With allies left and right Bixi’s future looks bright

Cold, rainy weather couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm as Bixi Toronto brought bike sharing to Toronto on Tuesday. Bixi officials, city councillors and sponsors gathered to mark the occasion as dozens of reporters huddled under shelter to escape the rain.

Text by Adam Hawkins

image by Adam Hawkins

Toronto’s system works much like others around the world. You buy a membership, varying from 24 hours to a year, take a bike from a station and return it to any other station. The first half hour is free, and after that there’s a surcharge.

But with a mayor that thinks the car is king, can Bixi succeed? In fact, Bixi hasn’t received any funding from the city. Instead, the city has provided a loan guarantee and free space to build stations. Bixi Toronto will have to sustain itself on sponsorships and memberships alone.

The good news is that Bixi Toronto’s self-sustaining model means that it has a strong chance of survival in Rob Ford’s Toronto. At the launch, Ford ally Denzil Minnan-Wong spoke proudly of Bixi and predicted that it would quickly become an integral part of Toronto’s transportation system. And while many on the right don’t share Minnan-Wong’s enthusiasm for bikes, they’ll no doubt love what Bixi represents: a successful public-private partnership.

image by Adam Hawkins

However, because Bixi Toronto is designed to be self-sustaining it’s starting out small. While Bixi Toronto’s 1,000 bikes and 80 stations may sound impressive, Bixi Montreal launched with about triple as many in 2009. Naturally, fewer bikes and stations means a smaller service area: although there are a few stations beyond Bixi’s borders, it is largely confined to Spadina to the west, Jarvis to the east and Bloor to the north.

image courtesy of Google Maps / Bixi

Any extension of the service area will likely be slow and cautious. When pressed about expansion plans, Bixi officials repeatedly stressed that their focus was on making sure the existing system was sustainable. Despite a modest start, it’s hard to ignore the potential for Bixi to transform the way Torontonians get around. Bixi will bring new people into the cycling community and those people are going to demand improved cycling infrastructure. Councillor Minnan-Wong promised to pursue his plan for a network of curb-separated bike lanes so that the casual cyclists that use Bixi will feel safe on city streets.

In Toronto’s polarized political climate it’s hard to believe that a major cycling initiative can draw support from both sides of the spectrum, yet that’s exactly what Bixi’s done. Watch out, because those cute black bikes could be a powerful force for change.

Have you purchased a Bixi membership? Are you planning to, planning to wait and see, or are you not interested? Leave a comment here, or click the link below to join in the conversation in UrbanToronto's thread for Bixi.

This article was originally published in forum thread: Toronto Bixi Bikeshare