and can, under the right circumstances, make relatively efficient use of scarce resources. Most consumer goods belong in the market. Common goods, things like infrastructure (TTC, utilities, roads, etc.), the delivery of certain services (emergency, military, public health, etc.), some types of insurance (health, possibly workplace disability, definitely not mortgage), and the guaranteeing of rights (dreaming here, but banishing poverty through a guaranteed annual income for shelter, food, clothing, and probably education, guaranteeing the rights of Indians, etc.), are public–part of the common wealth, as it were. Common goods assume a collective good (whether cultural, material, social, or even religious), therefore I display a moderate social conservatism.

    To the less charitable, Bixi seems a kind of insidious, illiberal project dreamt-up by a cadre of liberal elite. From my observations, Bixi provides a bicycle rental services to mostly wealthy downtown dwellers and tourists, while citizens all over Toronto assume the risk. Bixi does not provide a common good, but a subsidy (in the same sense as the CMHC is a subsidy–a potential subsidy) for the rich. Still, Toronto wants to be sustainable, and bike sharing seems sustainable . . . just not financially.

    My take: Bixi, like bike lanes, distracts us from bigger problems facing this city, problems like traffic enforcement (including the enforcement of pedestrian signals–that flashing hand means wait at the curb), transit funding (like actually running buses), or urban planning (like reasonable zoning bylaws that are applied without exception).

    For starters, I say: kill Bixi or privatize it and force it off public property, provide more funding to TDSB bicycle maintenance classes, educate cyclists (and pedestrians and drivers–everybody) on the Highway Traffic Act, and enforce the law.

  4. […] of months about the future of BIXI – Toronto’s bicycle sharing program. It’s financial challenges have been well documented at this point and some (Rob Ford) believe the “failed” […]

  5. DavidP says:

    1) I’m the guy who said I love your blog to you in the elevator the other day.
    2) I think we should approach Bixi in the same way that Transport for London has approached it. It alleviates strain on the existing public transit infrastructure and quite frequently complements a journey. I think most people who scoff at the price (which is actually very reasonable on an annual subscription) and the time limit have no grasp of what Bixi actually serves to function. It is quite literally a BIke taXI that you can utilize for short trips in the city. Whether you own a bike or not is irrelevant because it can be for one way journeys. I think it’s incredibly narrowminded and counterproductive when we pigeonhole people as travelling solely by one method. I own a car, I own two bikes, I’m also a Car2Go member, I subscribe to Bixi, and I also take the TTC. And I’m not a unicorn by any means, but you’d think I were one with the level of discourse in this city regarding transit.

    1. AndrewB says:

      Many people take multiple transit methods. I own a car myself and I take the GO into the city for work. Sometimes I use TTC. It’s also about value too. I don’t subscribe to Car2Go/Zipcar/Autoshare because I own a vehicle. If I did live in the city, I still wouldn’t use Bixi. Majority of vehicle owners don’t care about cyclists, which is sad to see, because so many get hurt when cycling by cars.

      I also don’t think we can compare our system to that of London’s. The population density does not compare. Cars are more expensive to own in London and certain parts of the city are only accessible by A-Segment vehicles and hybrids. Our street level traffic is from cars (from people that are too stubborn to use public transit anyways) and streetcars. What the system actually needs is expanded subways, but that’s another debate altogether.

      BIXI may be a bike taxi, but people who own bikes downtown generally would not use BIXI. Why pay more money to duplicate something one already has? If I lived in the city and had a bike, I’d use it for short trips, like a taxi. I wouldn’t pay money unnecessarily to duplicate something I have. I think the reality is, most people travel by multiple methods (bike, car, walking, TTC, etc) however the city is too expensive to effectively use BIXI and its rules are limiting. BIXI ultimately is an answer to a question no one asked.

      1. AndrewB says:

        Expansive*

    2. AndrewB says:

      As I think about it, what DOES Bixi serve to function? To replace bicycle ownership? For tourist purposes?

      I can get most places faster by subway anyways, or car if I choose to drive than Bixi. I also don’t have to “check in” to a Bixi turnstyle every 30 minutes for some pointless reason. So where is the value and convenience in that?

      1. DavidP says:

        Bixi doesn’t duplicate owning a bike. As I said, it’s fantastic for one way trips or even round trips to areas where it can be a hassle to safely lock your bike to something. Sometimes you take it to go out, but then have drinks so you take a cab or TTC back home. No need to drunkenly bike your own bike back home. Or if you like to TTC up to Bloor because you’re lazy but don’t mind Bixi-ing downhill back home.

        If you’ve ever used the system in Toronto or Montreal or London you’ll realize that it’s not a limiting system at all. Unfortunately Bixi should’ve been something that Toronto committed to wholeheartedly from the beginning so that we don’t have such a limited service area, but that’s something the City could help correct. Also, the half hour time limit was lengthened in Montreal when they expanded their service area, but 30 minutes is more than enough within the current service area in Toronto. If you can’t get from Parliament to Trinity Bellwoods in half an hour on a bike you probably have health issues. You don’t take Bixi bikes for recreational rides – hence you never have to check in!!

    3. @ DavidP

      That was you eh??

      So nice to finally put a face to the name! 🙂

  6. Bob says:

    Let the 7 people who use it buy it out.

  7. AndrewB says:

    I personally don’t think that the BIXI program works here.

    1. As others mentioned, Toronto is not an incredibly dense city. It would take quite a while to get around on bike. Plus, majority of city traffic is from suburban commuters into the city and the majority of them will continue to drive in regardless if the subway was better, transit was better, etc.

    2. Bikes are not expensive to own. A bike is cheap and easy to maintain. Anyone who is a frequent cycler would have their own bike.

    3. The program restrictions of the Bixi service are what essentially kill its convenience. The fact that you have to bring the bike back to a particular turnstyle every 30 minutes is ludicrous and defeats the purpose of being convenient.

    1. DavidP says:

      1) It is dense if you live downtown.
      2) A lot of renters in downtown condos don’t have either lockers or bike parking. Unfortunately developers don’t think to build these facilities. See the overstuffed outdoor bike racks at any Cityplace building as an example.
      3) You don’t bring the bike to a station every 30 minutes because your trip should never last more than that. Bike taxi. Not recreational bike rental. Bike taxi.

  8. Phil says:

    From Day One I predictioned BIXI’s failure, and if saved, it will fail again. I am all for bicycles and less driving but BIXI won’t work.
    First of all, only a very small percentage of Toronto is bikable. We are not Paris or Shanghai, we are a very sprawling city with most people living in the suburbs. They will not bike to work and they will only occasionally bike for leisure in downtown on a nice Sunday afternoon. The demand is not there.
    Second, what’s the point of renting these bikes when you have own one for not that much? I bought a 90% new bike a couple of years ago for $80 from craigslist, instead of paying $5 per day to ride the bike (and having to return to specific locations at least every 30 minutes, otherwise it becomes very expensive).

    Save it or not, it won’t succeed. Toronto is not dense enough and people love their cars too much.

    1. Phil says:

      Unlikely owning a car, owning a bike is very inexpensive. You don’t need to pay $200 a month for parking, or $300 for insurance, not to mention all the maintenance. If one needs a bike often, he will choose to own one, instead of renting under various restrictions. I simply fail to see the attactiveness of the program.

      1. Moonbeam! says:

        I have to agree that Bixi can’t be profitable.. the bikes would have to be used frequently, regularly, and repeatedly. (as opposed to now and then, or once in awhile). Anyone who is a regular, frequent, and repeat cyclist will have their own bike. A tourist or weekender is not a regular or repeat user, so we’d need hundreds of them every day. And I’m not crazy about subsidizing the bikes.
        By comparison, the autoshare programs are not weather-dependent.

  9. Frosty Johansen says:

    Damn fine post, David!!

  10. KB says:

    Small update: TTC Station Collectors & Operators have now made their way onto the sunshine list, some making upwards of $110-120K. In fact, ~1500 TTC employees are now making in excess of $100K per year. Hmm… I wonder where we should look to find extra funding for transit expansion…

    List is here: http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/publications/salarydisclosure/pssd/
    TTC is under ‘Municipalities and Services’

    1. Stansky says:

      And this is under Karen Stintz’ watch. We’re doomed if she wins the mayorship, like wise with Chow.

      We need someone to Ronald Reagan these $100k+ mannequins!! Crush the union!

    2. Joe Q. says:

      The question you have to ask yourself is how many hours they are working per year. A lot of TTC employees put in a lot of overtime.

      1. Dave says:

        I don’t care how much overtime they put in, someone watching people put tokens into a jar shouldn’t be making that kind of money, especially when a lot people with university degrees don’t make that kind of money

        1. Dave says:

          and on a side note, they aren’t even happy doing what they’re doing and making the money they’re making

        2. Joe Q. says:

          You don’t care how much overtime they put in? So if they are working 80-hour weeks it doesn’t make a difference to you?

      2. KB says:

        You’re right, there is a lot of incentive to work overtime when you get time and a half (I’m making an assumption here).

        $50/hr to sit in a booth? Sign me up.

        1. Joe Q. says:

          The TTC gets it from both sides on this issue. They get criticized for paying overtime, but they’d also get criticized if they were to add to their headcount (more people collecting benefits, etc.)

          1. jeff316 says:

            Well said. Some of the anti-TTC vitriol is just juvenile.

  11. Graham says:

    Just as an aside, the City doesn’t pay for the automated toilets which are part of the Street Furniture Program. Astral Media pays for all the street furniture (e.g. transit shelters, information pillars, benches, garbage bins, and the toilets). In return Astral has the exclusive right to advertise on transit shelters and the info pillars.

    Earlier this month, Councillor Minnan Wong was trying to use a clause in the street furniture agreement to “replace[ing] the net value of these toilets with the bike debt.” I haven’t seen an update since though.

    http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/07/03/bixi-toronto-july-2/

  12. Jackie says:

    I am uncomfortable with the operations of Bixi Toronto.

    First of all Bixi Toronto is a for-profit company of PBSC Urban Solutions which a wholly owned non-profit organization owned by the city of Montreal (sounds like what Ornge tried to do). “PBSC Urban Solutions was originally created to implement, operate, manage, further develop and exploit the BIXI Public Bike System” from PBSC website. Essentially the city of Montreal sanctioned PBSC to sell this system (and $5,000 bicycles) to the rest of the world to generate profit to flow back to the city of Montreal or possibly to cover the money losing Bixi Montreal operations.

    Second, if the residents of this city are essentially back stopping the loans of Bixi Toronto why do we not have access to their financial statements? I would not personallly co-sign anyone’s loan, but if I did you can be sure I would go through the financials with a fine tooth comb.

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