Not any more

Another feather in our cycling cap

In Canada on July 30, 2010 at 08:31

London will out-Bixi Montreal today. Six thousand bikes -painted a dapper blue instead of our drab grey – will hit the British capital’s streets, 1,000 more than Montreal boasts.

The London launch is another feather in the cap for the private company behind Bixi: the Public Bike System Co., an offshoot of Stationnement de Montreal, the city’s parking authority.

Aside from London, the PBSC has sold Bixi systems to Melbourne and Minneapolis, both of which started rolling recently. Toronto is tentatively scheduled to launch a Bixi service in May.

But though Bixi bikes and their high-tech docking stations were road-tested by Montrealers after being designed here at the behest of city hall, local cyclists pay some of the highest bike-sharing fees in the world, an analysis of prices shows.

The chart above compares Montreal’s Bixi with four cities that have adopted the service (London, Melbourne, Minneapolis and Toronto) and Paris and Barcelona, pioneers in bike-sharing.

All systems are similar. They operate in densely populated areas, with pricing encouraging short, frequent trips. Docking stations are about 300 metres apart.

Most other systems run 12 months a year. But in Montreal, bikes are not available in the winter -Bixi operates May 1 to Nov. 30, so subscribers get only seven months of service when they buy a $78 annual membership.

That means Montrealers pay just over $11 per month of Bixi service. In contrast, in Paris, where Velib’ runs 12 months a year, the monthly cost amounts to $3.30.

Users of all the systems also pay usage fees when they borrow bikes for more than 30 minutes.

Roger Plamondon, chairman of the PBSC, said you can’t compare a big system like Montreal’s to smaller ones like those in Melbourne and Minneapolis.

Fees are lower in smaller systems where "you’re very limited as to where people can use the bikes," Plamondon said in an interview from London, where he’ll take part in today’s launch.

And big services like those in Paris and London don’t incur the expense of deploying and dismantling their networks every year the way Montreal does, he noted. They also generate revenue from bikes all year, he added.

"We have higher operating costs in Montreal, but that’s the dice Mother Nature rolled for us when she gave us the climate we have," Plamondon said.

London’s service also differs from Montreal’s in other ways. For one thing, London has bigger, more sophisticated docking-station screens.

If you’re returning a bike but end up at a full London docking station, the screen tells you where you can find an empty dock at a nearby station. In Montreal, the tiny screens offer little data. Users have to look at a paper map posted nearby indicating the location of other stations; no real-time info is given.

Plamondon said the London stations have permanent electrical hookups, making it easier to offer more elaborate screens that use more power. In Montreal, docking stations are mobile, so they use solar panels. Less powerful, the stations feature smaller screens with fewer features.

There have been snags at some of Bixi’s sister services.

In Minneapolis, users of Nice Ride Minnesota are grumbling about the $250 hold the service places on bank accounts for users who pay by debit card. The service added stickers to its kiosks warning users about the hold and contacted banks to try to remove holds quicker than the usual three to 10 days.

In Melbourne, after two months in service, fewer than 70 rides a day are being taken. The culprit: that city’s bike-helmet bylaw (fine for not wearing one: $136 Canadian). On Saturday, users of Melbourne Bike Share held a bare-headed protest, demanding the helmet law be revoked. Several were fined.

Toronto hopes to launch its Bixi-inspired service in May but that’s contingent on 1,000 members signing up before November, Plamondon said. At a Toronto "launch party" on Wednesday, about 100 people signed up, he added.

Things are going well so far in London. Even before today’s 1 a.m. Montreal time launch of Barclays Cycle Share, 9,000 people had signed up. "It’s already a great success," Plamondon said.

Bixi is having a big year in Montreal. So far this season, 1.6 million trips have been taken, compared with 1.1 million in the entire 2009 season. Bixi currently has 29,000 subscribers, compared to 10,800 members at the end of 2009.

"Our goal is to finish the year with 32,000 to 35,000 members, so we’re very confident we’re going to get there," Plamondon said.

The city of Montreal will announce the addition of more Bixi bikes next week, expanding the network out of the city core. The bikes will be in LaSalle and three other unidentified boroughs.

ariga@thegazette.canwest.com

– – –

Metropolitan News

For more on the Bixi bike-sharing system and other Montreal topics, go to montrealgazette.com/blogs

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

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