Vancouver bike share program could be in jeopardy

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Bike Share Bixi / Shutterstock

The City of Vancouver’s much anticipated public bike share program could be in jeopardy as the company that was approved to provide the bikes, equipment and associated infrastructure is now on the verge of bankruptcy.

Bixi is facing significant financial troubles with the operations of some of its major systems. Operational shortfalls with the Montreal Bixi system has led its City Council to issue a $108-million bailout package for the company. In Toronto, the company owes taxpayers $3.7-million from an unpaid loan and the precarious nature of the company is leading the City to consider raising $5-million to take over Bixi’s assets.

For both systems, revenues generated have been insufficient in covering the high operational costs and contractual promises of expansion.

Officials at the City of Vancouver are now concerned about the bike share business plan they approved over the summer. Given the financial risk to taxpayers, Vancouver City Council is unwilling to provide any funding to implement the system ahead of its early-2014 pilot launch.

 

Alta Bicycle Share was chosen as Vancouver bike share’s “owner, operator and financier.” The company also operates other bike share programs in Montreal, New York City, Portland, Melbourne, Chicago, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. Much of the company’s bikes, equipment and infrastructure is manufactured by Montreal-based Bixi.

The City of Vancouver’s $6-million commitment to the project over the summer would largely have gone towards Alta’s partner Bixi to help cover the costs of purchasing the equipment and installing the system.

Vancouver bike share was scheduled to roll out with a trial run of 250 bikes and 25 docking stations within a small area of downtown Vancouver early next year. This would eventually lead to a spring full implementation of 1,500 bikes and 125 docking stations to an area stretching across the downtown peninsula and the Central Broadway corridor from Arbutus Street to Main Street.

City officials are already concerned with the feasibility of provincial government’s mandatory helmet law, which has also been blamed as the leading culprit for Melbourne bike share’s low usage numbers.

The City of Vancouver sought to resolve this inconvenient deterrent by including helmet vending machines at every docking station. However, it adds further operational costs to the system given the required off-site cleaning and safety-checks of each helmet before it returns to the system for re-use.

Vancouver bike share’s implementation was planned for as early as 2012 but was delayed twice due to the additional time needed develop the helmet vending machine system.

 

Image: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock

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