Personal Finance

BIXI Bike Rental – Will It Succeed?

A new bike rental service called BIXI opened up recently in Toronto serving the downtown core. The same company also offers this service in Montreal where it started.

The idea is that there are racks of rental bikes in different areas which are available for rental.  You get a bike out from one area and can return it to the same spot or a different rental spot. 

Memberships can be bought which range from one day ($5) to one year ($95).  With the membership you can use the bike for up to 30 minutes at a time without any extra charge as long as the membership is still valid.

I think it’s a neat idea, but I’m not sure how popular it will be.

  • Regular riders (like myself) – They have their own bikes.
  • Tourists – Maybe, as long as they don’t have too much to carry.
  • Shoppers –  No, it’s too hard to ride a bike with shopping bags.
  • Commuters – This would seem to be the most likely, although it really depends on how far away they live.  Someone living in a downtown condo might choose to ride rather than walk for 20-30 minutes.  Renting a bike could be easier than lugging it up to their small condo and trying to store it in their living room. Another possibility is that people commuting from Union Station to their office might prefer a bike to the subway or streetcar.

Can you think of anyone else who might use this service?  Keep in mind that there are a ton of transit and taxi opportunities available in the downtown area.

Brad Hurley from Montreal has used the service and thinks it’s great. 

Despite the fact that Montreal has one of the the highest levels of bike ownership per capita in North America, Bixi has been an incredible success here. When you go downtown you see Bixis everywhere — some of them are tourists, of course, but a lot of them are locals, including many hundreds of commuters in suits.
Bixi is a combination of the terms “bicycle” and “taxi,” and it’s really meant to replace short trips that you might otherwise take by taxi. I don’t know how many people really use it as a taxi replacement; I think it’s just a convenient form of transportation.

The network here in Montreal is great, there are smartphone apps that let you see how many bikes are available at each station in your vicinity (and the stations themselves will give you that information), the bikes are easy to use, and the system just works.

The other thing to note is that some people have gotten rid of their bikes once the Bixi system was established, because many people have no room in their apartments for a bike and if they leave it locked out on the street it’s likely to get stolen or vandalized. Bixi avoids all that — there have been a few cases of vandalism but a lot less than you might expect.

Has anyone here used it?   Would it work in your city?  Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Here are some other articles about BIXI in Toronto and Montreal:

16 replies on “BIXI Bike Rental – Will It Succeed?”

I hope so! Underground or covered bikeways between different parts of a city core would be way cool.

Bixi are one of the few things Montreal seems to be doing right. They’re great for commuters who have further to go than a walk but not far enough to dive down into the subway or wait for a bus. They’re good for small shopping trips and quick errands. And since you there’s stations everywhere chances are you’ll be taking a different bike home, so there’s no worries while you’re at your destination.

There’s also a few trucks racing around town moving the bikes around. So in the morning they’re bringing them into the train and inter-city bus depots. And vice-versa in the evening.

As for stealing them, they know who took the bike – you need to enter a code to get the bike to unlock from it’s docking station – so if you don’t return it then you’re responsible. And quite frankly, they’re butt-ugly so I doubt anyone would buy one if you took the trouble to steal it; and they’re quite unique so it’s pretty obvious what you’re riding!

Sounds like a pretty interesting idea. It could be good for those who maybe have a trip or task that they normally wouldn’t do, but takes them out of the way. Maybe for those who walk but don’t want to for whatever reason (it’s hot, they have somewhere quick, etc).

In any case, the overhead seems pretty low after they get things up and running, so I think it’s a pretty cool idea.

I saw this service in Montreal and most of the bike racks were full, meaning it wasn’t being used. This service is not a great idea. What problem does it solve? People can buy bikes cheaply. The only use I can see is for tourists, so it does not help with the terrible traffic in Toronto.

We need a bixi for cars- that would actually do something to affect environment and traffic.

@Trevor – and if the racks had been empty you would have complained that there’s not enough bikes?!

The Bixi system works really well. The racks are full because there’s an automated system that tells the operators how many bikes are in each station and based on the time of day which station will mostly need bikes. So they can move the bikes around to make sure the stations that need them always have them; and the destination stations always have space when you get there!

It is heartwarming to see a Canadian success story spreading its wings worldwide. I read in the newspapers that BIXI is coming to Ottawa but on a very limited basis. Sadly, I won’t get a chance to try it out because I think it will be limited to downtown locations.

We’ve had a similiar system here in Gothenburg, Sweden, since last year and it seems to be quite popular. Copenhagen, Stockholm, Paris, Lyon and Barcelona are other European cities with similar rental bikes.

Wikipedia has an excellent article on the Bixi bike program. And I have to say, I don’t see why it can’t work here. I remember using a similar system in Copenhagen over a decade ago and it was fantastic! A really great complement to the mass transit system they have, for when you have a shorter journey to take.

It’s worked almost everywhere else they’ve introduced it – including Dublin, where I was sure vandals would destroy the bikes within a week (we had the honour of being the only place those decorated cows had to be moved inside). I don’t see why Toronto should be different, although I think they should have stops at the beaches and in other non-core areas (or maybe they do and I haven’t noticed). I could see using it to grab a bike to get to a friends place across the city or something.

I am from Montreal and even though I have my own bike, I still use the BIXI system regularly. We have a huge problem with bike theft and it’s pretty hard for me to be at an appointment and worrying that my bike will have been stolen (even w/a$100 lock) when I return. BIXI let’s me get where I need to go in the city and relax while I’m in town. Then I just grab another to get home! I use my own bike for longer rides (exercise and family!). It’s all good but I will say I liked them a bit better the last few years; now they are so covered in ads, I feel like a rolling billboard..

@schultzter What problem does Bixi solve? You can buy a bike for $50 to run your errands! It is a fun toy for tourists and a convenience for people who don’t want to buy their own bicycle and lets the powers-that-be think they are actually doing something.

@Trevor Where are you getting a decent bike for $50? And how much are you going to spend each year maintaining the bike? (Remember, time is money so don’t ignore the cost of doing it yourself)

The Bixi improves mobility and enhances commuting without burdening people and makes efficient use of limited space. The Bixi authority takes care of the bikes and makes sure they’re use is maximized. If they expected people to take their own bikes they’d have to put in a lot more bike stands that are full of bikes which are not being used.

Plus, you can’t take your bike on public transit during rush hour, so even if you got your bike for free it would be sitting at home while you take the train into town. With a Bixi, there’s a bike waiting for you at the train/bus/subway station when you get there.

If you took your bike you would have to lock it up somewhere, with a Bixi you just drop it in the stand and walk away. In Montreal you have to lock up your bike in a bike stand – if it’s blocking a side walk, locked to a parking meter, etc. they’ll impound it (and unless it licensed – which adds to the cost- you can’t prove its yours so you’re probably not getting it back).

With a Bixi you can take the train into town, bike to your initial destination, walk to subsequent destinations, then Bixi back to the train station for the trip home. You could even drive to the outskirts of town and Bixi from there, that way you wouldn’t have to worry about parking and going back to feed the meter or move your car all the time.

I like the idea and I do hope it works out. It would be great in Ottawa if they were to expand its reach beyond the downtown core. I think stations along the bike paths would be popular. Good luck BIXI in Ottawa and Toronto.

We are getting a Bixi type system in Chicago this year, so there’s now a lot of talk in local blogs and media about it. One common theme, that I see in the comments here also, is that most of the negative opinions come from people who don’t understand and/or have never used such a system. Those who’ve used it know how clever it is and how well it works.

Sure, it’s not possible to use a bicycle for every trip you take year round. But every time someone rides a bike vs. driving, the taxpayers save money and the quality of life in the city improves just a tiny bit…

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