Imagine a world without Bixi bikes? Egad!
But in all seriousness, this is one program that I’d like to see saved…
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.
After all, it’s the people of Toronto that should decide on this…