Toronto Set to Launch Bike-Sharing Program
The City of Toronto is set to launch a bike-sharing program as an extension of its public transit system. Photo by wyliepoon.

The City of Toronto is set to launch a bike-sharing program as an extension of its public transit system. Photo by wyliepoon.

A new bike-sharing program, called BIXI (short for “bicycle-taxi,”) will be installed in Toronto starting May 2011. Currently, the system has been operating in Montreal, Canada, since its inception in May 2009.  Although the program is not expected to begin until later this spring, 1,200 users have already signed for annual memberships.

Inspired by Vélib, a public bicycle rental system in Paris, the City of Toronto will install 1,000 bicycles in 80 different locations for public use. Although the locations of the stations are not yet determined, the system is meant to be an extension of the current public transportation system in Toronto.

This is not the first time Toronto experimented with a bike-sharing program. The Community Bicycle Network’s former initiative, known as BikeShare, stopped operations in 2007 after a lack of funding.

To ensure the success of the new BIXI program, the City of Toronto committed to a $4.8 million loan for the Public Bike System Company (PBSC), the unit of Montreal’s parking authority that will see through the BIXI program. The financial commitment requires the City of Toronto to make the payments for the program, in case the PBSC fails to do so. The City of Toronto will also be required to cover the cost of damaged and stolen bicycles, and of maintaining bicycle stations. The profits from the program will be shared evenly between the City of Toronto and the PBSC.

In order to rent bicycles through BIXI’s program, users are encouraged to subscribe to an annual membership, however, occasional users are also welcome and can take out bicycles using credit cards. Similar to bike-sharing programs around the world, BIXI’s annual members can rent bicycles for free for the first half-hour, with additional charges for extra time of usage.

As addressed in some of our previous posts, bike-sharing resolves many transportation problems, in addition to environmental and health-related issues. Bike-sharing programs allow bicycles to remain in rotation throughout the day by being accessible to multiple users, instead of remaining parked and unused. This factor makes sharing bicycles efficient. Even during rush hour, dense and well-distributed programs address the issue of supply and demand.

However, these programs still have to rise above obstacles. Although they are inexpensive in comparison to other modes of transit, annual memberships, as well as occasional rentals, require credit cards, which may make it difficult for low-income individuals to participate. In addition, it is difficult to imagine how similar programs would be successful in developing countries, where they are needed the most. But as Jay Walljasper writes in WorldChanging, a nonprofit media organization dedicated to solutions-based journalism:

No one could have guessed a few years ago that cell phones would become so prevalent in the developing world. The same ingenuity that made this modern technology work in some of the poorest countries on earth can no doubt be applied to bike sharing.

Similar programs are now operating in Mexico City, London, Mumbai and Washington, D.C.

You can visit BIXI Toronto for more information.

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