Bixi Toronto Back from Brink with $5 Million Injection – But Don’t Call it Bixi Anymore…

by John Symon

December 09, 2013 (Toronto, ON) – The public bike sharing program in Toronto operated by Bixi has will continue in 2014, but probably under a new name reports The Toronto Star and The National Post.  Launched in May, 2011 by Montreal-based Public Bike System Company (PBSC), the Toronto system has 1,000 rental Bixi bikes operating out of 80 docking stations in the downtown area.

“We don’t mention Bixi anymore,” Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong told Toronto city hall Wednesday. “It’s the public bike share system, until some sponsor comes up with a very large cheque that we can use and apply to the program to keep it sustainable.” But until the name of this new sponsor is revealed, many people will probably continue to refer to the system as Bixi, the brand name emblazoned on each of the 1,000 aluminum bikes. The system’s website is also still called “Bixi Toronto.”

The deal reached last week sees all assets of the Toronto Bixi system transferred from PBSC to the City of Toronto. Also involved is a $5 million injection of funds from Bell’s Astral Media, diverting money slated for public toilets and using it to pay down the debt incurred by the public bikes. The deal further sees the Toronto Parking Authority (TPA) taking over management of the bike share program in April, 2014, hopefully in conjunction with a private sponsor.

TPA president Lorne Persiko explained that Bixi needs some $1.5 million to cover its annual operating costs, but is currently about $150,000 below breaking even on these expenses. Persiko categorized this funding gap as “manageable.”  There are also plans to increase the number of Bixi docking from 80 to 102 in 2014 with Pan/Parapan Am Games-related funding. It is unclear if this would also mean an increase in the number of bikes, perhaps to 1,250. Some critics have suggested that Toronto’s system needs to attain a larger “critical mass” to be financially viable.

The private sponsor might be Oregon-based Alta Bicycle Share speculates The Post; Alta already manages a similar system of Bixi bikes in several U.S. cities and in Melbourne, Australia.

Bixi originated in Montreal where its partners include La Presse (daily newspaper), Desjardins (credit union), and Telus (telephone service provider) and the City of Montreal. Bixi has just concluded its fifth season of operations in Montreal. Harsh winters in Montreal mean that the 3,800 bikes there are stored in a warehouse from November to April.

Meanwhile, U.S.-based Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) recently released a 152-page report entitled “The Bike Share Planning Guide” comparing the 600 bike share programs worldwide. These include: London; Paris; Brussels; Chattanooga, TN; Taipei; Guangzhou; Mexico City; Rio de Janeiro; Tel Aviv; Toronto; etc. Amsterdam city councilman Luud Schimmelpenn is attributed with being the “father” of such bike share programs in the 1960s.

Montreal’s Bixi system ranks very well by some main parameters, such as “Trips per bike vs. trips per 1,000 Residents,” “Bike share market penetration,” and “Bike share usage.” In some other parameters, Montreal’s Bixi is in the middle of the pack with annual operating cost per trip of $1.27 versus $4.80 in London and 86¢ in Barcelona. But Montreal’s Bixi system also ranks as one of the more expensive worldwide with an annual subscription fee of $80 (versus $123 in London and $33 in Lyon) and its daily rate of $7 (versus $2 in Lyon). Bixi Toronto, which does not feature on all of the report’s graphs, charges $97 for an annual membership and $5 for 24 hour access. Montreal is also encumbered with capital costs of $4,000 per bike and replacement costs of $1,270 per bike.

ITDP Report here.
The National Post here.
The Toronto Star here.
Bixi Toronto here.

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