Bike-sharing plan on Toronto streets next year

Bixi got the go-ahead to provide a bike-sharing enterprize on the streets of Toronto beginning next May. (BALUJAj-4712E)

A Toronto cycling advocate supports the arrival of a new bike-sharing enterprize in the city.

Bixi offers cyclists, who buy monthly or annual passes, a service to share bikes on a user need basis. Already popular in Montreal, London and Paris, Bixi will be inaugurated in Toronto in May next year. Over 1,000 bikes will be placed at 80 stations across the city. Yvonne Bambrick, spokesperson for the Toronto Cyclists Union, said she likes the initiative for practical reasons.

“There is safety in numbers,” she said.

Bixi has rallied up the 1,000-plus subscribers required by city council to bring the bike-sharing program to Toronto. Spokesperson Bérengère Theriault said the exact locations of the pick-up and drop-off stations are still being determined.

“We’re of course delighted to have the 1,000 subscribers,” Theriault said.

Bixi users with passes will have unlimited access to bikes as long as the trips are less than thirty minutes. Tourists can purchase a day pass for $5. Now in its second year in Montreal, Bixi bikes are identifiable by their sturdy grey frames and are in use seven to eight months a year, depending on the amount of snow.

The Toronto Bixi bikes will be blue in colour and available year-round, Theriault said.

Suzzane Lareau, CEO of Vélo Quebec, expressed concern for cyclists’ safety and the potential for the bike-sharing program’s success in Toronto. Vélo Quebec is a non-profit organization advocating for cyclists rights in that province.

“It’s true, Toronto does not have a strong cycling culture like Montreal,” Lareau said. “Half of the population in Montreal would call itself cyclists and we have a very good network of bicycle paths. It’s a very good base which is why Bixi was so successful.”

But Lareau expressed hope that Bixi would take off in Toronto as well.

“I think the program’s main advantage is the ease of use,” she said. “Toronto is a very large city, so if the city planners put all the bike stations in a close density, then it can be very useful for downtown use.”

Bambrick, who tried out the bike-sharing program in Paris, said it was an “impressive way to get around the city.”

“My biggest concern with adding these bikes to the roads is actually the state of the roadways,” Bambrick said. “We need to add more bike lanes, repair the dips and cracks and get a better understanding between cyclists and motorists sharing the roads.”

Const. Hugh Smith, of the Toronto Police Traffic Services, is an ardent cyclist who frequently bikes and patrols on his cycle. He agreed with Bambrick that safety is his biggest concern for the extra cyclists joining the road in May.

“Not so much the safety of the regular cyclists, because they already know how to use the roads safely,” Smith said. “I’m more concerned about people who don’t know how to use bike lanes, or are inexperienced cyclists or tourists unfamiliar with our roads.”

Smith said Traffic Services is working on pamphlets that will be at all Bixi stations in Toronto, as well as promotional safety literature on the Bixi website.

“I think we all know that out city was designed for motor vehicles, so it’s important to know the rules of the road,” Smith said. “In any case, a cyclist is expected to follow all the rules under the Highway Traffic Act.”

Smith said he tried out a Bixi bike when the idea was first floated for Toronto.

“I like the bikes. They are sturdy (and) keep the rider standing upright, which means they should be more visible on the roads,” Smith said.