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Is Toronto overpaying for BIXI bike-sharing?

Posted by Guest Contributor / May 9, 2012

BIXI Pricing TorontioHousing isn't the only thing that is costly in the centre of the universe these days. The city that looked like a pretty good deal back in the era of the 65-cent dollar is getting rather expensive, and we're not just talking sports tickets.

So it's perhaps no surprise that when it comes to transportation, Toronto is no cheap date. The TTC is the most expensive single-fare transit system of any big city in North America, and the under-construction Airport Rail Link may well match this feat when it finally opens. While the T-Dot may not have congestion pricing or in-city toll roads, cabs are definitely a pricey proposition as well. But what about the city's newest mode of transportation, the BIXI bike-sharing system? With North America's biggest bikeshare program about to launch in New York, now seems like a good time to take stock of bikeshare costs across the continent to see how Toronto measures up.

The table below shows all cities in the US and Canada with a public bikeshare program of more than 100 bikes. All of these systems use the membership-model for revenue; the actual bike rides are free when kept under 30 minutes (sometimes longer). There are many variations on pricing, but the simplest head-to-head comparison is the cost of an annual membership — the bread and butter of these programs.

BIXI Pricing

  • For the purpose of this table $1 Cdn = $1 US.
  • Miami Beach does not offer annual memberships. The $90 shown is for two 90-day passes of $45, an arbitrary assumption of what "annual" means in Miami Beach.
  • Chicago had a trial system with B-cycle but is now adopting BIXI for full roll-out.
  • Note that although BIXI also exists in Melbourne and London, these were excluded because of the different contexts — Europe vs North America, helmet laws in Australia, currency conversions, etc.

BIXI pricingAs the data shows, Toronto is unfortunately once again fighting for the top spot in the most-expensive category. And while in Toronto your membership only gets you a 30 min jaunt without incurring extra cost, the same $95 in New York will cover a 45 minute ride — an indication of the scale and ambition of their planned installation.

On the plus side, BIXI in Toronto is year-round, not an insignificant factor when compared to, say, Montreal or Boston. And at least BIXI managed to get off the ground in Toronto, which given the current mayor and corporate financial woes of the provider was something of a miracle. Other big Canadian cities, after all are still struggling to get their programs even started.

What do you think? Is BIXI still a bargain for Toronto bicyclists, or is the city getting burned on costs yet again?

NOTE:

In response to some of the comments, we've updated the tables to show short term data and to adjust the initial assumption on Miami Beach.

Guest contribution for Larry Green / Photo by Martin Reis in the blogTO Flickr pool.

Discussion

62 Comments

DC / May 9, 2012 at 12:08 pm
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get over it...Toronto IS one of the most expensive cities in the world to live-in
Eugene / May 9, 2012 at 12:21 pm
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More expensive than NYC?
tnt replying to a comment from Eugene / May 9, 2012 at 12:46 pm
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Notice the use of the word "one"....
as in ONE of the most, not the most..... get it stupid ass?
Sean / May 9, 2012 at 12:55 pm
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YES. That's why I prefer riding around in my truck. Much safer than riding around in a bike too.
Scott / May 9, 2012 at 01:10 pm
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I was given a free bixi membership and keep my rides to under 30 minutes. The trick is that once you dock a bike you can take another out instantly so if you are looking for a longer ride, just know where the docks are.

TWO BIG PROBLEMS I HAVE ENCOUNTERED.

1) Bikes are often unavailable at times when you need them. Also docks are sometimes not available when you need to park
2) The instructions are purposely labelled to make tourists and the not so savvy think they get a bike for 24 hours for just $5.

crc replying to a comment from tnt / May 9, 2012 at 01:26 pm
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one of the most expensive in north America maybe. #50 on the economist 2012 survey...wouldn't put Toronto near the top at 50.
Gabe / May 9, 2012 at 01:58 pm
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Would probably be more useful to compare annual fee on monthly cost basis given that not all systems are open year-round.
Ratpick replying to a comment from DC / May 9, 2012 at 02:05 pm
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If I'm reading your comment the right way, it's as though you think being expensive is a GOOD thing, DC.

Should we just "get over it" and accept our ridiculously high cellular fees, too?

Jane / May 9, 2012 at 02:05 pm
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Re: "Miami Beach does not offer annual memberships. The $90 shown is for two 90-day passes of $45, an arbitrary assumption of what "annual" means in Miami Beach."

Uhhhh really? I'm pretty sure that annual is pretty close to 365 days in Miami beach.....it's not really a location known for its harsh winters......
Herb replying to a comment from Jane / May 9, 2012 at 02:35 pm
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Making an honest comparison of Miami Beach with the other cities just didn't fit into the argument I guess. If we calculated Miami Beach for 12 months instead of the 6 months BlogTO wants to shoehorn, we get $180 for the year. That's twice as much as Toronto.

Is Toronto's BIXI expensive? It's not the most expensive by any means. And really, folks, for $95 or $180 it's a heck of a lot cheaper than public transit passes, taxis and paying for a car.

This article is a non-story.
smartygirl / May 9, 2012 at 02:53 pm
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i was excited about bixi. until i found out how much it cost, and how limited the service area is. there is nothing outside of the downtown core! no good for 90% of residents here.
Jamie P / May 9, 2012 at 02:55 pm
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10,000 bikes?! Must be nice.
Mark / May 9, 2012 at 03:48 pm
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Why would anyone pay $95 a year to rent a bike when you can buy one for about that price and use it year after year?
the lemur / May 9, 2012 at 03:54 pm
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If anyone's curious about Barclays Cycle Hire (London BIXI) and Melbourne Bike Share (BIXI), and because currency conversion and being located in different countries are not sufficient reasons to exclude them from the comparison:

London
Annual fee GBP 45 (about $72)
315 stations, 6000 bikes
year round


Melbourne
Annual fee AUD 52 (about $52)
51 stations, 600 bikes
year round

Helmet use is mandatory in Victoria but MBS will sell you a helmet for $5.
Anita H replying to a comment from Mark / May 9, 2012 at 03:58 pm
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I ride a bixi bike to one location and meet up with friends, we then find ourselves at a different area of the city. I can still bike home. I'm not tethered to the location of my bike. I don't have to worry if my bike gets destroyed or stolen while I'm out of the vicinity. I also save on yearly bike maintenance.
Anita H replying to a comment from the lemur / May 9, 2012 at 04:04 pm
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Thanks for this! I don't think international Bixi's should have been omitted.
Toronto Ted / May 9, 2012 at 04:13 pm
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I've lived in London, Paris and am in NYC a dozen times a year and I can safely say that Toronto is the most expensive city I've ever lived in yet it has so little to justify this price tag.

Dirtiest most expensive taxis ever, 19th century streetcar system (im guessing that the last time they go cleaned) 65$ + tip limousine ride into the city from the airport due to no rail link...
As for the bikes, they're great if you don't want to go further north than Bloor ...

Oh and house prices have gone through the roof.

Josh / May 9, 2012 at 04:14 pm
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Yes, it's overpriced, but only due to the limited downtown service area. If the service area was even remotely comparable to Montreal, $95 would be just fine.

When I had a membership in Montreal, I used it to get to work, visit friends, shopping, etc. I used it at least twice a day, and as much as a dozen times per day. With my Toronto membership, I have used it a mere five times total.
McRib / May 9, 2012 at 04:16 pm
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complete bullshit, London is far more expensive than Toronto both in house prices and the cost of living. So is NYC for that matter.

why lie?
Toronto Ted / May 9, 2012 at 04:25 pm
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Oh dear... a bit too hard for you to understand is it love and you have to resort to swearing on a blog. Diddums.

Effectively the actual price of housing in NYC or London is higher but when you consider earnings are far higher in both cities then Toronto is in real terms more expensive.

And you're right, why would I lie ...
the lemur replying to a comment from Anita H / May 9, 2012 at 04:29 pm
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You're welcome.

I think the relationship between the number of bikes, number of stations and geographical area is important as well and is not something the chart conveys. By that measure, the London system (projected to expand to 8300 bikes) is a pretty good deal, for a city that's generally so expensive. Boston's Hubway system should be fairly comparable to ours in terms of size, but I didn't find their bikes distributed as widely as here.
IBG BRAIN / May 9, 2012 at 04:33 pm
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I'd be more satisfied by the cost of Bixi if it expanded further to the west and to the north. As it stands, the network is just not large enough to justify the cost. (I've also run into an inordinate number of technical difficulties with rental machines, but maybe I've just been unlucky a few times.)
Chris / May 9, 2012 at 04:36 pm
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Things like cost of labour as compared to the USA is probably one of the main reasons for differences in the prices. There is a labour cost associated with the maintenance of these bikes, and the fact that in Canada (especially now that the Canadian dollar is higher) labour costs relative to the US are higher. If you compare the per month cost for Toronto compared to the per month costs for other systems, Bixi Toronto is not unreasonably priced (although it would be great if it was cheaper to encourage more people to use it).

On the other hand, when you consider how useful Bixi bikes are (when you live and work within the coverage area), it is worth quite a bit. Although I'd love to see the coverage area significantly expanded, as I think the network effect of this will be worth more per bike than they currently get.
Em replying to a comment from Herb / May 9, 2012 at 04:37 pm
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I pay $111 for my ttc monthly metro pass, so bixi isn't really a heck of a lot cheaper at all!! And I bought a decent junk bike for $80, 3 years ago. Bixi is a total rip off in my opinion and not enough docking stations.
Em / May 9, 2012 at 04:41 pm
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I suppose I should have mentioned that I live at Yonge and Eglinton, so I would have to take the ttc to even get to a bixi station.Until they expand at bit outside of the downtown core, it's just not a viable option for me.
Chris replying to a comment from Mark / May 9, 2012 at 04:43 pm
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I thought this at first, but when you look at Bixi bike as more of a "bike taxi" it makes more sense. Often one of the biggest problems with bikes (and driving a car) is that when you take it somewhere, you have to park it, and then walk back to the same place you parked it. With Bixi bike, you can park it somewhere, and then walk somewhere, and then grab a bike from a different location to go home. You can never do this with a bike that you own. Also, you can go somewhere by Bixi bike, and then it can rain, and you can decide to take transit back (which may not be easy with a regular bike, especially if you would be taking a streetcar or subway at rush hour).

There are other reasons as well. Bixi bikes allow the bikes to be stored easily, they are also high quality bikes with lights and baskets on them. To buy a good, sturdy, high quality bike is going to cost you more than $100. A bike with as smooth a ride as a Bixi bike would cost at least $300; and to keep it in good condition will require annual tune-ups that may cost you $50 per time, not to mention the odd popped tire that needs to be replaced (there goes another $30 dollars) and just as a bike replacement Bixi bike is not so bad of a deal. Depending on how much you use it it can be cheaper.

Another advantage of Bixi bikes is that you don't have to store them and awkwardly take the Bixi bike on your apartment's elevator. You also don't need to store it in your apartment which may have limited space (and many people in the Bixi coverage area may live in a small apartment).

It certainly takes some convincing for people to sign up for Bixi bike because they make the same argument you do, but from my experience (admittedly not scientific) those who do cannot live without it. However, the Bixi bike has to expand to where you actually live and where you often go to for it to make sense. That's why it should be expanded.
Chris replying to a comment from Em / May 9, 2012 at 04:46 pm
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You pay 111 dollars a month for your metropass, and 100 PER YEAR for Bixi bike. the metropass is more than 12 times more expensive. in fact, if a Bixi membership can save you a single month of metropass purchase it is worth it. Of course you can argue you should buy a bike instead, but Bixi bike is not that much more expensive than a good quality bike, and it provides other uses that bikes can never provide.
KevinN / May 9, 2012 at 04:48 pm
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Torontos bixi program is NOT Year round.
Chris replying to a comment from Em / May 9, 2012 at 04:49 pm
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Agreed that it should expand that far. However, there is one use of the Bixi bike... if you are already downtown and want to travel somewhere else downtown, and you take TTC to get downtown, Bixi bike is by far the fastest way to get around (far faster than TTC within the downtown, even the subway for many trips). You would never be able to bring a bike by TTC downtown at rush hour, but once travelling within downtown (for example to do errands), having a Bixi bike as a supplement to a Metropass, I believe is worth it. Although, you definitely should write to your councillor to support expansion to Yonge and Eglinton!
KevinN replying to a comment from KevinN / May 9, 2012 at 04:51 pm
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And I mean that the bikes aren't available during the winter. They remove the bikes and bike racks so that they don't rust in the winter.


Also, comparing the amount of bikes toronto has to NY is skewed because NY now has more bikes lanes and accessible bike paths to Toronto.

Either way, we're screwed and paying too much. NO membership? $5 to start off and $x per hour (I think it was $0.50 per 30mins or something like that last time I looked at the label)
Larry Green / May 9, 2012 at 05:50 pm
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Some excellent comments here. The point of the article was not to criticize the validity of bikesharing in general, or the value of bikeshare vs TTC or taxis, just to point out the cost and bike availability differences between Toronto and its peer cities (and granted, some of the places on the list are not true peers). Why should the exact same bikes, with the same infrastructure and same funding, cost more to use (or get you less time for your membership) in one big city compared to another?

The metric I used was the annual fee because many of these systems do not have monthly passes and at the end of the day bikeshare is really aimed at giving people another option for their everyday routine travels. For what it's worth, Toronto's $40/month is still the most expensive of the systems that offer monthly passes. I could have also compared 24 hr passes, which are aimed more at tourists, and in that case Toronto surprisingly does very well - the $5 access fee here is among the lowest of any city on the table. (NYC will gouge tourists for $10 for a 24 hr key.) But again, my focus was bikeshare as a service to residents for regular use so I kept it simple.

Yes, Miami Beach perhaps should not have been included given that they have no annual pass, but I didn't want to ignore this interesting and unique 1,000 bike system. Although a city of 80,000 I thought it fair to consider many residents to be seasonal, i.e. snowbirds of some variety, for whom a six month period was a fair comp. Even on a monthly basis, Miami Beach is $15 vs $40 in Toronto, so the overall conclusion (Toronto is pricey) still holds in my view.

Regarding winter, Bixi is indeed year-round in Toronto, although some racks are relocated and bikes reallocated for snow removal and other winter factors.

My own personal conclusion after surveying costs is that Toronto is paying top dollar without top-dollar service. (A familiar refrain, I know.) If Bixi were to change the time limit tomorrow to 45 min, as in Montreal, Ottawa, or New York, all would be forgiven. (Heck, Houston gives 90 min free.) Failing that, the system needs to expand. If Chicago is going to have 3,000 bikes then Toronto should too. Only then can Toronto feel that it is comfortably within its peer set when it comes to costs.
Tom / May 9, 2012 at 05:54 pm
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I love the bixi system.

Given the current size (number and range of stations) of the bixi network in Toronto, the $95/year for unlimited 30-minute trips is totally reasonable. However, when the network grows I would hope that the 30-minute limit is raised OR the cost of additional time is reduced.

The pricing issue is not with the yearly membership... it's with the cost for one-off (non-member) rides and additional ride time.

Also I have had many instances when I wanted to dock a bike and there were no docks available. This is an area that needs improvement.
Chris replying to a comment from Toronto Ted / May 9, 2012 at 05:59 pm
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I always find it puzzling when you get these commenters who make a point of waxing on about how they've lived in all of these fascinating cities (NY, London, HK, etc) and that they think Toronto is a sh*thole by comparison, and in Ted's case, apparently a far more expensive city to live in to boot, and yet, they still live here and not there. Why is that?

It would seem to me that if after living here you realize its such a hole compared to those wonderful cities, then you'd be on the next plane back, instead of wasting your time dumping on our fair city through the anonymity of BlogTo.

In fact, those comparisons, rather than making you sound wordly and sophisticated as you probably think, actually just make you sound like an idiot for leaving those cities in the first place, and moreso for continuing to live here despite your apparent dislike of the place.
YYZMOMO / May 9, 2012 at 07:03 pm
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Problems with Toronto Bixi:

1. Limited stations - in a city with huge urban sprawl, you NEED more bikes and stations otherwise, how am I going to justify the hefty price of subscription when I could just get a banger bike to commute on? We need more of an incentive

2. FEES/ PRICING: Why is there a TEN DAY $250 dollar holding fee on a credit card, if you're just wanting to use the bikes for a 72 hour period?!? Sorry but when tourists are on vacation, last thing they need is a $250 TEN DAY holding fee. I can't think of any other community bike sharing scheme (London, Paris, Barcelona) that requires such a hefty deposit to use something that should encourage tourists and residents alike to use.

3. Website is crap and there is no official App for phones

I really wanted to like Bixi :(
iSkyscraper / May 9, 2012 at 07:54 pm
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Try Spotcycle, works for all the Bixi cities, on Blackberry, Android or iPhone:

http://www.spotcycle.net/en/theapp_en.html

I can't wait to try Citibike here in NYC. Will be awesome, but I'm sure at first will also be awesomely messy, as 10,000 bikes and 13,000 taxis wage open warfare on the streets.
sousedbergin / May 9, 2012 at 07:59 pm
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I live in the Junction Bixi does not reach, okay fine.
Bixi does not reach high park or bloor west village? Weird.
Bixi does not reach trinity bellwoods, parkdale, distillery district or the beaches, what the hell?
Toronto Ted replying to a comment from Chris / May 9, 2012 at 08:17 pm
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@Chris

I never said Toronto was a "shithole". I said it was more expensive to live in than those other cities without as many services, please learn to read what's written and not what you want to read and don't misquote me.

As for not living in other cities anymore.., work changes, life, marriage etc.

I like TO, its home now. i just think and Im sure most people agree that the standard of services offered for the price charged could and should be higher.
bixilist / May 9, 2012 at 08:38 pm
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I have three bikes and yet I still use (and love!) Bixi. I hop on and off in seconds (the Bixi key rocks), without dragging one of by bikes down an elevator, hauling around a lock, etc.. As has been stated here, I pick and choose where I'll use Bixi, walk, or take the TTC depending on the weather at the moment, the distance to go, if I'm carrying anything, etc. - I'm not tied to a bike just because it's useful for one segment of a journey. I also never worry about my bike being damaged or stolen with Bixi, which is real consideration in TO.
I use my other bikes for travel outside of the range of Bixi (which is too small), including further afield in the city, mountain and road biking.
In my opinion, if you live and work in the Bixi service area, it's a hell of a deal at $95, regardless of pricing in other jurisdictions. I've saved many times that in TTC fares and had a lot of fun doing it.
the lemur replying to a comment from sousedbergin / May 9, 2012 at 09:51 pm
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Bixi is in the Distillery District now (Trinity/Front).
veronica / May 9, 2012 at 09:57 pm
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The Bixi program is too expensive. The per day cost for Velib is the cost of one public transit ticket. So if you are going to and from somewhere, it makes sense to take Velib rather than the Metro. That's what the cost should be in Toronto - $3 - the cost of one TTC cash fare if they really want the program to take off. That, and they need to expand the service area.
Antony replying to a comment from veronica / May 9, 2012 at 10:13 pm
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If you are going to *and* from somewhere, that costs two TTC fares, or $6. A 1-day Bixi pass is cheaper.
Tony replying to a comment from Toronto Ted / May 9, 2012 at 11:15 pm
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Ted apparently your not allowed to have an opinion in Toronto either. People in Toronto, or should I say Ontario pay more FOR EVERYTHING because they have been brainwashed into thinking the more they pay the better service they receive.
Barbara / May 10, 2012 at 01:02 am
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A year long membership to Bixi is less than one month's Metropass. I'm not complaining.
Bobby F replying to a comment from veronica / May 10, 2012 at 09:38 am
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You seem confused about the 24-hour period. A single $5 Bixi day-pass can be used for a 24 hour period, whereas a single TTC $3 fare can be used for one trip.
Anita H replying to a comment from KevinN / May 10, 2012 at 09:53 am
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Toronto's service is absolutely year-round. They move stations that are blocking snow routes and remove bikes from the fleet due to lower ridership. I rode it all winter with the same expectations as the summer time and never had a problem.

The service only shut down one day due to a hazardous forecast, otherwise all winter was service as usual.
Ronnie replying to a comment from Scott / May 10, 2012 at 10:08 am
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I've never used a bixi bike in Toronto, so I'm unaware of the daily costs, but you made mention that it's not $5 for the 24 hr rental? Do you know how much it is?
JMS replying to a comment from Scott / May 10, 2012 at 02:26 pm
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I run into the same problems here in DC. I liken it to the problems one has parking a car so not too angry about it but it is no fun when you walk out to get a bike and can't or have to drive to multiple docks to park.
Michelle / May 10, 2012 at 07:11 pm
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bixi won't get the traction it needs to survive in this city until it expands... and they won't expand until they get more susbcribers. it's a chicken and egg problem that can only be solved by public or private capital investment upfront, and that doesn't look likely to happen, thus destining toronto to have a 3rd rate bikeshare programme despite the fact that countless other cities have made it work.
Alex replying to a comment from Eugene / May 11, 2012 at 10:53 am
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I actually do think Toronto's more expensive than NYC. Besides rent -- which isn't so far off -- living expenses are damn cheaper down there. For every pricey restaurant and bar NYC has, it has at least two more diners, trucks, stands and dive bars with $1 PBR. Clothes and merchandise are generally lower, as are taxes. Then again, I haven't accounted for health care and education -- but maybe that'll just make it a push?
RedG / May 11, 2012 at 05:05 pm
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I say no. Yeah $95 is higher, but over a *year* it's a steal. You should try comparing cash fare for a short streetcar/bus/subway ride in those listed cities. Secondly, I can say from 1 year of experience enjoying Bixi in Toronto that 30 minutes can get you very very far. My average trip between a downtown subway station and the office, a restaurant or the gym is under 10 minutes. That same trip on foot would exceed 20 minutes. And who knows how long by TTC when you count waiting at a stop and sitting in traffic. When you factor in all those potential costs, $95/year is an absolute steal. Perspective folks.
Aaron / May 13, 2012 at 10:53 pm
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Of course were over paying!! Were the only ones with corporate sponsorships plastered ll over the bikes should that cover most of the costs! Take the Logos off then I'll pay $95!!!!
the lemur replying to a comment from Aaron / May 14, 2012 at 08:58 am
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There are sponsor logos on the bikes in London (Barclays) and Boston (New Balance), so we're not the only ones, and about 20-25% of Bixi bikes here don't have the Desjardins or Telus logos on them at all.

Alex / May 15, 2012 at 08:13 am
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I was pretty shocked to find they were 5 bucks for 24 hours in Toronto, and for a much smaller system with way fewer bikes than home (London). Ours are £1 for 24 hours and £45 annually, not too bad. Maybe the corporate thing has kept the cost down a bit. They're actually known as Barclays (or Boris) bikes.
Torono / May 16, 2012 at 02:10 pm
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For a city that claims to be "the big smoke" Montreal is miles ahead, and they're second to Toronto in terms of population. Like someone here pointed out, when you compare Toronto to the rest of the big cities in North America, they have less to offer, but are more expensive, i don't get it. 400,000 for an average home....GASP...In a place that's below 0 degrees for about 4-5 months of the year. It's a ghost town during the winter months. I don't know, i just don't see it, don't see what the fuss is about.
Rofo replying to a comment from Em / May 31, 2012 at 05:32 pm
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Oh Em. I hope you're hot, 'cuz that's about all you'd have to offer. Bixi is in fact $1,237 cheaper than your $111/month Metropass.
L / September 21, 2012 at 02:57 pm
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Interestingly, lately there have been a flurry of promo offers that reduce Toronto's annual Bixi membership to on par with Ottawa and Montreal. Recently took advantage of one of those promos myself and have already made the full cost back what I would have paid in tokens for one month of TTC. I agree that they definitely could stand to add more stands/cover more of the downtown, but I'm guessing that they're meeting a tonne of resistence from Ford & co.
steve / October 17, 2012 at 09:47 am
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Maybe its time for free bikes for everyone!
http://thinkingaboot.blogspot.ca/2012/10/cardboard-bicycles.html
Vane / November 20, 2012 at 07:51 am
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Thanks for this post, helpful for research.
homeschoolblogger.com / January 20, 2013 at 07:30 am
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I do believe all the ideas you've presented on your post. They are very convincing and can definitely work. Still, the posts are too short for novices. Could you please prolong them a little from next time? Thank you for the post.
jose / April 25, 2013 at 01:13 pm
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All of these are more than double the price of Paris' Vélib system, which is publicly owned, but operated as a concession. (1.50 euro per day tourist rate). I bike all the time and don't use Biki because the minor convenience isn't worth the extra cost, if I do get struck somewhere without my bike, the TTC is cheaper.
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