Toronto should gear up for bike sharing, program proponents say

Toronto is ready for a bike-sharing system, according to the man in charge of implementing Montreal’s public bike program.

Alain Ayotte, the vice-president of Stationnement de Montreal, told a recent forum on bike-sharing at the University of Toronto’s Innis College, to look beyond the problems city council has had keeping commitments laid out in the Toronto Bike Plan.

“Paris was not a bike-friendly city,” he said. “But overnight they added 10,000 bikes and it changed the face of the city. The same can happen here.”

The Velolib program in Paris started in 2007. Users can swipe a card to pick up a bike at any one of 1,400 stations around the city and leave it at the nearest station when their trip is complete. Any journey under 30 minutes is free.

David Boyce of Veolia Transportation, which runs a similar program in London, England, suggested a critical mass of cyclists can push themselves to the top of the political agenda.

“You need at least 1,000 bikes to start,” he said. “Then you can run a phase system and if it works well, it forces the city to develop the infrastructure to deal with them.”

City councillor Adrian Heaps, chair of the Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee, wants to see these schemes brought to Toronto, according to his assistant Caroline Law.

“Initial discussions have begun with Astral Media, the city’s provider for street furniture,” she said. “If they are not interested, then we can look for other vendors.”

However, Law said budget restrictions will stop council from providing any funds for the plan. Boyce voiced concerns that without investment, the idea may not be feasible. According to Boyce, maintenance and administration costs for the system can not be covered by members of the bike-share program. Damaged bikes must be repaired or replaced and the stations themselves will need upkeep.

“On average, when you look across the system, each bike would cost between $2000 and $2800 per year. You could only offset about half of that with user fees,” he said. “So you’re going to have to look at another source of income.”

Ayotte is confident no extra municipal funding is needed. Stationnement de Montreal is a private company run by the City of Montreal. The city’s mayor told Ayotte his project could not proceed if it would cost the city money and Ayotte now expects the system to pay for itself within eight months of its launch at the end of this month.

“Our system is revenue-neutral. This type of plan can work for any city, at least in Canada ,” Ayotte said. “We would be very happy to implement it here.”