Bixi: 2012 Recap

My New Bike
As you may recall, last spring I said that I would not renew my Bixi membership because of the hideous advertising the company chose to add to the bikes. Well, with two children to pick up at  various day camps around the city and getting to work through the traffic, I had to eat crow and continue to use our public bike system. It was just too convenient. But how did it compare with the previous two seasons?

This was another stellar year for Bixi, Montreal's public bike system, with 4,174,917 trips, a 25% increase over 2010. Other good news: there are some 40,000 yearly subscribers, which is up 24% from last year, and the operating deficit shrunk from $7.2 million to $3.2 million. Sales on the international front were fair, but not as good as expected. But never mind the sales. What was 2012 like for users? This being my third year, I have a few comments to make, both good and bad. Let`s start with the positive.

The Good
Bixi was the fastest way to get around our construction-ridden city last summer.

Our public bike was also available until November 15 this year. Next year, December 1 would be even better.

Bixi was far too convenient for me to give up, even after the cheesy advertising was added.

Compared to owning a bike, Bixi is almost hassle-free. It`s a pain to have to find a place to lock up my new bike every time I go to the store for milk.

Theft with Bixi is a non-issue. I`d also forgotten about New Bike Angst (NBA) or being too afraid to take my new bike anywhere for fear it will be stolen.

I found that motorists were more considerate or just more aware of cyclists this year; however, many cyclists travel far too fast on the Claire Morissette bike path, making it dangerous for everyone.

The novelty of Bixi has not worn off. It's still the cheapest, healthiest and most pleasant way to get around Montreal.

The Bad
Depending on the time of the year (last June being the worst), the only bikes left were broken or not roadworthy. The company still needs to inform users of the little wrench icon on the dock to report a bike in need of repair.

Expanding service to more city boroughs sounds great in theory, except that everyone is going downtown to work between 8:00 and 9:00 am. In June and July, it was very difficult to find a place to park downtown; all the stations were full. I had to either leave earlier than in the previous two years or drop the Bixi off at the first station with a free space and walk the rest of the way.

I called to report a malfunctioning station twice last summer, and it was never repaired. I know because I used it regularly. When I returned a bike, there was never a ring indicating that the bike had been properly returned. Once I was fined $30 because I had apparently not returned a bike to that very station.

The above three disadvantages are all signs of an organization that grew too fast before ironing out all of its kinks. Bixi still continued to thrive this year because of the enthusiasm of Montrealers and the people working at Bixi. But I doubt other cities will be as enthusiastic. I think they're looking for a turnkey solution with all the logistical and technical problems worked out.

Conclusion
As you can see my feelings are mixed. I still think that Bixi is a great idea, and we may only see the health benefits of the public bike system in a decade's time. But I must confess that I'm still confused about our municipal tax dollars being used to finance/fund/bail out Bixi last spring. From what I've read, it's very difficult to determine who reaps the financial benefits or even who is financially accountable for the entire public bike system. I fear that our beloved Bixi may become a boondoggle for Montreal taxpayers. We must demand clear, transparent reporting and settle for nothing less, or this may become our new Olympic stadium.

Related posts:

The Path of a Cycling Activist
Dear Bixi Chairman Roger Plamondon
Montreal Bixi v. Denver B-Cycle
Bixi: Success For All?
A Review of Montreal's Bixi


4 comments:

Anonymous | November 29, 2011 at 8:34 AM

The last developements with Bixi mgm't. make your comments very pertinent.
The problem is that the City sets up these corporations to run Bixi and bacise
they are at arms length from City council, we (taxpayers) can not have access
to the books.
As for ridership...at first when Bixi first came out, I was not sure....but when I now
see hassidic jews taking them....I am now a believer, but I just want to know where
our money is going.
Jimmy Z.

AKAmamma | November 30, 2011 at 5:19 PM

Me too Jimmy! The "non-profit" did borrow over $35 million from Montreal taxpayers. I'm so jaded. I can't listen to the spin anymore. I just follow the money. Thanks for your comment. Heather

Zvi Leve (Montreal, QC, Canada) | December 5, 2011 at 10:03 AM

The lack of professionalism and transparency in Bixi's management structure is problematic, but it is a red-herring to think that they should be making money for the city. Since when do roads pay for themselves? Do you have any idea how much roads cost? And who pays for them? The City of Montreal should not be running Bixi, but it certainly should be paying them a hefty amount for the service. In London they accept that their system is completely subsidized, but they they also recognize that it is the most effective transportation investment that they have made in years!

I think that Bixi has the potential to become a 'transformative' mode of transportation. It's modularity and flexibility is the perfect solution for access to mass transit (ie how do people get to/from the stations). But they need to work harder to manage the station loads. An empty or full station is a significant problem, and if it happens too frequently it can deter ridership.

AKAmamma | December 24, 2011 at 3:23 PM

It certainly does have the potential to be a transformative mode of transportation, and agree with your point that empty and full stations are a significant problem that needs to be managed. Thanks for your comment Zvi!

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