Be prepared to see more two-wheeled commuters prowling around the streets of downtown Toronto once this summer rolls around. Bike-sharing is coming to Canada's largest city.
On Tuesday, city officials announced the introduction of BIXI Toronto, a bike-sharing program that will see 1,000 bicycles available at 80 downtown locations in an attempt to offer residents a commuting complement to the TTC and a viable alternative to driving. The initiative, set to debut on May 3 and will likely run through October before being stored away for the winter, will offer a $95 annual pass for unlimited ridership, a $40 monthly pass, or a $5 day pass, with rides of 30 minutes or less being free of charge.
"The BIXI Toronto program is an exciting new cycling initiative that will encourage more bicycle trips in the downtown core," said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, the chair of the public works and infrastructure committee, in a statement.
The system, while hardly original, could be groundbreaking. Bixi has already made its mark in several urban centres around the world, including London, Melbourne, Washington D.C., Boston, Minneapolis and Montreal, where Bixi marked it’s one-millionth ride in October 2009, less than six months after its launch date. It has also been approved for use this summer in the Ottawa / Gatineau area following a June 2009 trial study.
The system’s layout is simple: all bikes will be held at docking stations, located south of Bloor between Spadina and Jarvis. Bikes can be retrieved from the docking stations through the use of a credit card or a subscriber’s key, given to those with monthly or annual subscriptions to the program. Once a bike is retrieved, it sets into motion a countdown that monitors the amount of time it is kept away from any docking station and can charge the applicable credit card accordingly (a user is charged $1.50 for rides between 30 and 60 minutes, $3.00 between 60 and 90 minutes and $6.00 for any time beyond that).
In 2008, Bixi was ranked 19th in Time Magazine’s “50 Best Inventions of the Year”.
The system could have a profound effect on a city that has seen its public transit system come under the gun from struggling to support its continually increasing ridership, not to mention growing concerns pertaining to gridlock.
The Montreal system, the central model in Toronto’s exploration of the program, is already widely considered a huge hit. While data pertaining to Bixi’s effect on traffic won’t be fully known for a few years, the city rolled out an additional order of 2,000 additional Bixi bikes just two months into the debut of the program, far earlier than anticipated.
"It's really a huge success. People are using it, they are very proud of it," André Lavallée, executive committee member responsible for transportation in Montreal, said in a 2009 interview with CBC News.
Given the 5,000 bikes and 400 docking stations Montreal has in place, Toronto’s numbers look scarce in comparison. That, however, could change in a hurry once Bixi makes its mark this summer.