toronto bixi

How Kristyn Wong-Tam plans to save BIXI Toronto

Allowing 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.

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