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How Kristyn Wong-Tam plans to save BIXI Toronto

Posted by Chris Bateman / May 1, 2013

toronto bixiAllowing developers to cut the number of parking spaces in new residential developments could save Toronto's ailing bike share program, says councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. Current city rules allow builders to trade parking capacity for auto share spaces or ring-and-post locks, and Wong-Tam wants BIXI stands added to that list.

In a member's motion to be heard at city council next week, Wong-Tam will ask transportation services and city planners to investigate the feasibility of expanding BIXI using developer's money at zero cost to the city. The new stands could be funded out of a pool of money and placed where there's the most demand for bike infrastructure.

"I can see some suburban councillors saying 'well, how is this going to benefit me?'." Well, they also have development in their wards, so it's a conversation where we pool our resources together and make it right for everyone. This is not a downtown versus suburbs thing," Wong-Tam says.

"I don't think BIXI should be limited to the downtown core - I would love to be able to pick up my BIXI bike and ride it all the way to Etobicoke. I think that would be a great experience."

BIXI identified its inability to expand as one of the main reasons it has struggled to manage its debt repayments. Right now the system has 80 stands, mostly in the downtown core, and 4,630 paid subscribers. Earlier this week the Toronto Star reported that staff urged councillors to take on the struggling program. The result of their private vote on the matter isn't yet public.

As it stands, Toronto is on the hook for the $4.5 million loan the Montreal-based bike share company used to buy its equipment should the company fail. As of December, $3.9 million was still outstanding.

Wong-Tam says she's spoken with developers in her ward who are "open to any suggestion" about ways they can reduce the number of parking spaces they're required to build. Unlike some cities, Toronto sets parking minimums for all new developments. Being able to lose some parking presents a significant financial benefit on new buildings, the councillor says. Requiring a contribution to BIXI in exchange would benefit both sides.

"I think it's a worthy conversation. Is it going to solve every issue within BIXI? Probably not. But is it going to going to deal with their number one obstacle which they've identified as the biggest stumbling block to financial success? Then yes, I would say we've got game and we've got play."

"I tell you right now, with that small policy gesture we will have the largest bike share program in North America in a very short period of time."

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: Jefferson Photography/blogTO Flickr pool.



Bruce Mandrake / May 1, 2013 at 01:49 pm
Jer / May 1, 2013 at 01:55 pm
Common sense suggestion from the left... This is the type of stuff BIXI should have been developing/lobbying for from the start. Also a selling point for Bixi Stations close by for a building.

What is teh cost to install and maintain a station?
Monty Hall / May 1, 2013 at 02:00 pm
As long as the funding is private and the DEBT is paid, I'm all for this idea. As this isn't N Korea or Cuba, subsidies for a private business is nonsense so I like this plan a lot.
Mark / May 1, 2013 at 02:05 pm
You're welcome to try anything that doesn't include using city tax money to prop up a failed business. If the developers or other businesses want to support this endeavour go for it. So long as it doesn't reduce the taxes they already owe.
James / May 1, 2013 at 02:13 pm
"This is not a downtown versus suburbs thing," Wong-Tam says

But... but yes it is a downtown versus suburbs thing.

Issue A: Bixi doesn't exist outside of the core. Why should developers in North York, Etobicoke or Scarborough have Bixi spots on their properties when there are no Bixi stations out there? Expand the network, THEN add the capacity. Don't build capacity for something that may never happen.

Issue B: People in the suburbs rely on their cars much more than downtown. When I lived downtown, I rode my bike and took transit, even though I had a car. I'm now in Etobicoke for a while (sandwiched between Kipling and Islington stations), and I drive downtown, and everywhere else.

Summation: If you want developers to trade parking for Bixi stations, ensure the Bixi system gets expanded FIRST.
CaligulaJones / May 1, 2013 at 02:14 pm
Making Bixi too big to fail. Nope, don't see anything wrong with that plan, historically.
Benedict / May 1, 2013 at 02:20 pm
Fordie's gonna shit when he reads...sorry, is told about this plan. Fewer parking spaces is COMMUNIST.
JC / May 1, 2013 at 02:34 pm
Smart moves. This makes sense, we need to expand the system otherwise people all over the Toronto won't want to use it due to location limitations. Then it will fail for sure.

People in the Toronto suburbs (Etobicoke, Scarborough) could use Bixi to ride from their condo developments, etc to the GO Train making less trips in their car and not having to deal with parking issus, etc. Everyone wins.

I really hope this gets done.
Joe Fresh / May 1, 2013 at 02:43 pm
Im all for Bixi. But, if it is not working, it's not working.
I live right on the border of the current service area.
Why would i pay for a pay per use service when i can buy my own bike that i can use without boundaries and cheaper? I think anyone who lives in the downtown who wants to use a bike as a mode of transportation agrees also.
Granted, i have had some bikes stolen in the past, but that was my fault for getting a flashy bike. Now i use a beat up p.o.s that is all rusted that nobody would look twice at. But it still works!
For the most part, when i see people renting bixi bikes, it is usually tourists that are along the lake.
Unfortunately, if Bixi cannot make it work, i say cease the equipment due to non payment of the loan, and sell it off to another city who uses bixi who actually needs them.
Propping up a service in the city that is loosing money just to serve tourists during 1.5 seasons a year is not justifiable.
Saying expanding it all over the city will get riders out is just delusional. Not only will it not work, we will be in the hole even more after the equipment for expansion is bought.
Also the whole "I don't think BIXI should be limited to the downtown core - I would love to be able to pick up my BIXI bike and ride it all the way to Etobicoke. I think that would be a great experience." is just another delusional thought. I myself am in pretty good shape and i would NEVER ride a bike all the way to Etobicoke. The farthest i go is to the Humber Bay Arch Bridge and back along the lake.
Time to cut bixi loose and let her die.
BTW I am not a Ford supporter at all. This time around it is just common sense.
Stan Smith replying to a comment from Monty Hall / May 1, 2013 at 02:54 pm
I love it when un-educated people put North Korea and Cuba in the same category.
You realize that every country in the world does not have an issue with Cuba or the way it is run EXCEPT the united states.
You also do realize that Canada was one of the first counties in the world to accept Cuba and its communist leadership when Fidel overtook the Batista's government.
Jon Foster / May 1, 2013 at 02:56 pm
BIXI should not be treated as a business; it should be treated as part of a solution to the much larger issue of transit within the city of Toronto.
Aaron / May 1, 2013 at 03:11 pm
If this costs anything at all and will benefit anybody more than it benefits me then I refuse to support it! This is Toronto, after all.
iSkyscraper / May 1, 2013 at 03:23 pm
First, let's please stop talking about whether Bixi "works" or not. It is clearly a worthy public service, otherwise why on earth would 31 other cities in North America have bikesharing systems? Are they all stupid and the Ford administration is not? (Clearly the reverse is much more probable.)

Wong-Tam is on the right track here in saying that a) Bixi needs more subsidy to operate and b) in Toronto, the best source for a subsidy will not come from a federal grant (a la Minneapolis) or a super-rich sponsor (a la New York) but from condo developers because if there is one thing Toronto has, it's a lot of condo developers.

And believe me, developers HATE having to build costly underground parking. It costs a fortune, $30 to 50k per space. They would be happy to make a small contribution to Bixi instead if they could lose a few of those spaces. They know their business, they know how many spots they really need to make the project commercially viable. The rest they could horse trade to the city for a fee instead. While that fee would never be large enough to fund something like public transit it would do wonders for something like helping to pay for bikeshare.
Pat / May 1, 2013 at 03:41 pm
I think she's chosen a really good way to get financing for Bixi. And as for Joe Fresh, I'm a fat old broad who lives in Leslieville, and I can bike to Etobicoke. What's your problem?
jer replying to a comment from Joe Fresh / May 1, 2013 at 03:42 pm
What about all of the people who commute in from 905 for work/etc. They won't be bringing in their bike but they can use Bixi to get around reducing needs for TTC and other infrastructure.

I use BIXI in this way. I drive into Toronto (but, will consider GO now that it will be running every 30 minutes off peak) and then use BIXI to get around the city.

I agree that there is no need to have it extended out to Etobicoke at this point. Maybe in the future the system will grow but get it over to Parkdale and across to the Beaches and further north first.
Joe Fresh replying to a comment from Pat / May 1, 2013 at 03:43 pm
I never said i couldn't, i said i wouldn't.
Joe Fresh replying to a comment from jer / May 1, 2013 at 04:42 pm
You make a good point.
However, you are willing to pay $5 for the 24/h access and then another $1.50 if you pass 30 minutes of usage? At that point you are at $6.50 taxes not included of course for 31-60 minutes of bixi usage. Why not spend the extra $4.25 taxes included and get a all day pass for the TTC. At that point, you technically would be able to run around downtown all you want, then take the TTC to a outer laying GO station, further reducing your fare back home.
I guess it is to each their own.

I just have a feeling if this does get the funding, we will be revisiting this same issue in a few years time.

Im sorry, i just dont see it being used a lot by people living in the service area. Sure, some people will use it, but not enough to justify Toronto taking over it. I see it more as a service that someone out of town will occasionally use, either a commuter or a tourist.
Why should the 416 have to pay to buy a service that is clearly not making money to accomodate the 905 and beyond? No thank you.
Al replying to a comment from James / May 1, 2013 at 05:06 pm
"Bixi spots" and "Bixi stations" are the same thing. If developers in other parts of the city decide to trade parking spots for Bixi stations, it will have expanded the Bixi area.
q replying to a comment from Joe Fresh / May 1, 2013 at 05:42 pm
Because it will help reduce road congestion, relieve stress on the TTC, and it's a pleasant travel alternative for both residents and visitors.

Do you also angrily resent all non-Torontonians who use sidewalks and streetcars? Xenophobic and isolationist rhetoric like this does nothing but hinder progress and our city's growth. It's time we start actually building a greater city.
Dave / May 1, 2013 at 05:58 pm
Wisdom from Joe Fresh: "Why should the 416 have to pay to buy a service that is clearly not making money to accomodate the 905 and beyond? No thank you."

Excellent. So shall we sell the Gardiner to the highest bidder, or just let it fall down?
Simple fact is Bixi is going to work / May 1, 2013 at 07:35 pm
And the City will save it. And it will eventually be a succes.

Deal with it and keep your powder dry for REAL issues to get rabid about.
Monty Hall replying to a comment from Stan Smith / May 1, 2013 at 08:38 pm
Ugh, listen commrade, modern government in 2013 need not pay to assist private companies. That was my simple to understand point. Its a commie plan that is dumb. So stuff your Cuban history lesson and baby cry of spew because no one really gives a poo, AND your juvenile anti USA 'so angry' rhetoric and shave that goddamn beard already!
Matthew Fabb replying to a comment from Joe Fresh / May 1, 2013 at 08:45 pm
Well, Bixi currently has 4,630 subscribers and according to articles when the service first launched, they needed 6,000 to break even. The ultimate goal was 7,000 to run a decent profit. Of course if Bixi expands, I imagine that the number to be profitable will increase but still the biggest complaint with the service always seems to how far it can go.

Meanwhile as someone who does live in the suburbs (Mississauga) I would take the GO Train in and then take Bixi instead of the TTC. Bixi subscription for a year is $95 while a Metropass for the TTC is $128. So just one month without a TTC pass and I'm saving money. Plus with how slowly things moved in the downtown core, taking a Bixi was generally faster than taking the street car down to Union Station. The fact that the 40+ Bixi docks around the corner by Union Station empty out every morning and then fill up again in the evening during rush hour shows that I'm not the only one to do this.

Why would you want to pay for something that helps 905ers? Because the other thing I occasionally do is drive all the way downtown. I don't use Bixi much anymore as I'm working now some place just beyond Bathurst outside of where it is easy to pick up Bixi bikes.

Also as others have pointed out beyond easing congestion, it also eases the over crowded TTC.

I also know people who do live downtown who own their own bike, but might be out somewhere and then take a Bixi bike instead of taking a cab. Once again easing the horrible gridlock in Toronto.
Lemming replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / May 1, 2013 at 09:04 pm
Hey iSkyscraper: If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too? You don't need to respond, I already know what you would say. I'm psychic.
Iwish replying to a comment from Lemming / May 1, 2013 at 09:17 pm
I wish iSkyscraper would be quiet he doesn't even live here anymore. Shoot he doesn't even live in Canada anymore.
jb replying to a comment from Stan Smith / May 1, 2013 at 09:33 pm
You love Cuba so much Stan, why the hell don't you go move there?
Jay / May 1, 2013 at 10:08 pm
Not usually a fan of Wong-Tam but least she's putting some new ideas on the table to be debated.

The one problem I see with this idea is, money from developers will be a one-time shot of revenue but BIXI will have long term operating costs. It's great we get money from developers to build out the system. But with an expanded system come higher operational costs. To date no one has shown where that additional money will come from. Sure, there will be more subscribers, but can anyone guarantee that will cover future operational costs?? I'm not yet convinced.
Me / May 1, 2013 at 10:29 pm
Ah, GREAT idea!! Blackmail people into using something they obviously don't want.
Rob Ford / May 1, 2013 at 11:53 pm
Wong-Tam wants to save Bixi? She can pay for it, isn't it cheaper to buy a second had bike from a thrift shop?
Nope...BIXI wins this round, move along people replying to a comment from Me / May 2, 2013 at 09:20 am
Bixi has the public support, and it's cheap*, and it makes sense from a traffic, infrastructure, budgetary and tourism p.o.v., so Bixi is here to stay. We just have to be smart about how it rolls out, set geographic boundaries, and be proactive about further monetizing it (ads, co-sponsored events, etc). Bixi is a done deal, and it's only going to get larger, so let's work together to make it the best it can be. Why not be a leader in the world rather than an ostridge looking for a pile of sand, especially since this civic project is so comparatively CHEAP.

*(compared to say how much gravy Ford spills at City Hall every month in his screw-ups and scandals and penalties...he's like Miller on STERIODS when it comes to fiscal waste!)
CaligulaJones / May 2, 2013 at 10:16 am
Well, the New York version seems to be going swimingly...
Oh / May 2, 2013 at 01:07 pm
Here's a riddle for all the Bixi supporters out there. What does it mean? Ready? Here it is: 4,600 Bixi subscribers * $500 free bike = $2,300,000.
steve / May 2, 2013 at 01:24 pm
If a business can't succeed when its focused in its core market how would expanding it outside that market help?

Turns out setting up infrastructure that's only used a small portion of the year by a minority of people isn't exactly the best policy

Who knew?

Other than Rob Ford? Really? How are you not keeping up with him?
steve diddler replying to a comment from steve / May 2, 2013 at 02:59 pm
steve has a point, since most only use the Bixi for 8.5 or 9 months of the year, maybe we'd better be subsidizing those 3+ months specifically?? like using that period to further build it out and have fun indoor rally events to build ridership for the coming spring? maybe debut a fun hybrid 'doublebixi' which would be two bixis connected in the middle like those carts on the Toronto Islands. maybe have a Bixifest to coincide with the start of April and/or bike month?

thanks for the ideas, steve. now let's make it happen...lobby your councillors now!
cheap party pills / May 2, 2013 at 11:11 pm
I constantly spent my half an hour to read this weblog's posts everyday along with a cup of coffee.
CaligulaJones / May 6, 2013 at 12:56 pm
Hey, if people are going to use the old "LOOK! Its successful in X number of other cities", then don't complain when you are called on a rather generous definition of "successful"...
Other Cities: Montreal